Archive for May, 2020

Review of Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

Lights! Camera! Alice!

The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker

by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Chronicle Books, 2018. 56 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Who knew? One of the first people to create movies was a woman! This is from the note at the back:

Alice Guy-Blaché (1875-1968) was the first woman in the world to make movies – and one of the very first moviemakers, period. Long before Hollywood turned from silent films to “talkies,” Alice directed the first sound films ever made. She was also one of the first to film made-up stories instead of real events. (Some historians say she was the first, while others credit the Lumière brothers or Georges Méliès.) Between 1896 and 1920, Alice made over seven hundred movies, and her studio, Solax, produced hundreds more. She truly earned the title “Mother of the Movies.”

This picture book biography dramatizes Alice’s life without enormous amount of text and plenty of visuals. She grew up in France and got her start there, but came to America and made movies outside New York City. But the rise of Hollywood and the start of World War I meant her studio went out of business.

Each “episode” of her life has a “title card” like the old-fashioned title cards used in silent movies, and it turns out that each one is the title of a movie Alice made, with titles like “A Terrible Catastrophe,” “The Great Discovery,” “Starting Something,” “Imagination,” and “Her Great Adventure.”

There’s lots of back matter, and I took the time to look up one of Alice’s short films on YouTube. I was quite taken with this amazing woman I’d never heard of before – who changed the world.

mararockliff.com
chroniclekids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Drawn Together, by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat

Friday, May 29th, 2020

Drawn Together

by Minh Lê
illustrated by Dan Santat

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 36 pages.
Review written in 2018 from a library book.
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Picture Book Winner
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Other Picture Books

This almost wordless picture book tells about a boy and his grandfather – who doesn’t speak English.

The boy has been dropped off at his grandfather’s house. They eat together – different foods, and they watch TV together but like different shows. They can’t talk together.

But then the boy gets out his markers and starts to draw. The grandfather sees and his face lights up. He brings over his sketchbook, ink, and brushes.

And they begin to draw – together.

Now, after years of searching for the right words, we find ourselves happily…

Speechless.

I have not discussed this with the Newbery committee, but my personal opinion is that it would be a stretch to give a Newbery award to a nearly wordless book. However, after my first reading, I would not be surprised if this book is seriously discussed by the Caldecott committee. The art is wonderful – using one style for the boy and another for his grandfather, as well as portraying their imaginary battles by each other’s side.

Added later: I was so happy when this was announced as the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Winner for Picture Books.

minhlebooks.com
dantat.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/drawn_together.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Open Borders, by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith

Thursday, May 28th, 2020

Open Borders

The Science and Ethics of Immigration

written by Bryan Caplan
artwork by Zach Weinersmith

First Second, 2019. 249 pages.
Starred Review
Review written December 6, 2019, from a library book

This is a graphic novel about the case for, yes, open borders. And yes, it’s got science and ethics and statistics to back it up.

I’ve long said about children’s nonfiction, that the graphic novel format is a fantastic way to get facts across. It turns out to also be true about facts and current issues for adults.

I’ll admit up front that I was leaning toward advocating for open borders – because from my perspective it certainly seems the more Christian thing to do. But I wasn’t sure about answers to the various objections.

This book is written by a professor at George Mason University (down the road from me), and he has answers to a whole lot of objections. He also has ideas for opening up immigration that fall short of open borders, but that are still better than our current situation.

It would be easier to make a case against open borders if the United States hadn’t had almost open borders (“with infamous exceptions”) until the 1920s. In fact, my own ancestors came to America long before the 1920s, so they didn’t have to worry about legal or illegal immigration. In fact, most of my ancestors came before the United States existed. They came to English colonies, a lot of them looking for freedom of religion. Many of them did not, in fact, speak English. I have a copy of a will from an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War. His will was written in German. (No, he didn’t come to fight. He was one of the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”)

No, that’s not covered in this book, but that explains my leaning toward allowing immigrants today to do the same thing my ancestors did – come to America looking for a better life.

The author begins by talking about “global Apartheid.” The reason people from poor countries don’t emigrate to richer countries is that the richer countries don’t allow it. He takes a hard look at the ethics of that.

Then he uses statistics and studies to show that immigration helps the world. Immigrants are more productive in first world nations, and everyone benefits. Global productivity dramatically goes up when everyone can live where they want.

But he does proceed to take on arguments against immigration. He uses statistics to show they’re misguided. I especially like the section on Numeracy where he shows that the fear of criminal immigrants is flat-out innumerate.

Another chapter I like is where he looks at utilitarianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, cost-benefit analysis, meritocracy, Christianity, and Kantianism – and shows that all of these world views can be used to support open borders. In the Christianity section, the author asks, “And who is my neighbor? People on my street? My town? My state? The whole country?” Jesus says, “Funny, you’re not the first person to ask. Let me tell you a little story about a Samaritan.”

But don’t take my word for it. Like I said, the graphic format is a very effective way to make an argument – but you do need to see it for yourself.

Open borders are not only the ethical thing to do. They have a dramatically net positive effect for everyone.

bcaplan.com
smbc-comics.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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 Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 The Astonishing Color of After, by Emily X. R. Pan

Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

The Astonishing Color of After

by Emily X. R. Pan

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 472 pages.
Review written in early 2018 from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2019 Asian/Pacific American Literature Award Honor
2019 Walter Award Honor
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Teen Speculative Fiction

Wow. This book ties together symbolism and back story and grief and young love and magical realism and puts it all together into a package with punch. That sounds trite, and this book is anything but trite.

This is how Leigh begins her story.

My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.

I know it’s true the way I know the stain on the bedroom floor is as permanent as the sky, the way I know my father will never forgive himself. Nobody believes me, but it is a fact. I am absolutely certain.

We learn that Leigh’s mother committed suicide. The same day that Leigh’s best friend Axel kissed her and changed everything between them.

But then her mother appeared to her as a giant red bird. She said Leigh’s name. And left behind a feather.

The bird finds a way to tell Leigh to go to Taipei and meet her grandparents for the first time. In Taipei there are more appearances from the red bird. Leigh and Waipo and Waigong start traveling to the places her mother loved. It is Ghost Month in Taiwan. She learns that ghosts move on after forty-nine days. There isn’t much time left for her mother. She wants to figure out what her mother is trying to tell her.

But meanwhile, the red bird shows her a box of incense sticks. When she burns a stick, she sees memories – memories that belong to other members of her family. She begins to understand her mother better, but also her father and her grandparents. She learns why she never met them while her mother was alive. She understands better what her mother was up against.

These memories are interspersed with Leigh’s travels around Taiwan and time with her grandparents and sightings of the red bird. Also interspersed are Leigh’s memories of the last couple years with her friend Axel. The complication when he got a girlfriend who wasn’t Leigh. Their friendship and Leigh’s love of making art – which her Dad thinks she should give up to pursue something “serious.”

I am not always a fan of magical realism. I like fantasy where I understand how it works, which this didn’t fit at all. But Emily X. R. Pan won me over with her well-crafted story. The threads of grief, family history, following your passion, and falling in love with your best friend – all worked together to make an amazing book.

I’m writing this review before I’ve talked with anyone else about it – so this is solely my opinion. I am just not sure if I think this fits the age range for the Newbery. Leigh is fifteen – so there will certainly be many fourteen-year-old readers. I was personally trying to rule out any books that begin with discussions of sex, and this one begins with Leigh thinking about how much she wants to kiss Axel, so it’s not quite that.

I do think that the approach taken in this book is to a child audience – to the teenager as a child. Leigh approaches her grief as a child missing her mother, as a child becoming acquainted with her grandparents. Yes, there’s an aspect of hoping her best friendship with Axel will make the jump to an adult relationship, but that is only starting to happen.

But that’s only my opinion. And I’m only saying I do think this book is distinguished – but I’m making no claims at all to it being most distinguished. Or even if it’s in my top seven. I’m only saying that it made a strong impression on the first reading. I’ll indulge in a little speculation — whatever the committee decides – I hope this will also get some Morris and Printz love. I am amazed that Emily X. R. Pan is a debut author! But even if she doesn’t get any award recognition – this is an amazing book, and I hope many people read it. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author.

exrpan.com
lbyr.com
theNOVL.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/astonishing_color_of_after.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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?

48-Hour Book Challenge Finish Line

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

In the last 48 Hours, between 7 pm Monday and 7 pm Wednesday, I spent 27 hours and 15 minutes reading, reviewing, posting reviews, and blogging.

I was hoping for 30 hours — but today I lost a little bit of urgency when I realized that my week off will continue and there’s nothing to prevent me spending the time the same way! So I took a little longer on my walk by my lake, taking pictures of irises.

Today I focused more on dipping into various nonfiction books I’d started than reading whole novels. In fact, I’m a little stunned that I only finished ONE book from start to finish — Emily’s Quest, by L. M. Montgomery. But I did finish four other books that I’d already started and wrote reviews of them. I also got more than halfway through a children’s novel that I started today.

But most of the time was reading a chapter or two from nonfiction books. Besides the five books I finished, I read parts of eighteen other books. So yeah, maybe I’m overdoing the reading a little bit of books each day thing (and no wonder it takes me a long time to make much headway), but they were all books I really enjoyed reading, and that was in keeping with my theme of taking a personal spiritual retreat this week.

My stats for the 48 hours:
13 hours, 30 minutes were spent reading
2 hours, 50 minutes were spent listening to audiobooks
2 hours, 30 minutes were spent writing four reviews
4 hours, 25 minutes were spent posting five reviews (so I’m not further behind!)
1 hour, 55 minutes were spent with other blogging (starting line & midpoint posts & Sonderquotes)
2 hours, and 5 minutes were spent keeping track in spreadsheets (Oh dear, that seems excessive.)

In those 13 and a half hours, I got 954 pages read.
In the 4 hours, 25 minutes I spent reviewing and blogging, I wrote 2,921 words.

And the important thing? I had a lovely time doing it. And — I think I set some nice habits for the rest of my week off. Having this going on helped me spend a little less time on Twitter in the morning. And it reminded me that I *like* reading and reviewing and blogging.

All in all, it was again a lovely way to refresh my reading batteries.

Review of Calling All Minds, by Temple Grandin

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Calling All Minds

How to Think and Create Like an Inventor

by Temple Grandin
with Betsy Lerner

Philomel Books, 2018. 228 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 23, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

As the blurb on the cover of the book states, Temple Grandin is a “World-Renowned Scientist, Inventor, and Expert on Visual Thinking.” She is also autistic. This book outlines some of the things that fascinated her as a child and led to her becoming a world-renowned inventor.

All along the way in this book, she presents projects for kids to experiment with. And for the most part, we’re not talking about simple craft projects, though there are a few of those. Many things involve sawing lumber or cutting pieces to the right size. I also like the way she suggests tinkering with the creations to get the results you want.

A note to readers and their parents right at the front warns which projects “require the use of sharp objects or power tools.” I think this makes the book all the more fascinating for an inquisitive mind.

I love the way she fills the book with stories of things that made her curious as a child. But I think my favorite part is where she explains about patents and how they work. She’s got many diagrams from patents used in the illustrations. But best of all is that she encourages kids to indulge in this curiosity, too:

My grandfather stimulated my early interest in science and invention. There may even be a genetic link that explains our shared interest. You can look up one of his patents, Patent No. US2383460A, for a magnetic field responsive device. His invention makes the autopilot on airplanes work. A really fun thing to do online is to look up patents. You can easily find any invention; just type in “Google patent” and enter key words for whatever you’re interested in. It’s much easier to search Google than the government patent site, though you can use that, too.

Here’s how she finishes the introductory chapter:

The future holds many crucial challenges such as understanding the impact of climate change, curing diseases, and ending hunger. We need all kinds of minds if we are going to figure out how to adapt. If we lose the ability to make things, we will lose a whole lot more. We need people who can cast iron and chemists who can create new materials that are lighter and stronger than metal. We need new storytellers, filmmakers, musicians, and artists. And we need new technologies to explore the future, including a deeper and more complex understanding of the earth and the ocean and the galaxies.

There is no better way to start than by making things of your own design. All the projects I made when I was young contributed to the inventions I’ve made throughout my life. And they have given my life meaning. I hope these projects and the ones you create will do the same for you.

Encourage the kids in your life to create, to try and try again, to tinker, and to make things with their own hands. This book is going to make some minds take off!

templegrandin.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George, read by Steve West

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

The Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George
read by Steve West
and Emma Bering, with Cassandra Campbell

Random House Audio, 2015. 10 hours and 55 minutes.
Review written May 19, 2020, based on a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This audiobook is amazing! It’s the first eaudiobook I’ve ever listened to. Since I’m not driving in my car much while teleworking during the Covid-19 crisis with the library closed, and don’t have much occasion to listen to CDs, and since library customers will be accessing ebooks more than ever, so I should know how it’s done – I decided to install the Libby app on my phone and check out an eaudiobook.

I chose the book by doing a search for my favorite narrator, Steve West. And this ended up being a wonderful choice! Yes, his dreamy voice was perfect for this book. He did French accents throughout, while narrating in his wonderful British accent. At the start of the book, the main character will not say or even think the name of his ex-lover, and Steve West did a perfect sigh to indicate the missing name. When he did start saying the name, all the love in his voice was palpable.

But let me talk about the story. The book features Jean Perdu, a bookseller in Paris whose shop is a barge on the River Seine. He calls himself a literary apothecary, because he has an almost magical ability to see into someone’s soul and know the book that will be just right for them. He’s working on an Encyclopedia of Small Emotions — all the little feelings that come over you in different situations.

But his own emotions are kept strictly walled up. As the book opens Perdu’s landlady asks him to give a table to the distraught woman who has recently moved into their building, after being left by her famous husband. Perdu does have a table to give her – but it is in a room he has hidden behind a bookcase and not entered for 21 years.

When the door is opened, some old emotions come flooding back into Perdu’s life. Then as his defenses crack, the new neighbor, Katharine, finds an unopened letter when she’s looking for a corkscrew in a painted-over drawer in Jean’s kitchen. When he finally reads the 21-year-old letter, everything he thought about why his former lover left him turns out to be wrong.

That’s all at the beginning of the book. Jean Perdu ends up on not a road trip but a river trip. He unmoors his book barge and sets off to the south of France, the home of his lost love. Along the way, he gains as travel companions a wildly successful and eccentric young debut novelist with writer’s block and an Italian chef looking for his own lost love.

Along the way, Perdu explores his memories, memories he’d tried to hide from. And he writes letters to Katharine, who poked cracks into his walls. And the travel companions have adventures that bond them to each other.

The book is a wonderfully warm story, never traveling expected paths, but so full of heart, and so full of thoughts about love and about life itself. All read with the amazing rich voice of an outstanding audiobook narrator, this story has resonance that will leave you thinking about it long after the sound has been turned off.

nina-george.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/little_paris_bookshop.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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?

48-Hour Book Challenge: Midpoint Check-in

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

It’s past 7:00 on Tuesday night, so I have come halfway through my 48-Hour Book Challenge, and I’m fighting off the realization I always get during these events that I can’t actually get infinitely many books read in an infinite amount of time.

But the report so far is that I’ve finished reading (or listening to) four books, all of which I’d already started: one children’s novel, one audiobook, and two nonfiction books which I’d been reading a little bit at a time.

This has seemed like a good day for dipping into a large number of books, though it’s a little less satisfying to report. But in the last 24 hours, I have ended up spending 15 hours reading, blogging, reviewing, and posting reviews. (That’s good. I like to try to hit 30 hours in my 48-Hour Book Challenges. It all depends on how long I sleep.)

And this time, I’m trying to focus less on getting a large amount read and more on getting what I finish reviewed. But also to enjoy the process. Because what could be better than a day spent reading?

Review of Crash, Splash, or Moo! by Bob Shea

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

Crash, Splash, or Moo!

by Bob Shea

Little, Brown and Company, 2018. 44 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 25, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out #7 in Picture Books – Silly Fun

Okay, this one’s just incredibly silly. But I can’t wait to booktalk it in the elementary schools next summer.

On the endpapers in front, Mr. McMonkey asks the reader:

Do you like action?
Are you a good guesser?
Then get ready to play…

CRASH, SPLASH, or MOO!

And the book begins:

Fearless daredevils perform amazing stunts, and YOU guess what happens.

Will they CRASH?
Will they SPLASH?
Or will they MOO?

Guess right, and win a delicious banana!

The team members are Action Clam, “America’s favorite splashin’, crashin’ stunt clam,” and a cow “who does cow stuff.”

There are five stunts. Let’s just say that it’s pretty easy to guess what will happen. In the first one, for example, Action Clam races in a car toward a big tower of blocks.

Raise your hand if you guess CRASH!
Raise your hand if you guess SPLASH!
Raise your hand if you guess MOO!

When a dramatic CRASH happens, if you guessed right, “You just won your first banana!”

And I simply can’t express with a description how very silly this book is. For example, after the second stunt, Mr. McMonkey throws in the line, “Okay, Frankie Two-Bananas, let’s see if you can guess the next one.”

Did I mention the results are easy to guess?

But oh, how much fun!

Check this book out the next time you’re feeling silly.

Addendum: This book was indeed hugely fun to read aloud to younger elementary-age kids. So much joy comes out of these pages!

bobshea.com
lbyr.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/crash_splash_or_moo.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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?