Archive for February, 2018

Review of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, by Brian Zahnd

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God

The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News

by Brian Zahnd

Waterbrook, 2017. 209 pages.
Starred Review

Before I’d even finished this book, I was recommending it to people as a lovely and wonderful explanation of theology of the cross that I can get behind. It’s a compassionate outlook about a loving God, not a God who’s going to blast people.

Then I read the author’s interpretation of Revelation, and I’m not sure I’m still as enthusiastic. Basically, he says that everything in Revelation is symbolic – and believes a lot of it was for that time and has already happened. I’m not sure if I agree with this take – but I’m going to have to do some reading and thinking about Revelation.

Now, I’d thought the book was about universalism when I ordered it from Amazon. It’s not, though these teachings are very compatible with universalism. The author mentions universalism but says he just doesn’t know.

However, all that said – this explanation of the theology of the cross is indeed Very Good News.

Here’s an example from the first chapter:

What I want you to know is that God’s attitude, God’s spirit, toward you is one of unwavering fatherly-motherly love. You have nothing to fear from God. God is not mad at you. God has never been mad at you. God is never going to be mad at you. And what about the fear of God? The fear of God is the wisdom of not acting against love. We fear God in the same way that as a child I feared my father. I had the good fortune to have a wise and loving father, and I had deep respect, reverence, admiration, and, perhaps, a kind of fear for my father, but I never for one moment thought that my dad hated me or would harm me. God does not hate you, and God will never harm you. But your own sin, if you do not turn away from it, will bring you great harm. The wisdom that acknowledges this fact is what we call the fear of God. Sin is deadly, but God is love.

I know some will be quick to remind me that the writer of Hebrews tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And no doubt it is. In the hands of God, there is no place to hide. We have to be honest with ourselves about ourselves. In the hands of God, we can no longer live in the disguise of our lies. In the hands of God, we have to face ourselves. And that can be terrifying. When the prodigal son returned home and fell into the arms of his father, I’m sure the boy felt afraid. We can tell by how he immediately speaks of his unworthiness: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” This wayward son has fallen into the hands of his father; his fate is in his father’s hands . . . and he is afraid. But there is no better place to be! This gracious father in Jesus’s parable is given to us as a picture of our heavenly Father! When the prodigal son fell fearfully into the hands of his father, forgiveness, healing, and restoration began. Just because the prodigal son felt fear as he fell into his father’s hands doesn’t mean he had anything to fear from his father. In his father’s hands was the only safe place to be. It was in the far country that the prodigal son was in danger, not in his father’s hands. When we fall into the hands of the living God, we are sinners in the hands of a loving God.

He does get his theology from the Bible, but has this word of caution:

We need to understand that the Bible is not an end in itself. The Bible is a means to an end but not the end itself. Jesus said it this way: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” If we see the Bible as an end in itself instead of an inspired witness pointing us to Jesus, it will become an idol. Idols are gods we can manage according to our own interests. If we want to make the Bible our final authority, which is an act of idolatry, we are conveniently ignoring the problem that we can make the Bible say just about whatever we want. In doing this we bestow a supposed divine endorsement upon our already established opinion. The historical examples of this are nearly endless; crusaders, slaveholders, and Nazis have all proved themselves adept at bolstering their ideologies with images drawn from the Bible.

About the cross itself, here is an example of his teaching:

The cross is not a picture of payment; the cross is a picture of forgiveness. Good Friday is not about divine wrath; Good Friday is about divine love. Calvary is not where we see how violent God is; Calvary is where we see how violent our civilization is. The justice of God is not retributive; the justice of God is restorative. Justice that is purely retributive changes nothing. The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon; the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love. The only thing God will call justice is setting the world right, not punishing an innocent substitute for the petty sake of appeasement.

So was the death of Jesus a sacrifice? Yes, the death of Jesus was indeed a sacrifice. But it was a sacrifice to end sacrificing, not a sacrifice to appease an angry and retributive god. Jesus sacrificed himself to the love of God manifest in forgiveness, not to the wrath of God for the satisfaction of vengeance.

There’s more here. As I said, I’m not sure yet what I think about his interpretation of the book of Revelation. But so much of this book is thoroughly encouraging and uplifting, I do heartily recommend taking a look.

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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 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 Read the Book, Lemmings! by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Read the Book, Lemmings!

by Ame Dyckman
illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 36 pages.
Starred Review

This book simply makes me laugh. Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora know exactly how to hit my funny bone.

The end papers at the front of this book set us up. We’re in the Arctic, with several icebergs in view. A small one in front has a big sign, which says:

lemmings: small, fuzzy, illiterate rodents who share the icy North with arctic foxes and polar bears. People used to think lemmings jumped off cliffs. Now we know they don’t.

High on top of a nearby icy cliff, we see three little furry creatures. One is jumping off and saying, “Wonder what that says.”

The next is saying, “Me too!”

And the third is saying, “Ditto!”

The first page gets us right into the action. We see a ship made out of a big black whale. On its deck are a polar bear and an arctic fox, dressed as captain and crew of the ship. The three lemmings are now on deck, too, close to the edge.

Foxy found a quiet spot to read his book about lemmings. “Huh!” Foxy said. “Says here, lemmings don’t jump off cliffs.

“Jump? I’ll jump!” said a lemming.

“Me too!” said a second.

“Ditto!” said a third.

The next page shows them jumping: GERONIMO-O-O-O-O!

And that’s what the book is about. Foxy saves them after they jump into the water. He tries to get them to read the book about lemmings. But any time someone says, “Jump” – they do.

Finally, Foxy and Captain PB figure out that the lemmings don’t know how to read, although Ditto can burp the alphabet. So Foxy teaches the lemmings to read, and they learn that lemmings don’t jump off cliffs!

Of course, they do find a new way to get into trouble.

The fun of this book is the slapstick humor of the lemmings flinging themselves off cliffs and Foxy continuing to save them. The illustrations give us lots of humor and lots of variety – turning sideways at times to show us how far they’re falling. Of course, the endpapers at the back feature that same sign – modified.

I do love the Author’s Note at the back:

When I was little, I saw a movie that showed lemmings jumping off cliffs. Years later, I learned that, except in very rare cases, lemmings DON’T jump off cliffs. My first thought was, “OH NO! DID ANYONE TELL THE LEMMINGS?!” So, we made this book. You’re welcome, lemmings.

Good, silly fun.

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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 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Silver in the Blood, by Jessica Day George

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Silver in the Blood

by Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury, New York, 2015. 358 pages.
Review written in 2016.

Set in 1897, this is a historical fantasy romance about two cousins who are being sent from New York to Bucharest, Romania, to meet and learn the truth about their mother’s family.

Now, the copy on the back of the book gives away what they will find. LouLou also encounters a young man on the ship who asks her, “Are you the wing?” LouLou tells about it in her letter to her cousin Dacia:

“Are you the wing?” He said it again, and looked me up and down yet again! “You are not the claw, and there is never a smoke anymore.”

Complete gibberish, Dacia! What was I to do? I simply goggled at him for a moment. When I gathered myself, I started to turn away again, when he said, “You are the wing; I see it now.”

By the time the girls do find out what the Wing, the Claw, and the Smoke are, we are not at all surprised. I can’t help but wonder if it would have given the book more momentum if it had started when they arrived in Bucharest, rather than during their separate journeys there. There’s some build-up to the revelation of the family’s magic that falls a bit flat by the time we discover what it is.

We do end up with an interesting situation. Two young ladies ready for New York society suddenly discover magical powers and that their powerful family is part of a prophecy – and a political plot. They must decide which side they are on.

The timing of the story fits with the publication of the book Dracula and the girls meet Prince Mihai, a descendant of the famous count. Their family has always served the Dracul family. Prince Mihai intends that they continue to do so.

This book is a historical novel for teens who like regency fiction with dances and gowns and society – combined with a twist of magic and political intrigue. The exotic setting of the Romania of 1897 adds to the fun.

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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 an advance reader copy I got at an ALA conference.

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.

What did you think of this book?

2018 Morris Awards and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

I’m blogging about my experience at ALA Midwinter Meeting in February 2018. Last time, I blogged about my first meeting with the 2019 Newbery committee meeting. On Sunday, I went to a couple of publisher events (which I’m not going to talk about) and some interesting talks.

One was about Equity and Diversity in Libraries. It was an inspiring session and encouraged us to reach out to our communities and make new connections. They also encouraged us to find people of color and encourage them to become librarians. Only 10% of our profession is people of color, which is a crying shame. Where to find them? They are already working in our libraries in positions that don’t require a library science degree. Encourage someone you know to get that degree and join our profession!

Another session I went to was on Blockchain, Open Civic Data, and TV Whitespace – all ways for libraries to bring access to their communities. They are just beginning to research using these. But some websites to watch and find out more are:

I also went to a session sponsored by Demco where they talked about transforming event and collection discoverability with linked data. They have a product that takes your event data and makes it discoverable by Google – so, for example, someone searching for a yoga class in the area will have a library event come up, and it will be on top because of being free. Tagging with the location, the price (free), and the time the event happens all will help library events show up on top of search results. (Our library just got a new event system, so I’m not sure we can use this, but it is an exciting development.)

After the exciting Youth Media Awards announcements on Monday morning and breakfast with friends, I finished up my conference with the Morris Awards (for a debut novelist) and the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards. All the Finalists give speeches, and they let you choose five of the winners to take home with you (Yay!), so I love going to this event. Here are my notes on the speeches, with the Morris finalists beginning:

Nic Stone, Dear Martin
Such an honor to be part of everything happening right now! This book had a wild journey to publication, and it’s amazing to be here.

S. F. Henson, Devils Within
She’s dreamed of being a published author since she was 4 years old.
This book began when she saw a news article about a 10-year-old boy who killed his white supremacist father.
She grew up in the South – accustomed to be silent when people made racist comments.
When hate is all you know, how do you learn to love?
Nothing will change if people remain silent.
Books are a gateway to empathy.
Silence hurts people.
Seeds don’t grow on their own.

S. K. Ali, Saints and Misfits
Peace – the one thing our world needs.
What if we need inner peace first?
Her agent asked her: What if we looked for stories featuring young Muslim heroes?
Readers have told her, MeToo!
The main character has to grapple with the power of words. Words save us and break chains of shame.

Akemi Dawn Bowman, Starfish
Thank you for knowing how important stories are for teens.
Her book has trauma, racism, abuse, and feeling alone. So she’s sad when kids say they see themselves in the book – but glad they feel seen.

2018 Morris Award Winner:
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

Her favorite rapper is Tupac. He’s never won an award, but he has changed lives – by acknowledging young people like she was.
The greatest achievement is sparking other brains.
It’s an honor to write for these young people.
Our world would be a better place if current political leaders read books about people who are not like them.
Be the light in the darkness.
The child you hand a book to today may some day be a president with a Twitter account.

Next came the Excellence in Nonfiction Finalists, though not all were present:

Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos, Eyes of the World
This is the second book they’ve written together and the second that’s been a finalist for this award.
Collectively the finalists give fresh approaches to nonfiction, books that take risks and experiment with voice.
For teens, many voices come at us at once.
“Good for reports” is over – these are “real books” with innovation and invention.
The story of the people in this book is also our story.
They were refugees from an anti-Semitic Fascist state.
The book was a year-long dive into photos she treasures.
A love story – and their book is, too.
Two refugees with a camera tried to stop Hitler before it was too late. (They did not succeed, but they still shed light.)
When hatred is the path to power, we must all fight with our own voices.

Dashka Slater, The 57 Bus
The story happened in her neighborhood. How could such a thing happen? But she asked follow-up questions.
We believe in the power of stories.
But the Truth isn’t always black and white.
That’s the beauty and power of nonfiction storytelling.
Young people are capable of understanding complexity and nuance. They require it.
The stories we give them must be as complicated as they are.
We live at a time when we place value on certainty.
Uncertainty is a humbler place – but it leads to investigation and understanding.
Give kids tools to do better next time – and give them a next time.
Give them true, complicated, and messy stories.

Deborah Heiligman, Vincent and Theo
(These remarks were delivered by her editor, Laura Godwin.)
She’s bolstered by a community of young adult nonfiction writers.
Writers are using new techniques.
The books “leave the world a souvenir.”
Without Theo, we wouldn’t have Vincent’s art.
Theo told Vincent to use more color, to lighten and brighten his pallette.
Vincent would envy us our community.

Review of Lulu and the Cat in the Bag, by Hilary McKay

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Lulu and the Cat in the Bag

by Hilary McKay
illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

Albert Whitman & Company, Chicago, Illinois, 2013. First published in the United Kingdom in 2011. 84 pages.

I don’t know how I missed this third book about pet-loving Lulu!

Lulu and her cousin Mellie’s parents have gone on a trip, so their grandmother Nan has come to stay with them. Nan is not a fan of pets, but she does love gardens. She’s not happy with their two dogs, Sam and Rocko.

The book begins with a bag on the doorstep, and the bag ends up holding an enormous marigold cat.

Nan is not happy about an enormous marigold cat turning up, and is relieved when it soon disappears. But the cat comes back. This cat likes flowers and knows how to keep the dogs out of the garden. Maybe Nan is warming up to it.

This is another gentle chapter book that any animal-lover will appreciate.

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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 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.

What did you think of this book?

First Meeting of the 2019 Newbery Committee!!! – 2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Part Two

Saturday, February 24th, 2018

I’m blogging after the fact about my attendance at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2018. Saturday afternoon was the highlight of the conference for me, because it was the first meeting of the 2019 Newbery Committee!!!!!

Our first meeting is not, actually, closed to anyone outside the committee. So – I can even post my notes about it.

Our chair is Ellen Riordan. 12 of the 15 of us were there. (The first meeting is strongly recommended, but not required.) We introduced ourselves and told about a past Newbery winner or honor book that meant a lot to us. I mentioned The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, as I love the intricate plot that fools the reader, as well as the wonderfully drawn characters.

I thought about mentioning The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown, both by Robin McKinley, as they are the past winners I love the most. But I think excellent plotting or the opposite may end up being a theme of my committee service. (It has been when I’ve served on Cybils committees.) I thought maybe I should give the committee fair warning. (Besides, I love The Thief, too.)

Other books that were mentioned were The Witch of Blackbird Pond (another one I love!), Island of the Blue Dolphins, Holes, Caddie Woodlawn, The Perilous Gard, The Giver, A Single Shard, A Wrinkle in Time, Call It Courage, Out of the Dust, Lincoln: A Photobiography,, and The Hundred Penny Box. It’s fun how knowing a favorite Newbery helps you know about people.

Ellen gave us a pep talk first. We’re all so thrilled to be here, and she reminded us what a luxury it is to be on the committee. Every committee is different, but we’re beginning with respect: For the child reader and for each other. Toward the child reader, we’re keeping a sense that what’s being said is important. Toward each other, we will learn to listen to each other.

We will need to read past our own personal taste and to know our own biases, both objective and subjective. We will get familiar with the manual, particularly the criteria and eligibility. Our sense of the criteria will grow with us as a committee. The process works!

We talked about the timeline and calendar. We’re going to be sending suggestions to Ellen by the 15th of each month. We should only suggest if the book is striking and we think it’s distinguished. (I will have to shift gears from looking for the best 100 books of the year in Capitol Choices to looking for the best few.) A guideline is: “If you’re wondering about it, try to say No.”

By the end of each month, Ellen will send us the list of what has been suggested. We are required to read everything suggested. (This is why we shouldn’t go overboard.)

She told us to make room in our house for all the books publishers will send us! Someone asked how many books to expect. She said we’ll end up with “hundreds.” She wouldn’t give a number to how many hundreds, but it will be more than one hundred.

Then we talked about protecting the integrity of the award. She recommends going off social media altogether. At the very least, we should stop “liking” publisher posts about publishing. The important thing is never to give the impression a title is being considered. All titles written by an American author and published by an American publisher in 2018 are eligible – but don’t ever communicate which books are getting attention from the committee.

We were reminded that the world is watching us. So we must not talk about books online. “Anything that appears to be a conflict” is the problem.

All our communication is confidential, and we should only communicate about committee work through Ellen. We don’t want to have side conversations about books, because the whole committee is going to work together to make the decision.

She reminded us: “Take joy in every moment.” (Yes!)

We had a special guest speaker for the last half of our meeting, Deb Taylor, who’s been on numerous committees.

Her first piece of advice was: Trust the process!

We will go from being individuals to being a group.

It’s a joyous experience.

Reading is very personal, but do remember that we’re standing in for the kids, reading for our child readers, not for ourselves.

Deb’s experience has taught her not to question a committee’s choice. You simply don’t know what they considered or what factors made the difference. Only those people know.

We will own whatever we come up with. It’s almost alchemical.

The children’s book community is growing in diversity and reflecting the full tapestry of the world. We need to be considerate of all the children we love these books for. She recommends looking up Ta-Nahesi Coates on YouTube, “Why White People Shouldn’t Use the N Word.”

“I believe in the people this profession attracts.”

She said to be sure to enjoy the discussion – It’s super high-caliber. “Damn near Librarian Nirvana.”

We are reading differently, and we will have to learn about ourselves as a reader.

As far as a note-taking method, she used cards. She recommends the worksheet in the manual on page 27.

Then she told us about someone who reacted to the announcement of the win for Last Stop on Market Street by saying “The committee obviously put diversity over quality.” That made her realize why she loves the book so much. CJ is on a Hero’s Journey, a universal search. But part of the point is that people will criticize our decision.

The most daunting part of the process for her? Rereading. Going back and rereading books she already thought she knew. It’s a little easier at the “suggestion” stage. Tougher at the nomination stage.

The rereading process is tough. Have a separate set of questions and make the second reading dig deeper.

It also takes discipline to move on to the next book.

She did have a method for getting input from kids. She liked to find out how kids thought. What books engaged them more? If no kid connects with a book, it hasn’t done a great job.

I decided to use her idea of including a card with the book at my Newbery Book Club meetings and getting opinions from kids on the cards.

Yes, we can and should look at reviews. This is yet another perspective and may help us to notice things about the book.

After the meeting, energized and excited, I went back to my hotel room, where my brother and his wife picked me up and took me out to dinner! That was a wonderful finish to a fantastic day.

I’m ready to read!

Review of Welcome, by Mo Willems

Saturday, February 24th, 2018


A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals

by Mo Willems

Disney Book Group, 2017. 28 pages.
Starred Review

Yay! I have been invited to a baby shower, so I have a reason to purchase this book! I actually read it last year when visiting my newborn niece, but I didn’t have a chance to write a review. Now I’ve been enjoying the book before I wrap it up….

What I need to do is simply urge you to read this book. It’s brilliant. You will enjoy it.

I’ll say a little bit about it. It’s written as a sort of travel guide for a new baby, telling them what to expect. The illustrations are essentially icons, as found in manuals. It’s funny and charming.

A wonderful touch is that most pages end with the words “while we read this book together.”

Here’s a nice page at the start:


Many activities are available for you to enjoy,
including, but not limited to:

[All the capitalized words have icons on the facing page.]

Other options are available upon request
and will be updated on a regular basis.

Of our current offerings, I can personally recommend
your being right here with me . . .

while we read this book together.

And here’s a nice page at the end:


We will strive to make your stay
as comfortable as possible. However . . .

There will be TURBULENCE.
There will be HUMAN ERROR.

Fortunately, we are happy to provide you LOVE

At no extra cost.

A warm and delightful book that tells newcomer what they can expect out of life, and that they have people standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide Love.

May this book get many chances to be read child and parent together.

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Source: This review is based on a book I purchased via to give away.

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.

What did you think of this book?

2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Part 1 – Toxic Stress in the Library

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

I went to ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colorado, on February 8 through 12, and I want to blog about the conference, as usual.

But this was a new sort of conference experience. I am a member of the 2019 Newbery Committee and was to meet with my committee for the first time. To avoid any appearance of conflict of interest or bias, I wasn’t going to look for pictures with authors this time. I wasn’t going to get any 2018 books signed. I had agreed never to mention eligible books online – so that meant no pictures of all the advance reader copies I picked up.

I also knew that I didn’t really need to pick up too many advance reader copies – before too much longer, publishers are going to start mailing me finished books to consider. However, my plan is to use any advance reader copies to give to kids who come to my Newbery Book Club at the library. So I did want to pick some up, and also see if there are some titles I’m excited about. (I won’t tell you which those are!)

Now, I have a doctor’s note, written in 2011, to permit me to use a wheeled cart on the exhibits floor. I felt a tiny bit guilty using it, because it’s so old. But I had a vertebral artery dissection happen in 2011 when I slept on a plane on the way to ALA Midwinter without a neck pillow, and the plane encountered some turbulence while I was sleeping. I know that carrying books in a shoulder bag that weekend didn’t help. In fact, for the next four weeks I had a headache, centered in my neck, that I just couldn’t get rid of. Then I went back on birth control pills (to help with ovarian cysts) – and the next day had a stroke. They determined that a vertebral artery dissection was the cause, so I figured out what caused the four weeks of headaches at the same time.

Anyway, I’d been told that people who have had a vertebral artery dissection shouldn’t carry heavy loads. I wasn’t sure if it still applied. But I brought my wheeled bag (my carryon, emptied out) onto the exhibit floor. I showed lots of restraint! I only filled the bag with advance reader copies. I pretty much only took books for middle grade readers (which I’d be able to use with my Newbery Book Club), and I left the exhibits when my bag was full.

But I still had to get the bag back to my hotel room. I lifted it up the steps of the shuttle bus and lifted it onto the seat next to me. (There had also been some lifting during my flight earlier that day when I put my carryon in the overhead bin.) Whatever the reason – that night my neck was aching badly, just exactly where my vertebral artery dissection had happened seven years before. It had me awake and scared most of the night. Fortunately, when I got up in the morning, it got better. And it didn’t bother me too much the rest of the conference. But I was a lot more careful about lifting things with my right arm. And I no longer feel guilty about using that old doctor’s note!

[I also want to add that a friend who’d recently had surgery asked about how I get this permission. I told her it’s an easy process, which it is. The ALA Accessibility Services folks are very helpful and accommodating. However, there have been times in the past when I’ve seen angry posts on Twitter about people bringing rolling carts into the exhibit hall. Don’t worry, folks, if we don’t have a doctor’s note, they won’t let us in. Many disabilities cannot be seen by the casual observer. Just saying.]

On Saturday, the first full day of the conference, I decided to keep myself AWAY from the Exhibits, since I’d had such a bad night. So I decided to go to “Leadership and ALSC,” which was happening at a hotel.

“Leadership and ALSC” happens every conference, and chairs for ALSC (Association of Library Services for Children) committees attend. I went when I was chairing the Grants Administration Committee. They always have an excellent speaker, as well as getting to meet other people in ALSC leadership. Our Newbery committee chair had suggested attending this session (You do not have to actually be in ALSC leadership.), so when I was looking for a way to keep from being tempted by the exhibits, this seemed like a good idea.

First we heard from ALA’s Washington office. We expected the library budget to get zeroed out again, so we need to advocate. (Indeed it was zeroed out.) You can find helpful information at They need our stories about grants or federal funding and the good work they have done.

Also check where the Washington office posts national concerns for libraries. We have the skill set to advocate for libraries. We are storytellers!

Then we had our main speakers, Dr. Janina Fariñas and Dr. Johanna Ulloa Giron. They spoke on “Toxic Stress in the Library: The Upstream Impact of Life Adversity on Children.”

Here are my notes:

Trauma and toxic stress pervades our experiences.

Protective factors are influences that help children bounce back: Relationships, nurturing caregivers, routines, stabilities, good books, etc.

How can we make systemic change?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are unfortunately not rare. Signs are easily seen. ACEs include abuse, witnessing abuse, parental divorce, neglect, household dysfunction, and more.

A major study on ACEs was done that was one of the largest ever of its type. There’s direct correlation between ACEs and social, emotional, and cognitive impairment. The study showed that they impact people throughout their lifetime.

But that study mainly looked at a white population. These speakers said we also need to look at the huge stress of immigration and acculturative stress (having to adapt to a new culture).

For the speaker, when she was a child, going to the library was stressful, because she didn’t know the culture.

There’s also deportation and detention stress – fear that causes excessive stress which is prolonged over time.

Stress exists on a continuum from positive to tolerable to toxic. Toxic stress is completely overwhelming.

Microaggression stress is another kind of stress that immigrants face. It comes from behavior that’s aggressive toward an oppressed community.

What kind of microaggressions are we allowing in the library? (By definition, we’re unaware. They’re assumptions.)

Chronic stress leads to hypervigilance. And the stressful experience cycle directly affects the brain over time. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland all start chronically vibrating and the executive functioning parts of the brain go offline.

Equality is not the same as Equity. Equality treats all kids the same. Equity gives all kids what they need.

There is hope! Children are resilient. How can we support that?

A counterbalance to ACEs are BCEs, Benevolent Childhood Experiences. BCEs predict less stress.

How do we help develop BCEs for all?

In the speaker’s experience, books literally saved her life. Now she’s working to build cultural proficiency on behalf of vulnerable communities.

We need to hold all forms of culture and history difference in high esteem.

There’s a continuum of Cultural Competency: From racism to curiosity to competent. It’s more than ethnicity and race.

Conduct self-examination about how you are serving families in your community. How can we support people from different cultures?

Develop a no-nonsense understanding of the stresses in your community. Consider carefully where you stand on immigration. Children are now in foster care because their parents were deported. This causes fear. At least 4 out of 10 children carry stress.

Help communities reclaim their experiences. Partner with people doing this work. Choose to share power – who gets to make decisions about how libraries work?

Information is power! So public libraries have huge power in changing communities. Stand in solidarity for rights of immigrant children and students.

We are not neutral! Libraries are for those families. You are welcome here!

Then they talked about some programs going on in their own libraries. An example: World Language Storytimes. Storytimes in many languages, and the families are in charge. (They get training.)

Another program is a pen pal program with a library in Nicaragua.

Kids being able to help others is a BCE.

Another program is using a green screen to create pictures as if in another country.

And of course have multicultural books!

Another program is partnering with community experts and providing therapy services in nontraditional spaces.

They have intentionally created a very safe space for immigrant families. These programs create benevolence in the community.

The library should be in the list of protective factors for children.

We are an environmental factor. Make that a benevolent one.

Schools are heavily monitored. Can that hypervigilance relax in the library?

Assume you’re having an impact! Decide what that impact will be.

Review of The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

The Willpower Instinct

How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

Avery (Penguin), 2012. 275 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank you to my friend Kevin, who recommended this book to me more than once. When Kevin out-librarianed me and recommended it to someone else as among three books that help build leadership skills, I finally took note enough to put it on hold.

This book is similar to The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin, in that both talk about motivation and getting done the things you want to do, but The Willpower Instinct is more helpful and more comprehensive. Although The Four Tendencies has the fun side of trying to tell you something about yourself, The Willpower Instinct is more science-based, and everyone will find insights about willpower that they can use among this wealth of material.

The Four Tendencies made me think, “I’m an Upholder! I will do what I want to do!” The Willpower Instinct showed me exactly how I fool myself. For example, I learned about moral licensing and why thinking about getting up in the morning makes me feel like I can reward myself by falling back asleep.

Kelly McGonigal teaches a popular class on the science of willpower at Stanford. She offers actual science about the various self-control challenges we face.

Here’s a section from the first chapter where she explains the three parts of willpower and where she’ll go in talking about it:

“I will” and “I won’t” power are the two sides of self-control, but they alone don’t constitute willpower. To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power: the ability to remember what you really want. I know, you think that what you really want is the brownie, the third martini, or the day off. But when you’re facing temptation, or flirting with procrastination, you need to remember that what you really want is to fit into your skinny jeans, get the promotion, get out of credit card debt, stay in your marriage, or stay out of jail. Otherwise, what’s going to stop you from following your immediate desires? To exert self-control, you need to find your motivation when it matters. This is “I want” power.

Willpower is about harnessing the three powers of I will, I won’t, and I want to help you achieve your goals (and stay out of trouble). As we’ll see, we human beings are the fortunate recipients of brains that support all of these capacities. In fact, the development of these three powers – I will, I won’t, and I want – may define what it means to be human. Before we get down to the dirty business of analyzing why we fail to use these powers, let’s begin by appreciating how lucky we are to have them. We’ll take a quick peek into the brain to see where the magic happens, and discover how we can train the brain to have more willpower. We’ll also take our first look at why willpower can be hard to find, and how to use another uniquely human trait – self-awareness – to avoid willpower failure.

Since self-awareness does help avoid willpower failure, reading this book, and learning the ways we trick ourselves, is a great way to build that self-awareness.

Here are some of the things that struck me as I read this book:

In the section on the physiology of self-control, we learn that in today’s world, we need a pause-and-plan response more than a fight-or-flight response.

The pause-and-plan response puts your body into a calmer state, but not too sedate. The goal is not to paralyze you in the face of internal conflict, but to give you freedom. By keeping you from immediately following your impulses, the pause-and-plan response gives you the time for more flexible, thoughtful action. From this state of mind and body, you can choose to walk away from the cheesecake, with both your pride and your diet intact.

We also learn that willpower is a muscle. It can be strengthened with exercise, but can also grow tired. When our body has energy, it will do better. There’s even a physical test – heart rate variability – which you can use to predict who will resist temptation and who will give in. The author has plenty of ideas for how you can build up your physical willpower reserve.

Then there is the chapter on moral licensing.

When you do something good, you feel good about yourself. This means you’re more likely to trust your impulses – which often means giving yourself permission to do something bad….

Moral licensing doesn’t just give us permission to do something bad; it also lets us off the hook when we’re asked to do something good. For example, people who first remember a time when they acted generously give 60 percent less money to a charitable request than people who have not just recalled a past good deed. In a business simulation, managers of a manufacturing plant are less likely to take costly measures to reduce the plant’s pollution if they have recently recalled a time when they acted ethically. . . .

Another study found that merely considering donating money to a charity – without actually handing over any cash – increased people’s desire to treat themselves at the mall. Most generously, we even give ourselves credit for what we could have done, but didn’t. We could have eaten the whole pizza, but we only ate three slices. We could have bought a new wardrobe, but we made do with just a new jacket. Following this ridiculous line of logic, we can turn any act of indulgence into something to be proud of. (Feeling guilty about your credit card debt? Hey, at least you haven’t robbed a bank to pay it off!)

I liked this insight:

To avoid the moral licensing trap, it’s important to separate the true moral dilemmas from the merely difficult. Cheating on your taxes or your spouse may be morally flawed, but cheating on your diet is not a mortal sin. And yet, most people think of all forms of self-control as a moral test. Giving in to dessert, sleeping late, carrying a credit card balance – we use them to determine whether we are being good or bad. None of these things carry the true weight of sin or virtue. When we think about our willpower challenges in moral terms, we get lost in self-judgments and lose sight of how those challenges will help us get what we want.

Another chapter talks about how attracted we are to the promise of reward – even if the reward itself doesn’t turn out to be all that wonderful. And she discusses how retailers use this to manipulate us. Make us think we’re “saving,” and we’ll spend more! But she also suggests using this on yourself – come up with a reward for your “I will” challenge, and “dopamize” the task. Suddenly, it will be much more attractive.

But another thing that leads to giving in is feeling bad.

Why does stress lead to cravings? It’s part of the brain’s rescue mission. Previously, we saw how stress prompts a fight-or-flight response, a coordinated set of changes in the body that allows you to defend yourself against danger. But your brain isn’t just motivated to protect your life – it wants to protect your mood, too. So whenever you are under stress, your brain is going to point you toward whatever it thinks will make you happy. Neuroscientists have shown that stress – including negative emotions like anger, sadness, self-doubt, and anxiety – shifts the brain into a reward-seeking state. You end up craving whatever substance or activity your brain associates with the promise of reward, and you become convinced that the “reward” is the only way to feel better.

This same chapter explains why guilt is not a good motivation to change, and why berating yourself for past failures doesn’t help.

Whatever the willpower challenge, the pattern is the same. Giving in makes you feel bad about yourself, which motivates you to do something to feel better. And what’s the cheapest, fastest strategy for feeling better? Often the very thing you feel bad about.

What’s more, when experimenters gave subjects the message not to be too hard on themselves, that everyone indulges sometimes – encouraging them to forgive themselves – subjects were far less likely to overindulge in the next part of the test.

If you think that the key to greater willpower is being harder on yourself, you are not alone. But you are wrong. Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion – being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure – is associated with more motivation and better self-control. Consider, for example, a study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, that tracked the procrastination of students over an entire semester. Lots of students put off studying for the first exam, but not every student made it a habit. Students who were harder on themselves for procrastinating on their first exam were more likely to procrastinate on later exams than students who forgave themselves. The harder they were on themselves about procrastinating the first time, the longer they procrastinated for the next exam! Forgiveness – not guilt – helped them get back on track.

These findings fly in the face of our instincts. How can this be, when so many of us have a strong intuition that self-criticism is the cornerstone of self-control, and self-compassion is a slippery slope to self-indulgence? What would motivate these students if not feeling bad for procrastinating the last time? And what would keep us in check if we didn’t feel guilty for giving in?

Surprisingly, it’s forgiveness, not guilt, that increases accountability. Researchers have found that taking a self-compassionate point of view on a personal failure makes people more likely to take personal responsibility for the failure than when they take a self-critical point of view. They also are more willing to receive feedback and advice from others, and more likely to learn from the experience.

Another chapter looks at our tendency to believe Future Me will take care of whatever challenges come their way. It gives us some strategies for delaying gratification for a bigger reward.

Another chapter looks at how Willpower is contagious, and ways you can use this to your advantage. (Okay, maybe the people that Gretchen Rubin calls “Obligers” will benefit most from this chapter.) But yes, telling someone about your goals – or being around other people who meet goals – will help you meet those goals.

And the final chapter, “Don’t Read This Chapter,” looks at the specific challenges of willpower in “I won’t” situations. I thought this chapter was especially good for trying to eliminate thoughts you don’t want to bother you. I have a friend who had a tendency to scold me when I spent too much time thinking about my ex-husband, for example. (Thankfully, this problem is long past, but there are still times I want to change where my thoughts are going.)

This chapter confirms that self-scolding simply makes you think all the more about the forbidden thoughts.

Trying not to think about something guarantees that it is never far from your mind. This leads to a second problem: When you try to push a thought away, and it keeps coming back to your mind, you are more likely to assume that it must be true. Why else would the thought keep resurfacing? We trust that our thoughts are important sources of information. When a thought becomes more frequent and harder to pull yourself away from, you will naturally assume that it is an urgent message that you should pay attention to.

The solution is elegant and practical:

How can you find your way out of this confounding dilemma? Wegner suggests an antidote to ironic rebound that is, itself, ironic: Give up. When you stop trying to control unwanted thoughts and emotions, they stop controlling you. Studies of brain activation confirm that as soon as you give participants permission to express a thought they were trying to suppress, that thought becomes less primed and less likely to intrude into conscious awareness. Paradoxically, permission to think a thought reduces the likelihood of thinking it.

This solution turns out to be useful for a surprisingly wide range of unwanted inner experiences. The willingness to think what you think and feel what you feel – without necessarily believing that it is true, and without feeling compelled to act on it – is an effective strategy for treating anxiety, depression, food cravings, and addiction. As we consider the evidence for each, we’ll see that giving up control of our inner experiences gives us greater control over our outer actions.

So those are some of the points that stood out for me in reading this book. (I hope by writing out lots of quotations, I’ll be more likely to remember them.) Here’s a summarizing paragraph from the last chapter:

If there is a secret for greater self-control, the science points to one thing: the power of paying attention. It’s training the mind to recognize when you’re making a choice, rather than running on autopilot. It’s noticing how you give yourself permission to procrastinate, or how you use good behavior to justify self-indulgence. It’s realizing that the promise of reward doesn’t always deliver, and that your future self is not a superhero or a stranger. It’s seeing what in your world – from sales gimmicks to social proof – is shaping your behavior. It’s staying put and sensing a craving when you’d rather distract yourself or give in. It’s remembering what you really want, and knowing what really makes you feel better. Self-awareness is the one “self” you can always count on to help you do what is difficult, and what matters most. And that is the best definition of willpower I can think of.

I highly recommend this book, if you have willpower challenges, or even if you think you don’t. There are many more ideas and many more descriptions of fascinating studies all about doing what we really want to do.

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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 Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Out of Wonder

Poems Celebrating Poets

by Kwame Alexander
with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Candlewick Press, 2017. 50 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award

Here’s a beautiful large-format book of poems celebrating poets. Kwame Alexander and his two co-authors have written poems in three sections. Poems in the first section match the favored style of the celebrated poet. Poems in the second section incorporate the feelings and themes of the celebrated poet’s work. And poems in the third section respond to the celebrated poet with thanks.

It’s all done with large, lovely paintings accompanying the poems, in a book in large format. To hold this book and leaf through it gives you a feeling of grandeur, nicely setting off the importance of these poets.

Kwame Alexander puts it well in the introduction:

A poem is a small but powerful thing. It has the power to reach inside of you, to ignite something in you, and to change you in ways you never imagined. There is a feeling of connection and communion – with the author and the subject – when we read a poem that articulates our deepest feelings. That connection can be a vehicle on the road to creativity and imagination. Poems can inspire us – in our classrooms and in our homes – to write our own journeys, to find our own stories….

Allow me to introduce you to twenty of my favorite poets. Poets who have inspired me and my co-authors with their words and their lives. They can do the same for you. Some of the poets we celebrate in this book lived centuries ago and wrote in languages other than English, while others still walk the streets of San Antonio and New York City today. Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth, and I had two requirements for the poets we would celebrate in Out of Wonder: first, they had to be interesting people, and second, we had to be passionately in love with their poetry. Mission accomplished!

I believe that by reading other poets we can discover our own wonder. For me, poems have always been muses. The poems in this book pay tribute to the poets being celebrated by adopting their style, extending their ideas, and offering gratitude to their wisdom and inspiration.

Enjoy the poems. We hope to use them as stepping-stones to wonder, leading you to write, to read the works of the poets celebrated in this book, to seek out more about their lives and their work, or to simply read and explore more poetry. At the very least, maybe you can memorize one or two.

We wonder how you will wonder.

This is one of those books where you need to see for yourself how striking it is. Check it out!

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 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.

What did you think of this book?