Review of How Many? by Christopher Danielson

How Many?

A Different Kind of Counting Book

by Christopher Danielson

2019, Charlesbridge. First published in 2018 by Stenhouse Publishers. 39 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 in Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I already loved Christopher Danielson’s earlier book, Which One Doesn’t Belong? It came to my attention when it won a Mathical Book Prize. Now Charlesbridge has taken on his books to hopefully reach a wider audience.

Here’s how the book explains that it is different from other counting books:

This book doesn’t tell you what to count.

It doesn’t start with small numbers and end with big ones.

Instead you decide what to count on each page. You have many choices.

The longer you look, the more possibilities you notice.

And that’s what you get. The illustrations are photographs. The pictures show things like an apple being cored and two shoes in a shoebox. The text asks, “How many do you see?”

After that first picture, the narrator says:

If you thought, “how many what do I see?” then you get the idea.

It does give examples of things you can count: shoes, pairs of shoes, shoelaces, holes for the laces, yellow stitches. And it asks, “What other things can you count?”

The pictures get interesting in different ways. There’s a picture of an egg carton with one egg in it. There’s a picture of eggs frying, one of which has a double yolk. The eggshells are by the stove, and the eggs that were not used are still in the carton next to the stove.

In other pictures, some fruit gets cut in half. We’ve got pictures of pizza, and then pizza in slices. Pictures toward the end show kitchen scenes with many of the things we already looked at – including shoes on the floor.

Questions at the back give you ways to extend the ideas. I do love that there are no answers anywhere in this book.

This is a wonderful book for curious children! It builds sophisticated mathematical ideas into preschool and early elementary school children. Anyone who has learned to count will have something to think about with this book.

As the author says at the end, “When you count carefully and clearly state what you’re counting, you’re doing some great math!”

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Watching the 2020 Youth Media Awards

This morning I watched the American Library Association’s 2020 Youth Media Awards, fondly remembering last year when our committee met early in the morning, called the winners, and then had reserved seats at the announcements.

I have read and reviewed many of the winners. I’m afraid there are many that I’ve written a review, but haven’t posted it yet. My plan going forward will be to finish posting my 2019 Sonderbooks Stand-outs, then try to finish posting any award winners whose reviews I haven’t posted yet, and then, yes, finish posting the reviews of my 2018 Sonderbooks Stand-outs. (I couldn’t post any of those children’s book reviews until after the Newbery was announced, so I got way behind.) Then I will try to start catching up on new reviews. We’ll see how I do.

I can honestly say I’m happy about every single book that won. Since I don’t review every picture book I read (There are so very many!), there are many picture book winners that I read but didn’t review. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think they’re wonderful books.

Here is the list of winners from American Libraries magazine.

My list is in the same order as they were presented this morning (except I’ll put winners before honors):

Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature

Picture Book Winner: Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang
[I read this one and thought it was wonderful, but didn’t review it, which I now regret.]

Picture Book Honor: Bilal Cooks Daal, by Aisha Saieed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
[Haven’t read yet]

Children’s Literature Winner: Stargazing, by Jen Wang [Review coming!]

Children’s Literature Honor: I’m OK, by Patti Kim [Haven’t read yet]

Young Adult Literature Winner: They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker [My #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Young Adult Literature Honor: Frankly in Love, by David Yoon [Review coming!]

Sidney Taylor Book Awards given by the Association of Jewish Libraries

Picture Book Winner: The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come, by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Picture Book Honors: Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates [Review coming!]

The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Middle Grade Winner: White Bird, by R. J. Palacio [#6 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction!]

Middle Grade Honors: Games of Deception: The True Story of the First US Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany, by Andrew Maraniss [Not read yet]

Anya and the Dragon, by Sofiya Pasternack [Not read yet]

Young Adult Winner: Someday We Will Fly, by Rachel Dewoskin [Not read yet]

Young Adult Honors: Dissenter on the Bench, by Victoria Ortiz [Not read yet]

Sick Kids in Love, by Hannah Moskowitz [Not read yet]

American Indian Youth Literature Awards

Picture Book Winner: Bowwow Powwow: Bagosenjige-niimi’idim, written by Brenda J. Child (Red Lake Ojibwe), translated into Ojibwe by Gordon Jourdain (Lac La Croix First Nation), and illustrated by Jonathan Thunder (Red Lake Ojibwe) [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Picture Book Honors: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole Nation, Mekusukey Band), illustrated by Juana Martínez-Neal (Peruvian-American)
[read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Birdsong, written and illustrated by Julie Flett (Cree-Métis) [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

At the Mountain’s Base, written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre (Tongva/Scots-Gaelic) [Not read yet]

We Are Grateful, written by Traci Sorell (Cherokee), illustrated by Frané Lessac [read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Raven Makes the Aleutians, adapted from a traditional Tlingit story and illustrated by Janine Gibbons (Haida, Raven of the Double-Finned Killer Whale clan, Brown Bear House) [Not read yet]

[I haven’t read any of the remaining American Indian Literature Award Winners. I plan to remedy this.]

Middle Grade Winner: Indian No More, written by Charlene Willing McManis (Umpqua/Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde) with Traci Sorell (Cherokee)

Middle Grade Honors: I Can Make This Promise, written by Christine Day (Upper Skagit)

The Grizzly Mother, written by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (“Bret D. Huson,” Gitxsan), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia)

Young Adult Winner: Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee)

Young Adult Honors: Surviving the City, written by Tasha Spillet (Nehiyaw-Trinidadian), illustrated by Natasha Donovan (Métis Nation of British Columbia)

Reawakening Our Ancestors’ Lines: Revitalizing Inuit Traditional Tattooing, gathered and compiled by Angela Hovak Johnston (Inuk), with photography by Cora De Vos (Inuk)

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, written by Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh) and Jean Mendoza adapted from the adult book by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Apple in the Middle, written by Dawn Quigley (Ojibwe, Turtle Mountain Band)

Schneider Family Book Awards
(For books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience)
[Of all of these, I’ve only read one. I’ll note it. And I will do some reading.]

Books for Young Children Winner: Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, written by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Rafael López

Books for Young Children Honor: A Friend for Henry, written by Jenn Bailey, illustrated by Mika Song [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Middle Grades Winner: Song for a Whale, by Lynne Kelly

Middle Grades Honor: Each Tiny Spark, written by Pablo Cartaya

Books for Teens Winner: Cursed, written by Karol Ruth Silverstein

Books for Teens Honor: The Silence Between Us, written by Alison Gervais

Stonewall Book Awards
(Mike Morgan & Larry Romans?Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience)

Winner: When Aidan Became a Brother, written by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita [Read and reviewed!]

Winner: The Black Flamingo, written by Dean Atta, illustrated by Anshika Khullar [Not read yet]

Honors: Pet, written by Akwaeke Emezi [Not read yet]

Like a Love Story, written by Abdi Nazemian [Not read yet]

The Best at It, written by Maulik Pancholy [Not read yet]

Coretta Scott King Awards

Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement

Mildred D. Taylor

John Steptoe New Talent Award

Illustrator: What Is Given from the Heart, illustrated by April Harrison, written by Patricia C. McKissack

Author: Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams [Not read yet, but this book is already checked out and what I’m reading next]

Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards

Winner: The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Kwame Alexander [Reviewed! Not sure why I didn’t make this one of my Stand-outs, because I loved it.]

Honors: The Bell Rang, illustrated and written by James E. Ransome [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Infinite Hope: A Black Artist’s Journey from World War II to Peace, illustrated and written by Ashley Bryan [Read and reviewed in 2020 — may well be a 2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out! Review will be posted soon.]

Sulwe, illustrated by Vashti Harrison, written by Lupita Nyong’o [Not read yet]

Coretta Scott King Author Awards

Winner: New Kid, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft [Read and reviewed!]

Honors: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them, written by Junauda Petrus [Not read yet]

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, written by Kwame Mbalia [Review coming]

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, written by Jason Reynolds [Read and reviewed!]

Alex Awards
(for the 10 best adult books that appeal to teen audiences)
[I haven’t read any of these.]

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C. A. Fletcher
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
Dominicana, by Angie Cruz
Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe
High School, by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin
In Waves, by AJ Dungo
Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston
The Swallows, by Lisa Lutz

Margaret A. Edwards Award
(for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults)
Steve Sheinkin, specifically for the books Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery, and Lincoln’s Grave Robbers

William C. Morris Award
(for a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens:)

Winner: The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, written by Ben Philippe [Not read yet]

Finalists: The Candle and the Flame, written by Nafiza Azad [Not read yet]

Frankly in Love, written by David Yoon [Review coming]

Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams [Next up!]

There Will Come a Darkness, written by Katy Rose Pool [Not read yet]

YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

Winner: Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle [My #4 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Finalists: The Great Nijinsky: God of Dance, written and illustrated by Lynn Curlee [Not read yet]

A Light in the Darkness: Janusz Korczak, His Orphans, and the Holocaust, written by Albert Marrin [Not read yet]

A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II, written by Elizabeth Wein [Not read yet, but soon]

Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship,” written by Deborah Heiligman [Not read yet]

Michael L. Printz Award
(for excellence in literature written for young adults)

Winner: Dig, by A. S. King [Not read yet]

Honors: The Beast Player, written by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano [Not read yet]

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [Not read yet]

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, written by Nikki Grimes [My #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Where the World Ends, written by Geraldine McCaughrean [Not read yet]

Odyssey Award
(for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults)

Winner: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction, written by Jarrett J. Krosoczka and narrated by the author, Jeanne Birdsall, Jenna Lamia, Richard Ferrone, and a full cast [I haven’t listened to this yet, but the graphic novel it’s based on was my #5 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction for 2018. The review isn’t posted yet, though.]

Honors: Redwood and Ponytail, written by K. A. Holt and narrated by Cassandra Morris and Tessa Netting [Haven’t listened yet]

Song for a Whale, written by Lynne Kelly and narrated by Abigail Revasch with the author [Haven’t listened yet]

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, written by Traci Sorell and narrated by Lauren Hummingbird, Agalisiga (Choogie) Mackey, Ryan Mackey, Traci Sorell, Tonia Weavel [Haven’t listened yet]

We’re Not from Here, written by Geoff Rodkey and narrated by Dani Martineck [Haven’t listened yet, but the book it’s based on is my #1 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction, and the book was my library’s Newbery Book Club Winner]

Pura Belpré Awards
(honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino cultural experience)

Illustrator Award Winner: Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, illustrated by Rafael López, written by Margarita Engle [Not read yet]

Illustrator Honors: Across the Bay, illustrated and written by Carlos Aponte

My Papi Has a Motorcycle, illustrated by Zeke Peña, written by Isabel Quintero [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market, illustrated and written by Raúl Gonzalez [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Author Award Winner: Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, written by Carlos Hernandez [My #5 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Children’s Fiction]

Author Honors: Lety Out Loud, written by Angela Cervantes [Not read yet]

The Other Half of Happy, written by Rebecca Balcárcel [Review coming]

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre, written by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar [Read and reviewed]

Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War, written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

2020 ALSC Children’s Literature Lecture Award
(recognizing an author, critic, librarian, historian, or teacher of children’s literature, who then presents a lecture at a winning host site)

Winner: Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

Mildred L. Batchelder Award
(for an outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States)

Winner: Brown, written by Håkon Øvreås, illustrated by Øyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Honors: The Beast Player, written by Nahoko Uehashi, illustrated by Yuta Onoda, and translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano [Not read yet]

The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree, written by Paola Peretti, illustrated by Carolina Rabei, translated from the Italian by Denise Muir [Not read yet]

Do Fish Sleep? written by Jens Raschke, illustrated by Jens Rassmus, translated from the German by Belinda Cooper [Not read yet]

When Spring Comes to the DMZ, written by Uk-Bae Lee, illustrated by the author, translated from the Korean by Chungyon Won and Aileen Won [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
(for most distinguished informational book for children)

Winner: Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story, written by Kevin Noble Maillard and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

Honors: All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World, written by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger [Not read yet]

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality, written by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy [Review coming]

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir, written by Nikki Grimes [My #3 Sonderbooks Stand-out in Longer Children’s Nonfiction]

Hey, Water! written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

Children’s Literature Legacy Award
(honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children through books that demonstrate integrity and respect for all children’s lives and experiences)

Winner: Kevin Henkes

Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
(for the most distinguished beginning reader book)

Winner: Stop! Bot! written and illustrated by James Yang [Not read yet]

Honors: Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! written and illustrated by Cece Bell [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

Flubby Is Not a Good Pet! written and illustrated by J. E. Morris [Read and enjoyed. I reviewed a different book about Flubby.]

The Book Hog, written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

And at this point they always make a comment about the oldest and most well-known Children’s Book Awards:

Randolph Caldecott Medal
(for the most distinguished American picture book for children)

Winner: The Undefeated, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Kwame Alexander [Read and reviewed] [Finally! A Caldecott Medal for Kadir Nelson! So deserved!]

Honors: Bear Came Along, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, written by Richard T. Morris [Read and enjoyed, but not reviewed]

Double Bass Blues, illustrated by Rudy Gutierrez, written by Andrea J. Loney [Not read yet]

Going Down Home with Daddy, illustrated by Daniel Minter, written by Kelly Starling Lyons [Read and enjoyed but not reviewed]

John Newbery Medal
(for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature)

Winner: New Kid, written and illustrated by Jerry Craft [Read and reviewed]

Honors: The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson [Read and reviewed]

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, written by Christian McKay Heidicker, illustrated by Junyi Wu [Review coming]

Other Words for Home, written by Jasmine Warga [Read and reviewed]

Genesis Begins Again, written by Alicia D. Williams [Next up!]

A couple of historic things in this set of awards:

The first time a graphic novel has won the Newbery Medal.

I think (but have not yet checked) it’s the first time that both the Newbery and the Caldecott Medal winners matched the Coretta Scott King Award Winners.

What a wonderful set of books!

Happy Reading!

Review of White Bird, by R. J. Palacio

White Bird

by R. J. Palacio
inked by Kevin Czap

Alfred A. Knopf, 2019. 220 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 29, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 in Children’s Fiction
2020 Sidney Taylor Book Award Winner

This beautiful graphic novel written and illustrated by the author of Wonder is framed as a story told by the grandmother of a boy who’s a bully in Wonder. But his grandmother tells him the story of how she was hidden in a barn during the Holocaust – and that story will touch anyone’s life.

The boy who helped her escape and whose family saved her life had been crippled by polio. So the other children mocked him, and Sara did not stand up for him against that bullying, even though she’d sat next to him for years because their last names both started with B.

The story of Sara’s escape, and then the constant fear of discovery, and the way Julien and his mother helped her keep her courage up – but at great risk – all makes gripping reading. The story is not true, but there is information at the back telling about how it is all based in fact.

In the present, Julien’s grandmother tells him this was the boy he and his father were named after – someone who showed great kindness when any kindness felt like a miracle. The image of a white bird found throughout the book and the lessons drawn about standing up to evil and showing kindness make this a story that will resonate.

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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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe

by Carlos Hernandez

Disney Hyperion, 2019. 390 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 4, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 in Children’s Fiction
2019 Cybils Finalist, Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction

This is the first one of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint that I’ve read that doesn’t feel like Rick Riordan could have written it if he belonged to that culture. Yes, it’s an “Own Voices” book from Cuban-American culture. But it doesn’t follow the formula of kid-finds-out-mythological-characters-are-real-and-they-are-part-of-it. Instead, this is science fiction involving parallel universes, a kid who is able to open windows between universes, and his father who studies “calamity physics.”

Now, I have to say that I think the “science” in this book is silly and bogus. There’s hand-waving that goes on about how Sal is able to open windows between universes and pseudoscience about “calamitrons” that result. Also, the thing that happened at the end didn’t make sense to me.

I’ve said before that if a novel makes too much of alternate universes, we start asking, why then are we hearing the story of this particular universe, when a story exists where the characters make different choices? To me, it cheapens the importance of those choices.

However, that said, I loved this book! The characters, especially Sal and Gabi, are completely delightful. I love that Sal, who can open windows between universes and bring things through, is a showman and a magician. What a great trick – to bring a dead chicken from an alternate universe and then make it disappear without a trace!

Right at the start, Sal stands up to a bully by putting a dead chicken in his locker. He does it with flare, and later the evidence disappears. Gabi’s a friend of the bully, and we soon learn that she’s not the sort of person who’s going to let a mystery like that stand.

Sal and Gabi attend an Arts Magnet School – and it makes me wish such a school existed. The teachers and principal are reasonable and try to be fair. Sal’s also got diabetes, and dealing with that is a nice underlying realistic piece of the plot.

There’s a spot where Sal scares Gabi much more thoroughly than he meant to – and he apologizes beautifully. That’s where I thought, What a wonderful kid! But then later in the book, we see an alternate reality Sal whose mother never died of diabetes, and that Sal isn’t nearly so thoughtful. I like that nod to the way difficult experiences make us grow. I could believe that Sal was so aware of others’ feelings because of what he’d been through.

And let’s face it, the interaction between universes was so much fun, I was willing to suspend my disbelief. A chicken in a bully’s locker. Sal’s dead mother coming from another universe and thinking she’s still married to his Papi. A Calamitron-scanner with artificial intelligence and a personality. A lie detector using brain science that Sal turns into a performance.

So maybe the “science” is very hand-wavy. But as a novel about people – people interacting with grace, performing, and dealing with the hard parts of life – this novel shines. I agree with the blurb on the back by William Alexander, “filled to the brim with a fiercely unstoppable joy.”


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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 Saturday, by Oge Mora


by Oge Mora

Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 29, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 in Picture Books

Oge Mora won a Caldecott Honor with her first book, Thank You, Omu! This second book is a delightful story of a girl and her mother trying to have a special Saturday. She knows how to insert just the right amount of repetition and anticipation, and her collage illustrations are fun to look at.

The book begins:

This morning Ava and her mother were all smiles.
It was Saturday!

Because Ava’s mother worked
and Friday,
Saturday was the day they cherished.

We learn their plans for the day – the library for storytime, the salon for a hairdo, the park for a picnic, and the theater for a special one-night-only puppet show.

As they prepare for each event, we’re assured:

The day would be special.
The day would be splendid.
The day was SATURDAY!

But with each item on their agenda, something goes wrong.

The first three times, what happens after they are stymied is similar:

They paused, closed their eyes,
and — whew! — let out a deep breath.

“Don’t worry, Ava,” her mother reassured her.
“Today will be special.
Today will be splendid.
Today is SATURDAY!”

But when they don’t have the tickets for the puppet show, it’s Ava’s turn to be reassuring.

And they come up with a wonderful solution – together – for a beautiful Saturday.

This book reads aloud well, and it’s a modern story with a working, single mother. But the repetition gives it overtones of a folk tale, and it’s got a whole lot of love.

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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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle

Free Lunch

by Rex Ogle

Norton Young Readers, 2019. 208 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 2, 2020, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-outs: #4 in Longer Children’s Nonfiction

Free Lunch looks like an ordinary middle school novel. If you don’t pay attention, you might think it’s simply a hard-hitting, gritty story, with the hardships maybe a little overdone. But this story is true.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to quote from the Author’s Note at the back. In fact, knowing that it’s true makes this all the more powerful.

I just finished writing the story you’ve just finished reading. I feel exhausted and sad and a little sick to my stomach. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to puke on you.) The reason I feel like I’m about to vomit, or maybe just burst into tears, is because everything that happened in this book happened to me in real life. Every laugh, every lunch, and every punch that you’ve read about is the result of an emotional deep dive into my past.

Like most children entering sixth grade, I was focused on friends and grades and locker combinations. But I was also worried about other things: where I’d get my next meal, what mood my mom or stepdad might be in when I came home from school, and when other kids would finally discover my darkest secret – that I was poor.

I was beyond terrified of my peers knowing that my parents – and by proxy, me – were on welfare, using food stamps and living in permanent-subsidized housing. Along with living under the federal poverty line, I also dealt with verbal and physical abuse on a regular basis. I hated my life and I hated myself. I didn’t want people to know that my family was scraping the bottom of the barrel, because I believed being poor meant being less-than. And I was deeply ashamed for it. And worse, it made me feel completely alone.

The title comes from Rex being on the free lunch program, and every single day the cafeteria worker would make him tell her he was on the free lunch program and loudly tell her his name so she could look it up in a notebook. This made it tricky to hide it from his friends.

In fact, many things in his life revolved around not letting his friends know he was poor. When they moved to subsidized housing near the school, he’d linger at school until most of his friends had left on the bus, so they wouldn’t see where he lived. And he never told them why he hadn’t gone out for football.

This story pulls you into the mind of a middle school kid, including his surprise at people who are kind and like him for who he is. It also gives you an inside perspective on a major problem in America, where nearly one in five children under eighteen live in poverty. This book is written on a level children can understand, but I hope adults will read it, too.

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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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Butterfly Yellow, by Thanhhà Lai

Butterfly Yellow

by Thanhhà Lai

Harper, 2019. 284 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 2, 2020, from an advance reader copy picked up at ALA Annual Conference
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 in Teen Fiction

(I have to apologize. My web host doesn’t support the notations for the Vietnamese diacritics over ‘a’ and ‘e’. I carefully found the right symbol in Word, but it did not carry over when I copied it to my blog. I acknowledge that this is not the correct name for the main character without the diacritic symbol, nor is it the correct name for the country where she was born. It’s not even the correct last name of the author. I am sorry.)

Butterfly Yellow is set in summer 1981 in Texas, about a girl who has survived a harrowing journey from Viet Nam, including a traumatic journey on a boat where most of the other passengers, including her mother, died or were killed by pirates.

Now Hang is in Texas, staying with her uncle, who got to America before the war. But Hang is on a mission to find her brother, who was taken away from her six years ago, when he was five years old and she was twelve and tried to carry out a scheme.

In the final days of the war in April 1975, Hang thought she was so clever, devising a way to flee while her family strategized and worried. Every day newspapers printed stories about Americans panicking to save hundreds of orphans. There was even an official name, Operation Babylift. She assumed she and her brother would go first, then somehow her family would join them in America. But in line at the airport she was rejected, a twelve-year-old passing as eight. Linh was five, three to foreign eyes, just young enough to be accepted as an orphan. Hang saw little Linh thrashing as he was carried into a Pan Am.

By the time her brother was ripped from her, nobody cared to hear why she lied. With so many scrambling to flee before the victorious Communists marched in, one more screaming child was just that. An American volunteer with puffy, sweaty hands must have felt sorry for her. He pressed a card into her palm as he pushed her away from the ladder. Sun rays radiated through each strand of his mango-colored hair. She had to stop an impulse to extinguish the fiery puff of gold threads on his head. He was the last to board. Hang screamed until the Pan Am blended into the sky and left a long loose-curl cloud. For hours, until dusk enveloped her and mosquitoes chased her home, she focused skyward and pleaded for forgiveness. When she opened her palm, the card had disintegrated except for one clue: 405 Mesquite Street, Amarillo, Texas.

Hang’s mission, her one purpose now she is in America is to find her brother. That mission starts out on a bus, but when the bus’s motion, reminding her of the escape boat, makes her sick, the bus leaves without her. Her mission ends up entwining her fate with that of LeeRoy, a boy who is also eighteen and has left his home for the summer on a mission to ride in rodeos and be a cowboy.

When Hang does find her brother, he doesn’t remember her. And his American mother wants Hang nowhere near him. But Hang is going to find a way to stay as close as she can – and a lot of things happen to Hang, LeeRoy and Linh that eventful summer in Texas.

This book is beautifully written, from several different perspectives. One thing I love about it is how when Hang speaks in English, the phonetic spelling is given – but phonetic from the perspective of someone from Viet Nam, full of diacritic marks, and not using the same phonetics as an English-speaking person would use. The reader has to learn how to understand Hang and gradually figure out what she is trying to say. When she thinks or writes in Vietnamese, she is completely fluent, so the reader understands the difficulty of trying to communicate in a foreign language.

We gradually learn about the trauma Hang survived, both in Viet Nam and as she escaped from Viet Nam. It’s horrific, and explains why she covers herself up and hides even in the Texas summer and doesn’t even think of trying to look pretty.

This is a book of cross-cultural understanding, as well as a book of love and healing.

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Review of Cog, by Greg van Eekhout


by Greg van Eekhout

Harper, 2019. 196 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 20, 2019, from a library book
2019 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 in Children’s Fiction
2019 Cybils Award Finalist

This book is utterly delightful. It’s true that I’ve got a strong prejudice against books that claim robots have emotion or that assign basically magical abilities to robots, so I did have a tiny bit of trouble with suspension of disbelief. But I loved the characters so much, and they were so quirky and creative, I didn’t really care.

Here’s how Cog introduces himself:

My name is Cog. Cog is short for “cognitive development.” Cognitive development is the process of learning how to think and understand.

In appearance, I am a twelve-year-old boy of average height and weight. This means I’m fifty-eight inches tall and weigh about ninety pounds and seven ounces. In actuality, I am seven months old.

Now I will tell you some facts I have learned about platypuses.

Cog tells us about his home and his bedroom and about Gina, who lives with him and makes repairs and adjustments when he needs them.

Gina is a scientist for uniMIND. She has brown eyes like my visual sensors and brown skin like my synthetic dermal layer. Her hair is black and shiny, like the feathers of birds in the corvid family, which includes crows and ravens. When she smiles, which is often, a small gap is evident between her two front teeth. My teeth, which are oral mastication plates, have no gap, but I enjoy practicing smiling with Gina.

Cog is programmed to learn, to increase his cognitive development. As the book begins, Gina takes him to Giganto Food Super Mart to learn about shopping. She gives him a list and asks him to get the items unsupervised.

Cheese is the first item. Cog discovers many kinds of cheese that he hadn’t known existed before. He fills the cart with them. When he gets back to Gina, she tells him that for a first attempt he did a very good job.

“But we actually don’t need all this cheese,” she continues. “Nor do we need seven dozen apples or eight different kinds of orange juice or twelve different varieties of dish soap. So let’s start putting most of this back.”

I learn that unshopping takes longer than shopping.

As we return items to shelves, Gina explains to me where my judgment was faulty and led me astray.

“Is my judgment the result of a bug?” I ask her. “Can you fix it?”

“No,” she says, hanging seven bags of shredded cheese back on their hooks. “It’s just something you have to learn. It’s like my old professor used to tell me: ‘Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment.’ That means we learn by making mistakes.”

I process this for a while.

“How long did it take you to learn good judgment?”

“Oh, I’m still learning it, buddy. I’m learning it all the time.”

Since Cog’s mission is to learn, he makes a resolution. The next morning, he sneaks out of the house.

Leaving the house without Gina’s permission is a mistake. this pleases me, because a mistake is an act of bad judgment, and I expect my act of bad judgment to increase my cognitive development.

Unfortunately, out in the yard, Cog sees a Chihuahua about to be hit by a truck. He saves the Chihuahua – and gets hit by the truck.

When Cog wakes up, he is in bed and hooked up to data ports beneath his flipped-up fingernails, but something is not right. He is not in his bedroom at home, and Gina is not there.

It turns out that since she allowed Cog to be hit by a truck, she’s been taken off the project. Cog is at UniMIND headquarters and told it’s his new home.

When he finds out they want to open up his brain and take out the X-Module (whatever that is), Cog resolves to run away and find Gina.

And so we end up with a delightful road trip story. Cog travels with four other robots – ADA, an Advanced Destructive Apparatus who looks like a twelve-year-old girl, a Trashbot that asks everyone if they have waste, a robotic dog, and a talking Car. The Car asks if he will accept liability before it agrees to set out with them.

The adventure is wild – okay, perhaps quite a bit unlikely – but oh, so much fun. Each one of the robots has a distinct and consistent personality, and I love Cog’s voice narrating the whole thing. In fact, I will end this review with some words of wisdom from Cog:

Since leaving the UniMIND campus, I have had several bad experiences, and one thing I have learned is that friends and sandwiches make even the worst of situations more tolerable.

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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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Sonderling Sunday – Idle Braggadocio

Surprise! After several months off, it’s time for Sonderling Sunday!

Sonderling Sunday is when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s book and making a very silly phrasebook of Useful Phrases To Know in German — that I challenge you to ever actually use in any language.

Since it’s been so long since I’ve written a post, tonight I’m going back to the book that started it all, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, by James Kennedy, known in the original English as The Order of Odd-Fish.

We left off last time on page 348 in the English edition, Seite 442 auf Deutsch. We left off when Jo and Fiona were about to start their duel. Since duels begin with threats, this is going to be especially fun.

I like to begin by translating a complete sentence, and this is a good one:

“Fiona had already dismounted and started the threats:”
= Fiona war bereits abgestiegen und hatte begonnen, ihre Drohungen auszustoßen:

“Silver Kitten of Deceit” = Silbernes Kätzchen der Arglist

“Know the terror of your doom!”
= Erkenne den Schrecken deines Untergangs!

“the All-Devouring Mother” = die All-Vershlingende Mutter

“Tonight your deceits shall be overthrown, your silver fur gnashed between my all-masticating jaws!”
= Heute Nacht werde ich deinen Tücken ein Ende bereiten und dein silberner Pelz wird zwischen meinen alles zermalmenden Kiefern zerfetzt werden!

“boos” = Buhrufen (“Boo-cries”)

Here’s something you may want to try on the next person who threatens you in German:
“Boasting in speech, yet paltry in deed!”
= Du prahlst mit Worten und bist doch so erbärmlich in deinen Taten!

“my meow is your death sentence” = mein Miauen wird deine Todesstrafe sein

“my purr, your despair” = mein Schnurren deine Verzweiflung

“my litterbox, your grave!” = mein Papierkorb dein Grab!

“Let fly your thrashing tongue, your gnawing teeth, your gulping throat”
= Lass nur deine widerliche Zunge fliegen, deine Zähne beißen, deine Kehle schlucken!

“I choke your esophagus with the foodstuffs of destruction”
= Ich werde deine Speiseröhre mit dem Labsal der Vernichtung stopfen

“I fill your greedy maw with the meal of dishonor!”
= Ich werde dein gieriges Maul mit den Speisen der Schande füllen!

“savor your doom” = genieße deinen Untergang

I like this one, because I don’t think it’s a direct translation:
“The crowd went wild.”
= Die Zuschauer flippten aus.
(“The spectators flipped out.”)

“sneered” = schnaubte

“wearable” = tragbaren

“idle braggadocio” = alberne Prahlerei

“weakling” = Schwächling

“pusillanimous” = zaghaft

I write out this whole sentence for the sake of the big long word at the end in German, but I dare you to find a way to utter this sentence:
“Do you not know, Aznath, that I, Ichthala, the All-Devouring Mother, shall gather unto myself a thousand living scorpions and sew them into a pair of scorpion underwear?”
= Weißt du nicht, Aznath, dass ich, Ichthala, die All-Vershlingende Mutter, tausend lebende Skorpione versammelt und zu einer Skorpionunterwäsche genäht habe?

“unmentionable places” = unaussprechlichen Stellen

“writhing, poisonous underwear” = windenden giftigen Unterwäsche

“retorted” = konterte

“stitching disgraceful underwear” = schamlose Unterkleidung zusammenzuflicken

“thin twine” = dünnen Schnüren

They’ve got a word for this!
“second least favorite song” = vorletztes Lieblingslied
“least favorite song” = letztes Lieblingslied

“spicy gumbo” = würzigen Gumboschotensuppe

“intestines” = Eingeweide

“dollhouses” = Puppenhäusern

Now here’s an insult:
“your dark, unholy, malformed, unnatural, godless, nauseating, cancerous, wretched, crap-spackled heart”
= dein düsteres, unheiliges, missgestaltetes, unnatürliches, gottloses, widerwärtiges, geschwürgleiches, verdammtes, mächtiges Herz

The duel is about to begin!

I’m going to finish by showing how the translator rendered their last cries at each other before they engage in battle:

“Avaunt!” = Hinweg mit dir!
“Hark!” = Hört, hört!
“Fie!” = Pfui!
“Alack!” = Ach weh!
“Egad!” = Oh Gott! (I’m not sure I agree with this translation.)
“Forsooth!” = Fürwahr!
“Aaaaaaaagh!” = [Not translated] Mit einem lauten Schrei…

Now if you ever want to spout off some alberne Prahlerei in German, you’ll know what to say!

Baby Martin’s Normal Distribution Blanket

I finished a Normal Distribution Blanket for my new little nephew, Martin!

This is the same idea I used to make a blanket for my little niece Kara, but that one was in shades of pink.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the blanket out on Martin in person, but I gave the blanket to my brother, his Daddy, to give to Martin.

Here’s the method. The blanket is simply a series of entrelac squares (diamonds). I knit one row of squares in one direction, then pick up stitches along an edge to make another row of squares in the other direction, and knit back and forth, with squares in between the squares of the previous row. The nice thing about it is that each square is knitted completely before you move on to the next square, so you don’t have to carry different yarns across the row.

I used Tahki’s Cotton Classic yarn because they have many, many shades, and I already had some spare yarn from previous projects — Cotton Classic is my go-to yarn for mathematical knitting projects. All those shades!

Choosing the shade of the yarn for each square is where the normal distribution math comes in.

I simply generated a list of random numbers from the normal distribution (using google to find a random number generator). The normal distribution is a bell-shaped curve, so I’ll get more numbers in the middle of the distribution.

I took five shades of purple and labeled them A through E. For numbers in the middle, I used lighter colors, and got gradually darker as the numbers went out from the middle. For numbers that were outliers, I added a sparkly silver yarn to color E — because it’s the outliers that make life beautiful. And aren’t we all outliers in some way?

Here’s the specific math for those who care or who want to reproduce the method:

I set the middle of the distribution as zero, with a standard deviation of one. For positive numbers, I did a garter stitch square, and for negative numbers I did a seed stitch square.

Here’s how I assigned the colors:
Color A: Absolute values between 0 and 0.5
Color B: Absolute values between 0.5 and 1.0
Color C: Absolute values between 1.0 and 1.5
Color D: Absolute values between 1.5 and 2.0
Color E (with sparkles!): Absolute values greater than 2.0

Now, I didn’t have a perfect progression from light to dark. Color D was the reddish purple. And it’s not obvious in the photo that E was definitely much darker than Color C. Making D the reddish purple seemed to get the weight of the colors to progress better. I should have done a close-up of the sparkles, but didn’t think of it this time.

One thing I like about visualizing a normal distribution this way is you get a more visceral feel for how the colors are distributed than just looking at the curve. There are almost as many B-colored squares as A squares — and there really are a lot of outliers. (It might be a better representation if I had gone out one more level and used six colors. But this worked.)

I’ve also done scarves this way (with stripes) and of course the pink blanket. And it always comes out pleasing to the eye. The normal distribution really is the way so much of nature is arranged.

You can find links to explanations of all my mathematical knitting at!