Archive for February, 2019

Review of We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates

by Ryan T. Higgins

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 20, 2018 from library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Picture Books – Silly Fun

Before I looked at the copy of this book that had come to the library for me, I heard my co-worker laughing over it in the next cubicle. We ended up getting everyone else in that section of the office to read it. The tone and pictures are brilliant.

I’ll give a little taste, though you really need to check this book out to see the pictures that go with it. By the way, there’s a picture of Penelope on the title page saying, “Hey kids! You will never be eaten by a T. rex. They are extinct. I promise!”

The book begins:

Penelope Rex was nervous. It’s not every day a little T. rex starts school.

She’s worried whether her classmates will be nice and how many teeth they will have. But when she gets to school:

Penelope Rex was very surprised to find out that all of her classmates were CHILDREN!

So she ate them.

Because children are delicious.

“Penelope Rex!” said Mrs. Noodleman,
“WE DON’T EAT OUR CLASSMATES! Please spit them out at once.”

So she did.

The picture of the angry children covered in drool and digestive juices is delightfully disgusting.

More pictures as Penelope tries to make friends show things like waiting at the bottom of the slide – with her mouth open. Penelope starts to notice that the other kids don’t want to get near her.

No problems-at-school book would be complete without a conversation with the parents.

When she got home, her dad asked about her first day of school.

“I didn’t make any friends!” Penelope cried. “None of the children wanted to play with me!”

“Penelope Rex,” her father asked, “did you eat your classmates?”

“Well . . . maybe sort of just a little bit.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to make friends,” said her dad. “Especially if you eat them.”

“You see, Penelope, children are the same as us on the inside. Just tastier.”

The next day, a lesson comes for Penelope in an unexpected way.

This book is too much fun! In fact, I’m sad that it came in one week after we finished booktalking this year. It’s already going on my list for next year. Very silly. Very fun. There’s nothing quite like a picture book that makes you laugh out loud.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Leatherbound Terrorism, by Chris Kratzer

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

Leatherbound Terrorism

Crucified by Conservative Evangelicalism, Resurrected by Jesus

by Chris Kratzer

Grace Publishing, 2018. 197 pages.
Starred Review

I was leery of reading this book. The author comes across on Facebook as unduly angry. (I think he would say that he is properly angry.) I’m a universalist who attends an evangelical church, and I would like to think they are not so bad as the “conservative Evangelical churches” he rails against. I do love that they did not make me sign a statement of faith when I joined the church, but only asked me if I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. (I have.) They knew I’m a universalist and let me join anyway. At times, the pastor has gone out of his way to make it clear that there is no one “Christian” political view. We are a community of people who love Jesus and are trying to follow Him together – and a wide variety of political views, and, yes, even theological views are included within our body.

I don’t agree with every point of doctrine in Chris Kratzer’s book, either. But to be honest, my views seem to agree at many more points with his than they do with standard evangelical teaching, even at my own church. So I appreciated how his teaching applies those beliefs to life – and points out where evangelical theology can trap you into not living a grace-filled life.

All that is to say, I don’t believe in every point he teaches – but I found many wonderful things in this book. And I wrote a long review, because I wanted to be reminded of all that he said. (I finished reading the book a couple weeks ago.)

And things to watch out for. I’m afraid that my church, which I’ve always loved for not claiming to have the final answer on every matter of faith and conduct, for acknowledging that Christians disagree on political issues and are still Christian – is contemplating adding a “Christian Living Statement” to the bylaws that would claim some things are sinful that I strongly do not believe the Bible teaches are sinful. I think that policy would exclude and condemn people the Lord does not condemn. And it would bring us closer to the pitfalls Chris Kratzer points out in this book.

But back to the book. What the author is condemning in conservative evangelicalism is the spirit of condemnation as opposed to Grace.

That sounds contradictory – but it lines up with the one thing Jesus called people out for – religious leaders tying up heavy loads and placing them on people’s shoulders. Religious leaders saying they knew the only way to God and pointing out other people’s sins.

Jesus partied with tax collectors and sinners. Sure, he told the woman caught in adultery to go and leave her life of sin, but he wasn’t the one who dragged her before a group of judges. Mary Magdalene had seven demons cast out of her. She was an unsavory character – whom Jesus loved.

Wait, I was going to get to talking about the book!

The author tells the story of his life, including a difficult childhood in and out of the hospital with asthma, being sexually abused, and having an impossible-to-please father. As an adult, he became a conservative evangelical pastor.

Just color within the lines, give the proper responses, think and believe the right things, fight the good fight of faith, and I, too, could become “successful” and satisfactory for Jesus. Perhaps then, both my father on earth and the Father above could finally love me – perhaps, then, even I could finally love me. The ultimate trifecta of acceptance and approval was just an Evangelical “to do” list away, all leading to a position seated high above the world upon which to feel good about myself through a subtle looking-down upon others. It was all so righteous and perfect – so it seemed.

I have to say that even in a “good” evangelical church, those are exactly the temptations – “to do” list Christianity, thinking you have to do certain things or at least believe certain things to keep God from being mad at you. And then a subtle self-righteousness as much as you manage to do/believe those things.

People were now projects, Jesus was the springboard to my success, church was a platform upon which my ego could overcome my insecurities, and faith was an appearance that I hoped would convince me that I was something valuable when, deep down, I ultimately believed I was not.

This is the poison I thought was the cure.

He noticed something was wrong when a lesbian woman came to him for help.

She had been brutally condemned by nearly every person and spiritual entity in her life, and was grasping at my counsel for one last ray of hope. Yet, with every conservative Evangelical prescription and pre-packaged talking point that vomited off my lips, it all fell flat and reeked of death, leaving this beautiful person all the closer to giving up as the fading light behind her eyes was now all but snuffed out. What was “biblical” in Evangelical eyes, brought death to hers.

In a way like never before, the alarms went off inside of me, “Something is seriously wrong, this is not what I signed up for.” This whole, “hate-the-sin, love-the-sinner” crap was showing itself to be nothing like Jesus. Broken people didn’t cringe at His presence and leave defeated; instead, they clung to His every being and walked away with affirmation, freedom, and unstoppable courage.

The cat was out of the bag, and I could no longer deny it – the more conservative an Evangelical I became, the less I portrayed Jesus….

All that time, I thought I was helping people when, in fact, I was imprisoning them – declaring a mixed Evangelical gospel of conditional love that is, in fact, no Gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7). All, while sentencing countless God-adorned people to a fear-driven, empty life of sin-management, God-appeasement, and people-judging.

This is where I agree with him. I believe that God does NOT need to be appeased. I believe that God does NOT require payment before He forgives. He forgives us because He loves us. When Jesus came to show us what God is like, humans killed Him – and He showed us that God loves and forgives, even then.

But back to the book:

All that time, I thought I knew love and how to give it, when, in truth, I knew nothing of it – receiving it, living it, sharing it. I thought loving people required doing so with careful restraint for fear you might extend too much grace and affirmation, or worst of all, catch their disease. Constantly pumping the brakes with people by restricting my love and qualifying His was indeed an unpleasant endeavor that never felt settled in my spirit. Yet, for so long, I believed that was the full extent for which God loved me – all at a safe distance, riddled with fine print.

He had a transformative experience, though, when he was in a dark place.

For the first time in my adult life, I encountered Grace – unconditional, irrevocable, unremovable, pure, undiluted Grace. It wasn’t a theology, philosophy, or new way of thinking; it was a person – Jesus. So much of what I thought and was taught was true of God, actually wasn’t. He wasn’t angry, condemning, judging, scorekeeping, disappointed, nor dismayed. He didn’t care about anything else but loving me – nothing. There was no follow up, no fine print, no bait and switch, no add-ons nor requirements. Love was “It,” the whole thing, from beginning to end – not my love for Him, but His love for me. That’s all there was, that’s all that was needed….

For sure, it didn’t happen overnight, but in a way and at a depth like never before, I tasted and saw that God was indeed good, really good, better than I ever imagined, far beyond the capacity of my Evangelical mind to conceive. I didn’t have to rationalize Him, overlook a conservative Evangelically imposed case of divine schizophrenia placed upon Him, nor prop Him up with talking points that dance around people’s doubts. He was truly good, through and through, and needed none of my conservative Evangelical snake oil to do His bidding. And best of all, now the goodness that is me, that has always been good, whole, and pure – goodness that had long been denied and imprisoned, was suddenly given freedom to live. I was alive for the first time, breathing for the first time, loving for the first time, and allowing myself to be loved for the first time. Salvation had come – Jesus is enough, I am enough, love is enough – period, full stop. I was a man awakened by Grace in just the nick of time. Everything that truly matters began its beginning, and everything else that doesn’t, started its ending.

The rest of the book is mainly about getting that message of Grace across.

Hear me, and hear me well. Whatever sense of condemnation, shame, disappointment, or lack you have towards yourself (or others), it does not come from God – it can’t. Run from any message that puts any conditions, any hell, or any distance between you and Him. Contrary to what is largely taught throughout American Christianity, all of these are constructs of religious projection and sure poison to the soul….

God is Love from top to bottom, beginning to end – inside and out. The expanse of God who is Love is boundless, limitless, unrestricted, and unrestrained. His actions and reactions to every molecule and movement of your life is always Love. God is pedal-to-the-metal in love with you – always has been, always will be.

He says that the Gospel is about Grace, not about Repentance. And I so agree with him about this!

See, the truly good news is that our unconditional, irreversible inclusion in Christ with all its benefits is the gift – there’s nothing to receive, only everything to believe. When Jesus said, “It’s finished,” He meant it. Faith is simply awakening and resting fully in this Truth – realizing it’s never been about our performance, but always about His. Any “repentance” and relational aspects of Scripture must be understood, not as admonitions for our required response, but as cues to awaken to the fullness and sufficiency of Grace that is already ours, completely and irrevocably. This difference changes everything, and makes the Gospel truly good news.

His message – and I agree with this, too – is that condemnation is not from God.

Make no mistake, Jesus didn’t die to riddle your life (or any other) with condemnation in any form. Jesus doesn’t love you to fill your heart with conditions. Jesus didn’t create heaven to lose you to the possibility of hell. For any message that declares condemnation from God or places conditions to love, falls drastically short of reflecting God and understanding Him who is Love.

I love this part. Yes, this makes people about whom others will say “See how they love one another!”

To think that I no longer had to prequalify people for love (including myself) and spiritually police the world with conditions and condemnation, brought an emancipation to my heart that was freeing me from the slavery of conservative Evangelical religiosity.

He talks about the Evangelical attitude of weaponizing the Bible – and asserting that your own interpretation of it is the very Mind of God. He reminds us, “If the writers of the Bible captured the sum, conclusion, and depth of all that is truth, there would be no need for the One Who Is Truth to reveal it and His Spirit to guide us in it.”

Evangelicals seem to be obsessed with sin – and he has some pointed things to say about how they would act if they were truly concerned about sin.

First, conservative Evangelical Christianity would be aggressively focused on their own sin, not the perceived sins of others….

Second, conservative Evangelical Christianity would be communicating far more Grace and kindness. In fact, conservative Evangelical Christians would be ascribed as undeniably being the kindest most gracious people on the planet, trumpeting the message of the pure Gospel of Grace at every opportunity – knowing and teaching that, “It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance,” and “It’s the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly.” Sin would be taken so seriously that pure Grace would be valued as the only solution….

Third, conservative Evangelical Christianity would be truly and completely trusting the Spirit. For the Christian calling isn’t to change people, but to love them unconditionally while the Spirit does what only the Spirit can do. In the presence of perceived sin, conservative Evangelical Christians would be doing everything possible to get out of the way of the Spirit and to doubly make sure they didn’t serve as a detriment or distraction to the Spirit’s work. They would be so sensitive to this movement in people’s lives that to potentially err on the side of thwarting God’s transformative hand through fostering false guilt, shame, and condemnation, would send shivers down their spine, causing them to value restraint above all else – if it was all about sin.

And finally, conservative Evangelical Christianity would be unconditionally serving and loving to the extreme. In fact, conservative Evangelical Christianity would be declared the greatest friend a person could have, especially those labeled as “sinners.” The way conservative Evangelical Christians generously served, put their needs aside, and extravagantly loved people who have been marginalized, condemned, and demonized would be so world-renowned that people might become attracted to engage in sin or experience religious oppression just for the overwhelming love and selfless serving they would receive in response from conservative Evangelical Christians.

There’s an entire chapter called “Maybe This Is the Real Reason You Believe Being Gay Is a Sin.” Here’s a bit from that chapter:

In a Christian church-world where there are over 30,000 denominations who read the very same Bible you do, and come to thousands of different belief-conclusions on major theological issues; in a Christian church-world where elective misunderstanding and ignorance are seen as legitimate positions instead of serious problems; in a Christian church-world where there are countless, growing numbers of biblical scholars with the same love for Jesus, submissive heart for Scripture, and tenacity for Truth as you, who see the Bible as affirming LGBTQ people, not condemning them; maybe, just maybe, the real reason you believe being gay is a sin is because – you want to. It’s not the Bible saying so, it’s you saying so.

In fact, if one can be faithful to the sacred Scriptures and yet come to an LGBTQ-affirming view (which you can) instead of condemning, demonizing, and abusing a whole God-adorned population of humans, why wouldn’t you? Maybe, just maybe, the real reason is because – you don’t want to.

I must admit that I do believe there will be judgment after death. But that judgment will be for correction, not for retribution, and it will not last forever. As for hell, I’m much, much closer to Chris Kratzer’s beliefs about hell than about the evangelical belief in a place of unending torment. That, I do NOT believe in. He’s got a whole chapter on it, but these few paragraphs give a taste:

So, as difficult, foundation-shaking, and faith-unraveling as this question could potentially be, I’m still going to ask it – what if hell is nothing like you think?

What if hell (if a place at all) is actually just as Jesus alluded, a literal place (Gehenna) located in Jerusalem, associated with the valley of Hinnom that was used as the city dump where a fire was constantly kept to burn up and consume all of the city’s unwanted junk? In fact, the word Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, each time being mistranslated to mean “hell” in several versions of the Bible, even though Jesus used it as a clear reference to a city dump.

What if it’s an embarrassingly huge stretch of theological abuse to determine in one moment that the admonition by Jesus to “pluck your eye out” is certainly not to be taken literally, but, yet, in the next moment, His literal use of “Gehenna” in the same sentence should somehow be unequivocally understood to refer figuratively to a real place in the bottom of the earth where people are tortured by the wrath of God in eternal flames? Really?…

What if the single word “hell” we use today and associate as “hell” (a place of fiery, eternal torture) is actually not found in the Bible – anywhere, and in no manuscripts? It’s true.

What if, in fact, much of modern Christianity’s convenient love affair with a hell of flames, wrath, and demons comes much more from the influence of Dante’s “Inferno” than ever could be derived from the true words of Jesus?

There’s more, but I find I like this image:

What if hell is the experience of religious-hearted people who despise the pure Grace of God and His unconditional love and inclusion of all people into Himself and the Kingdom? In the eternal presence of the white-hot love of God forever flowing out as a river from His throne (Daniel 7:10), their souls are scorched with frustration, rage, and torment as their self-righteousness, conditional love, and religious arrogance, bigotry, and intolerance are exposed – stripped, and rendered powerless and evil. For the same Grace and love that will be experienced as heaven by many will be a sure, torturous hell for some. Jesus forever flips over the tables, yet again, and those whom religion joyously sends to the curb are given a prized seat of bliss, and those whom religion gives elite privilege are found to be pouting and wallowing forever in religious disgust.

And I love this about God and about Jesus’ death:

What if Jesus didn’t die to forgive us, but to manifest to the world that God already had, long ago in the realm of eternity?

What if God isn’t schizophrenic after all – harboring unconditional love for humanity one moment and eternal hate the next?

What if the truth is, you can’t reject Grace – you can’t stop its presence, pursuit, favor, or blessings over your life or that of any other, you can only love it or resist it? Loving, believing, trusting Grace fills your life with heavenly rest. Not loving, believing, and trusting Grace fills your life with a hell of frustration, self-righteousness, bitterness, religiosity, judgmentalism and angst – as long as you desire.

There’s a lot more, such as why people stay away from evangelical churches. (They don’t feel loved.) I especially loved what he had to say about learning to minister to that lesbian woman from the beginning of the book:

For so long, my conservative Evangelical faith required me to pump the brakes on loving her, and to make sure I kept a safe distance. Any bit of love that I might send her way must be packaged with conditions and restrictions, lest she be led astray.

Yet, I’ll never forget the moment. It felt like the heavens did open this time when I realized I could love her without restraint or restriction, my heart was finally free. I knew in that moment, in a way like never before, that Jesus truly lived within me. For no one loves like Jesus until they love without conditions, restrictions, or restraints.

Isn’t this what your heart has been longing for, to feel the full force of Jesus living through you?

There’s a wonderful scene where he explains what happened with his teenage son. I think it beautifully symbolizes what we think God the Father is like toward us.

In the past, they’d been having some trouble, and the father made “a long, written covenant of behavioral conditions that he would have to fulfill, making sure our expectations were perfectly clear. If he was complicit, good things would result. If not, the daunting consequences were sure. I sat him down, went over the contract, and sternly pasted it on the refrigerator door, just like any good conservative Evangelical would do.”

It didn’t work out all that well. But it wasn’t long after that when Chris Kratzer had a change of heart.

One evening, with a fresh new heart and perspective, I summoned Harrison into the kitchen. I grasped the covenant off the refrigerator and tore it in half, throwing it onto the floor. I told Harrison, there will be no more punishment, conditions, nor condemnation. “We love you, and that’s the beginning and end of all that matters.” I impressed upon him my sincere apologies for being such a grace-less dad, and asked for his forgiveness. He was free to choose the course of his behaviors, not out of fear of punishment or obligation to a set of rules, but because He is loved and deserves the blessings of choosing well. You could see the surprise in his eyes and a new countenance wash over him. I kid you not, from that day forward, his heart, attitude, and behavior forever changed for the better.

That anecdote makes me wonder, Why, why, why do we think that “calling out sin” will help people come out of it?

I’ve written a long review, but there’s so much more in this book. Okay, there are some typos, and some spots less well-organized than others. But don’t let that block its powerful and needed message. It’s well worth reading, and I highly recommend it. I’ll finish with this truly Good News:

Yes, it’s true, there is a Gospel that is devoid of fiery judgment, religious condemnation, guilt-trips, “to-do” lists, love-prequalifying, and people-shaming. There is a Gospel where everyone is deemed equal, affirmed, included, and eternally loved and valued. There is a Gospel absent of an angry, vengeful God who requires the murder of His Son and the proper religious responses of His creation in order to forgive and save humanity. There is a Gospel where God loves unconditionally, because that’s who He is and can do no other. There is a Gospel that stands against all violence, abuse, and idolatry, and, yet, in all these things, is no less biblical. This Gospel is not a fad, a new theology, or some wayward heresy – it’s a person, and that person is Jesus who is pure Grace.

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Review of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, by Leslie Connor

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 326 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 4, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 National Book Award Finalist
2019 Schneider Family Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

Okay, I love this book, and I love Mason Buttle! I’m writing this at the beginning of my Newbery reading year. I may read many more books I love this year, and I may be the only person on the committee who loves this book – but I am so encouraged that such a wonderful book exists.

Mason Buttle is the biggest and tallest kid in seventh grade. And he has a disorder, so he sweats. A lot. And he has dyslexia, so he’s not very good at reading or writing.

As you may guess, a kid like that with a last name like “Buttle,” will get teased a lot, and bullied. But Mason takes it matter-of-factly.

His family’s gone through a lot lately. Mason’s grandpa died. Then his mother was killed in an accident, so only his grandma, Uncle Drum, and Mason are left. And then Mason’s best friend Benny died.

Benny died after he fell from their tree fort when the top rung of the ladder broke. The sheriff keeps wanting to talk with Mason about it. But he interrupts Mason, and it’s hard for Mason to get his words out. Mason has told the sheriff everything he knows.

But there’s a wonderful teacher at school named Mrs. Blinny. (Mrs. Blinny, too, is quirky and wonderfully described.) She’s got a new machine that Mason can talk into – and it will write down his words for him. Now at last, Mason can write his story.

Meanwhile, Mason makes a new friend, Calvin Chumsky. Calvin gets bullied, too. But the two together start a project together and become friends.

That’s only the bare bones of how the book begins. There’s a lot more going on – things with Mason’s family, things at school, the bully’s nice mother and the bully’s nice dog that Mason dog-sits, the family orchard that Uncle Drum has been selling off, and of course the mystery of what really happened when Benny died and why do so many people in town give Mason a sad-to-see-you look?

But Mason isn’t the type to feel sorry for himself. I challenge anyone to read this book and not just love this kid. Here he is in the very first chapter after he misspelled stopped as STOOPID in a spelling bee and someone put a t-shirt with the word STOOPID in his locker.

Matt Drinker loves when something like that happens. That’s why I’m guessing he put this STOOPID shirt inside my locker. He must have picked my lock to do it. Funny thing is I knew what the shirt said because of the two Os in the middle. I knew in two blinks.

Matt doesn’t know it but he did me a big favor. I always take two shirts to school. Unless I forget. I change just before lunch. This is because of how I sweat. It is a lot. Can’t stop it. Can’t hide it. I need to be dry at the lunch table. Otherwise I’m a total gross-out of a kid.

Well, today was a day that I forgot my extra shirt. So I’m wearing this one that says STOOPID on it. It’s big and it fits me. It’s clean and dry. I’m going to keep moving. Maybe nobody will see what it says.

And if they do, well, tell you what. Plenty worse has happened.

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Sonderling Sunday! The Party Was Over.

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Believe it or not, it’s time for Sonderling Sunday!

Sonderling Sunday is that time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books.

But you may well ask, Sonderling Sunday, where have you been? Hasn’t it been almost a year since your last post?

That’s right — it’s been far too long. But in case you hadn’t heard, last year I had this little activity of being on the Newbery Committee and basically that was eating up every minute, forcing me to read children’s books whenever I could find the time. (I know, twist my arm!) But one very good thing that did go by the wayside was Sonderling Sunday.

And I didn’t even manage to finish going through Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge before I went on hiatus!

This book, with the original title The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy, is the book that started it all. And I am so close to the end! Last time we left off on page 334 in the original edition, Seite 424 auf Deutsch.

There are some fun ones on this page. Surely you can find a reason to say these things, right?

“fawning psychoanalysts” = kriecherischen Psychoanalytikern

“guffawed” = johlte

“a venerable therapist” = ein ehrwürdiger Therapeut

“you hit the nail on the head!” = Sie haben den Nagel auf den Kopf getroffen!

“cooed a spinster nurse” = gurrte Eine altjüngferliche Krankenschwester

“Take it down a notch.” =
Schalten Sie einen Gang runter.
(“Switch you a gear down.”)

Okay, I need to see how they handled this one:
“Why, you’re a regular ding-a-ling ding-dang-doodle, Belgian Prankster!” chirped a young doctor. “A first-class, blue-ribbon, dippity-doopity ding-a-ling ding-dang-doodle, and you can take that to the bank! Huh, fellas?”
»Also wirklich, Sie sind ein echter Kni-Kna-Knüller, Belgischer Scherzkeks«, zirpte eine junge Ärztin. »Ein erstklassiger, ausgezeichneter Kni-Kna-Kno-Knüller, darauf können Sie Gift nehmen! Stimmt’s, Jungs?«

(Hmmm. They seem to have translated “dippity-doopity” as Kno. Doesn’t seem quite as creative to me.)

“Esteemed doctors” = Hochgeschätzte Doktoren

“You got us that time, I’ll give you that!” = Sie uns aber wirklich drangekriegt, das muss ich Ihnen lassen!

“zinger” = Hammer

“What have you done to them?” = Was haben Sie mit ihnen gemacht?

“rigors of the workday” = strapaziösen Arbeitstag

“at random” = willkürlich

The German is so much more specific:
“She bit her cheek.”
= Sie biss sich auf die Innenseite der Wange.
(“She bit herself on the inside of her cheek.”)

“empty jest” = hohlen Witz

“unnecessary” = überflüssig
(“superfluous,” “over-fluid”)

Let’s finish with that important sentence:
“The party was over.”
= Der Party war vorbei.

That’s all for tonight, and I must say, it’s good to be back! One of the things that I think is so much fun about this pseudo-phrasebook is that we’ve gone through almost the entire book — and I’m guessing I haven’t given away the plot at all. I have given away how much James Kennedy likes to play with language, though.

Here’s wishing my readers a Kni-Kna-Kno-Knüller of a week!

Review of Blood Water Paint, by Joy McCullough

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Blood Water Paint

by Joy McCullough

Dutton Books, 2018. 304 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Morris Award Finalist
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Teen Fiction

Wow. This book is amazing.

Now, the central event of the book is a rape – so I, personally, don’t think that’s “presentation for a child audience” [though that is only my personal opinion and I haven’t discussed it with anyone else on the Newbery committee]. But by the time I figured that out, there was absolutely no way I was going to stop reading.

This is a verse novel, which usually I don’t have a lot of patience with. But this verse spoke with a compelling voice that pulled me in immediately.

We have the perspective of Artemisia Gentileschi, who was seventeen years old in 1611 in Rome. Her mother died when she was twelve. She worked for her father, an artist, grinding pigments, preparing paint – and creating paintings for him, even though they bore his name.

In that world, women were used by men. Her mother had told her stories of the ancient heroines Susanna and Judith – they stood up to men and were vindicated, though it was not easy for them. Those stories, woven through the book, are the only parts that are not written in poetry. Yet they quickly make you feel what it must have been like for those ancient women – in a way that men who have never felt powerless cannot understand.

And then a young man hired to teach Artemisia perspective rapes her. And she tells the world what he did – but the resulting trial comes at great cost to Artemisia.

The powerless woman, used by men, stands up to the powerful, like Susanna and Judith before her. Though none of them spoke up without cost.

And the amazing part is that Artemisia is an actual woman, an artist, and her trial in 1611 actually happened.

Being verse, this book is not long. But its effect is long-lasting indeed.

They tell me I know
about perspective now.
Too well.
They say I’m standing
at the start of a long road,
looking out into the distance.
What do I see?

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, by Joyce Sidman

Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

by Joyce Sidman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 144 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Sibert Medal Winner for best children’s nonfiction book of the year
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This book has a prologue, with the heading, “The Girl in the Garden.” Quoting from it will tell you the background of Maria Merian’s life.

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen: too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something she discovered days ago in the chilly spring air. As she combs the emerald bushes, she looks for other telltale signs – eggs no bigger than pinpricks, or leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm. . . .

But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather’s studio, carried them in, and arranged them for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures that ride on their petals: the soft green bodies of caterpillars, the shiny armor of beetles, the delicate wings of moths. She has looked at them closely, sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in “evil vermin.”

Yet she is drawn to these small, mysterious lives. She does not believe the local lore: that “summer birds,” or butterflies, creep out from under the earth. She thinks there is a connection between butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and the rumpled brown cocoon before her, and she is determined to find it.

This is her story.

The biography that follows tells of a woman far ahead of her times. She was both an artist and a scientist. She was an artist because she assisted her father and her husband and learned from them – she wouldn’t have been able to study on her own merits. She was a scientist by virtue of her own patient observations. She learned which caterpillars transformed into which moths or butterflies and which cocoon or chrysalis went with each.

She made her observations known by painting them. She would paint creatures on the same plant where she found them, and she would paint a butterfly with its egg, caterpillar, pupa, and chrysalis in the same picture.

This book is lavishly illustrated with Maria Merian’s own paintings as well as photographs of caterpillars, moths, and butterflies. Quotations from Maria’s writings are included, set off in a box and printed in script. Every spread has something colorful to catch the eye.

The structure of Maria’s biography follows the life cycle of a butterfly, with chapter titles: “Egg,” “Hatching,” “First Instar,” “Second Instar,” “Third Instar,” “Fourth Instar,” “Molting,” “Pupa,” “Eclosing,” “Expanding,” “Flight,” and “Egg” again. Joyce Sidman has written a poem for each chapter, placed next to a photo of a caterpillar or butterfly at that stage.

Maria’s unique combination of observation plus art left a mark that affected scientists after her. After her death, Carl Linnaeus used her book to classify and name more than one hundred insects – names we still use today.

The exquisite paintings and detailed photographs make this a beautiful book worth browsing – even if it weren’t packed with facts about an important scientist, a woman far ahead of her time.

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

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 Dreamers, by Yuyi Morales

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019


by Yuyi Morales

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2018. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2018, from an advance F & G.
2019 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 General Picture Books

Oh, this is such a gorgeous and timely book.

Mixing English and Spanish (without a glossary), Yuyi Morales tells her immigration story with glorious paintings and collages loaded with symbolism. A note at the back fills in the details.

She came to America with her baby, to get married. She felt bewildered and an outsider. She didn’t understand the language.

But almost the very center spread of the book is the place that changed both her and her child’s lives – the public library.

We see specific books on the shelves, but also wonders pouring out of the books she opens. All the rest of the spreads are about libraries and the wonders of books.

Thousands and thousands of steps
we took around this land,
until the day we found . . .

a place we had
never seen before.



Where we didn’t need to speak,
we only needed to trust.
And we did!

Books became our language.
Books became our home.
Books became our lives.

We learned to read,
to speak,
to write,
to make
our voices heard.

The text alone doesn’t do this book justice. The joy of the mother and child as the world and imagination opens up is glorious to behold.

In the note, where she fills in details of her story, she explains that her child was not a Dreamer in the political way the word is used today, about undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Kelly and I were Dreamers in the sense that all immigrants, regardless of our status, are Dreamers: we enter a new country carried by hopes and dreams, and carrying our own special gifts, to build a better future. Dreamers and Dreamers of the world, migrantes soñadores.

Now I have told you my story. What’s yours?

She includes a list of books that inspired her at the back.

Oh, such a lovely book! And it doesn’t hurt that it’s a song of thanks to libraries.

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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 The Flight of Swans, by Sarah McGuire

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

The Flight of Swans

by Sarah McGuire

Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 441 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 30, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
Mock Newbery winner at City of Fairfax Regional Library
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Fiction – Fantasy

Wow. Most of my readers know I love fairy tale retellings – this is a wonderful one, completely pulling me into the fantasy world, getting my very heart beating along with the protagonist, who tried to be silent for six years.

The fairy tale it’s retelling is the Grimm tale, “The Six Swans.” That was never my favorite fairy tale – but I think it’s interesting that my favorite fairy tale retelling for adults, Daughter of the Forest, is based on the same tale. This version is written for children, and doesn’t have quite as brutal things happen to the silent sister, but it’s equally powerful.

I reread the fairy tale after reading this book, and almost wish I hadn’t. The author retained the main elements – six older brothers turned into swans by the witch who enchanted and married the princess’s father, and she has to stay silent for six years, while knitting them shirts made out of nettles. But oh! The way she tells the story! I want to start reading it all over again. I’m actually a bit resentful that I need to keep reading other books. But the Newbery process being what it is – I know that I will read this book more times, and that’s a comfort to me.

Okay, I should tell about the book, not just rave about how good it is.

The book begins with Andaryn trying to fight her father’s enchantment:

The exile of the princes of Lacharra didn’t begin with swords or spells.

It began inside the castle kitchen with a quest for cloves.

It began with me.

Cooks mistrust anyone with empty hands, so I darted to the nearest table and snatched up a bowl of chopped leeks. Then I shouldered between scullery maids and undercooks as I moved toward the spice pantry.

Perhaps I was foolish. Maybe Father was just sick after being lost so many weeks in the forest. Maybe it was normal for a man newly married to hardly speak to the daughter he’d loved –

Then I remembered last night: Rees, the stable master, and the stable boy being beaten while Father looked on with empty eyes.

Something had happened to Father in the forest. He never would have allowed a beating for violating such a small edict, even if the woman he’d married had issued it.

Whatever she banned must be important – even if it was something as simple as cloves.

Andaryn secures some cloves and brings her father out of the enchantment – for a little while. But the Queen comes upon them together and quickly destroys Andaryn’s efforts. When Andaryn breaks the glamour her six older brothers feel for the Queen, her victory doesn’t last. The Queen locks them up, burning down the oldest brother’s castle with the brothers locked in the dungeon.

Andaryn bargains for their lives with her silence.

Finally, she spoke. “It would be a great sacrifice to release your brothers. I would expect something great in return: one year of silence for each of them. Not a word spoken,” she raised a finger, “and not a word written, either, for a word that’s written can be spoken. The moment you consent is the moment they are free.

Andaryn consents, and the Queen does set them free – but turns them into swans. They will take human form again only on the night of the full moon each month.

And so begins Andaryn’s journeys, in silence. It turns out it’s not enough to find a place to shelter, because the Queen sets otherworldly Huntsmen out after her.

The journeys aren’t as solitary as in the fairy tale, for her oldest brother’s wife accompanies Andaryn for some of the years. And there is a child to tend, as in the fairy tale – but the baby is her oldest brother’s son, the heir of the kingdom. And yes, the princess is discovered by the king of another country, but she still can’t speak.

Andaryn starts out as a 12-year-old determined princess. She ends the book as an 18-year-old young lady who has learned to be strong as steel through her suffering. A magnificent story.

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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 West, by Edith Pattou

Friday, February 8th, 2019


by Edith Pattou

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 514 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 13, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Speculative Teen Fiction

I was so excited when I found out West was coming out! I still remember, approximately 15 years ago when I was working at Sembach Library and a shipment of new books came in that included East, by Edith Pattou and The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale – two fairy tale retellings that ended up being my two favorite books of the year. I ordered my own personal copy of both of them, I liked them both so much. The Goose Girl has become the start of an entire series since then, but this is the very first follow-up to East.

Since this is my Newbery committee year, I didn’t get to reread East before reading West as I would have liked to do. But I remembered the basics, from the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” Rose went off with a white bear to save her family, but used a candle to try to see his face and then had to travel east of the sun, west of the moon. In the end, she had to defeat the Troll Queen in order to save him. They were supposed to live happily ever after.

But in this book, we learn that the Troll Queen is not dead. And she’s ready to get revenge, not only on Rose and Charles, but on the entire human race.

Like the fairy tale it all began with, this book is something of a saga. Rose and Charles now have a baby boy and an adopted daughter. As the book begins, Rose was visiting her family in Trondheim while Charles was performing as a court musician in Stockholm. But word comes that there has been a shipwreck of the ship Charles was taking home. There’s something off about the report.

In this book, it’s very much a case of one thing leading to another. Rose ends up taking a journey every bit as taxing as the one that took her east of the sun, west of the moon. Again her quest requires ingenuity, perseverance, and resourcefulness.

But it also requires help from others. Once she finds Charles (that’s the first difficult part), he helps. But so do her brother Neddy and her friend Sib, and so does Estelle, the little girl they adopted, who is kidnapped by the Troll Queen along with their son and watches over him. It turns out she also needs help from the Fates themselves.

The journey takes Rose in every direction on the compass in her quest to save her beloved husband, then her son, and even all humankind.

The Troll Queen is a formidable opponent and frightening in her power and her hatred. But Rose has something stronger in the power of love.

This is another gripping adventure saga with all the resonance of a fairy tale.

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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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2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Announcing the 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

This year, I’ve got to explain myself. Most years I post my Stand-outs from all the books I read the previous year on January 1st. But this year, I was on the 2019 Newbery Committee, and could not say one word about eligible books online until after our announcement was made.

I did, however, make my list of stand-outs on January 1st. So this list was made before I had discussed any books with the committee or even reread very many — after which, I gained new appreciation for many of them and noticed new drawbacks in others. Thus, the opinions are mine and mine alone. And I was only one-fourteenth of the committee.

Also, please don’t think that you can figure out from this list which books I nominated or voted for when the committee met. I’m making absolutely no claim that these books are the most distinguished books of 2018. These are simply my personal favorites after a year of reading — the books that stood out in my mind after reading like never before, and the books that won a place in my heart, even though they might have some flaws that would keep them from being declared to have the most literary merit.

I’m posting more Stand-outs this year than ever before. That’s because I read more books than ever before! In fact, I made more categories than ever before, the better to honor more books. I’m of the Spread the Book Love Around persuasion, so I like to honor lots of books — but this is still only a small fraction of the books I read this year.

In fact, as usual, I’ll post my stats. In 2018, while serving on the Newbery committee, I read:

4 novels for adults (all on audiobook)
38 nonfiction books for adults (some on audiobook)
49 novels for teens
174 children’s novels
207 books of children’s nonfiction (many picture books among them)
595 fiction picture books
13 books reread

So you can see I’m actually being very choosy in naming all these Stand-outs!

And I highly recommend every single one of these books.

Here’s the list of 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs!

Of course, not all the books will be reviewed on the day I post this, since I also couldn’t post any reviews until after our announcement was made. My plan is to keep posting reviews of these books until I have them all posted — then start in on posting 2019 reviews, but fill in with 2018 reviews as needed. Since I have 314 reviews of 2018 books not yet posted (That was how I took notes on the first reading of books), I will not lack for reviews for a long time to come!

So if you want to read reviews of all these Stand-outs, just keep checking back for the next few weeks. I think you’ll find books you’ll enjoy very much!