Archive for March, 2021

Review of This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel

Wednesday, March 31st, 2021

This Is How It Always Is

by Laurie Frankel
read by Gabra Zackman

Macmillan Audio, 2017. 11 hours.
Review written March 29, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I heard about this book from my Facebook group of mothers of transgender kids. I have a transgender daughter, though she came out at 27 years old, when she had grown up and moved out long before. This is a book about a family with a young child who doesn’t follow gender norms, and how the whole family navigates that.

I tend to not like “issue” novels, because they can make things work out for their protagonists in ways the real world wouldn’t. But I loved this. In the featured family’s quirky particularity, we don’t feel like they’re trying to speak for every transgender child. But the author is telling us about this particular family, and how they in particular dealt with things when their youngest son told them he wanted to be a girl scientist when he grew up.

Rosie and Penn have an unusual family. She’s an ER doctor. He’s a writer who’s been working on his novel for a long time. They have five children, all boys – or so they thought. As the book begins, we’re told how much Rosie wanted that last child to be a girl. (I like that touch. A mom does wonder if there’s something about their pregnancy that “caused” their child to be transgender.) When she birthed a boy, they thought that at least they knew how to handle boys by now.

But Claude is not like the others.

Back when they were dating, writer Penn won Rosie over with a fairy tale. And as their boys grow, he continues the fairy tale in bedtime stories to them, stories of Grumwald, a prince. But their youngest, Claude, is tired of Grumwald and wants to hear about Princess Stephanie. The stories begin to change, and so does Claude.

After Claude is so clearly happier wearing dresses and growing his hair long and being called Poppy, the family lets it happen. But after some negative encounters, they decide to move somewhere more accepting – and then why bother telling anyone what is in Poppy’s pants? Why not simply present her as a girl?

But that decision, and that deception, gets bigger than the family can handle and leads to things blowing up. I won’t say more about how the big crisis is handled except to say that it’s believable and gracious, while hitting your emotions hard.

I love the perspectives. I love the way fairy tales shine light on their situation. I love the flawed humans in this tale. I love the way the older brothers love their youngest sibling but still have to deal with wanting their own needs met. I love the way this family loves each other, but doesn’t always know how best to show that.

True stories of bringing up a transgender child are valuable and have their own insights. I appreciated that in a novel, the author can let us know what all the different people in the family are thinking and feeling, rather than only what the writer of the memoir knows first hand. This book showed how the youngest child being gender nonconforming affected all the members of the big and quirky family.

This book doesn’t claim to have easy answers, and it does show the parents’ struggle to do what’s best for their child – and how even that brings some problems. This is a compassionate and nuanced look at a quirky and loving family trying to support their child and help that child be the person they were born to be.

lauriefrankel.net

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/this_is_how_it_always_is.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?

Review of Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Violet Kim

Monday, March 29th, 2021

Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum

by Natasha Yim
illustrated by Violet Kim

Charlesbridge, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written March 23, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s another wonderful book for exploring math with young children in the “Storytelling Math” series from Charlesbridge. It’s perfect, in fact, for my new Sondermath page.

In Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum, Ma Ma and Ba Ba are taking Luna and her two brothers to a dim sum restaurant for a special birthday lunch. They order two baskets of three pork buns each, and plan to eat two each.

Then Luna accidentally drops one on the floor. So they have five pork buns. How will they divide them up? Or should someone get more than everyone else? After all, Luna is the birthday girl.

This kind of problem – dividing up food – is near to kids’ hearts. And it’s told in a story form, so their attention won’t lag.

There are notes in the back about Dim Sum and the Chinese Zodiac, with ideas for exploring the math.

I’m enjoying this series, where kids engage with math concepts in real-life ways.

natashayim.com
violet-kim.format.com
terc.edu
charlesbridge.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 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 Every Penguin in the World, by Charles Bergman

Sunday, March 28th, 2021

Every Penguin in the World

A Quest to See Them All

by Charles Bergman

Sasquatch Books, 2020. 193 pages.
Review written September 30, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I wouldn’t have called myself a penguin lover before reading this book, though I certainly don’t dislike them. Who could? But reading this book has me fully converted.

The author is an English professor. He and his wife decided to take trips to see every current penguin species in the world. And he took wonderful photographs on these journeys.

The photographs do steal the show. Penguin chicks are adorably cute, and adults are sometimes comical, sometimes beautiful, and always striking. Their location in remote southern locations adds to the beauty of these photographs.

And it’s difficult to get to the remote locations where penguins live, so the story of this quest is a story of adventure. The author does a great job of communicating the dangers and difficulties of their travels while also conveying the way the penguins changed his life spiritually and called him to this pilgrimage.

Of course, there’s also information about how so many penguin species are endangered and what we can do to help. If a universally beloved creature is in danger, how can we expect to save creatures that aren’t so adorable? So this book is also a wake-up call.

I found myself looking at the photos here over and over again, but the words drew me in as well. This is a wonderful little book that you can be sure you’ll want to come back to. I think I’m going to order my own copy to be able to look at pictures of penguins whenever I want to be uplifted.

sasquatchbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/every_penguin_in_the_world.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?

Review of Just Like That, by Gary D. Schmidt

Saturday, March 27th, 2021

Just Like That

by Gary D. Schmidt

Clarion Books, 2021. 387 pages.
Review written March 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is set in 1968, during the Vietnam War, and after the events in The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now. In this book, we’re following Meryl Lee Kowalski, and the first thing we learn is that one of the characters from the other books, one who had become very important to Meryl Lee, has died suddenly in a freak accident. Oh, and there’s even a nod to Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, including a character from the Buckminster family (though this is years later).

You do not have to have read the earlier books (although this book makes me want to go back and reread them), and my own memory was hazy, but anyone will understand the painful good memories and the Blank left when thinking of someone you love who is no longer there.

Meryl Lee’s parents decide she needs a complete change. They send her to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls in Maine. So all the rest of the cast of characters in this book are new.

And Meryl Lee is the only new girl in eighth grade at St. Elene’s. Her roommate is from such an important family that she shares her last name with her hometown. She makes it very clear how much she misses the roommate she’d been paired with for years who is now living in Budapest with her diplomat family for the year. We can tell Meryl Lee’s going to have a challenge fitting in at her new school.

Alongside Meryl Lee’s story, there’s a parallel story of Matt Coffin, a boy who’s been living by himself in a fisherman’s shack by the water. People haven’t been able to get him to stay at school.

Things might have gone on this way for a very long time, except one early spring evening, when the orange sun was low and the shadows of the pines long, Mrs. Nora MacKnockater came down the steep ridge to the shore beneath her house and settled her substantial rump on a smooth rock large enough to hold it. She watched a flat stone skip in the trough between the low waves – the tide was heading out – turned, and saw Matt Coffin brush back his hair, pull his arm to toss the next stone, see her, and stop.

“Five skips,” she said, “is a creditable throw.”

Mrs. MacKnockater builds a friendship with Matt, starting with skipping stones, then sharing food, then finally giving him a place to stay. But Mrs. MacKnockater is also the headmistress at St. Elene’s Preparatory School for Girls, so Matt and Meryl Lee’s stories are going to converge. Matt has a tragic past and always worries that it will catch up with him. He doesn’t dare put down roots, because if he does, those people will get hurt.

As in so many of his other books, Gary Schmidt pulls you into the emotions of his characters. This book portrays grief in ways that will rend your heart. But it also shows new starts and new friendships. It shows Meryl Lee making new connections with some people you thought were too odious to ever be relatable and others that are surprisingly kind and others who just make you cheer that such good people found each other.

Once again, I’ll spend the year hoping for a Newbery nod for a Gary Schmidt book. Now that I’ve been on the committee, I understand that I can’t predict at all what the committee will decide, but I am at least absolutely sure this book will get consideration. It’s a beautiful and memorable book that explores grief but leaves you with hope.

hmhbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/just_like_that.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?

Review of Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Friday, March 26th, 2021

Punching the Air

by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam
read by Ethan Herrise

HarperAudio, 2020. 4.5 hours on 4 discs.
Review written December 28, 2020, from a library audiobook
2020 Cybils Finalist: Young Adult Fiction
Starred Review

Punching the Air, is a novel in verse about a teen who is wrongfully convicted of a crime. The coauthor, Yusef Salaam, is one of the “Exonerated Five,” who spent years behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of assaulting the Central Park jogger.

Amal Shahid is the character in the book in this position. He’s long been a poet and an artist, though he didn’t fit the boxes of the art school he attended. He’s having a much harder time with the box of juvenile detention.

The name Amal means hope, and the authors work to make this ultimately a hopeful book. Though it also shines light on injustice, on expectations, and on the system trying to fit people into boxes. It also looks at the way people are called to account for their actions depending on the color of their skin.

This novel is in verse and includes artwork on some of the pages. The narrator did a fine job, but I think I might have appreciated it more if I had read the whole thing and enjoyed it visually.

Either way, this book brings you into that cell and helps you feel the confinement, the injustice, the weight of judgment.

ibizoboi.net
yusefspeaks.com
epicreads.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/punching_the_air.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?

Review of Code Cracking for Kids, by Jean Daigneau

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Code Cracking for Kids

Secret Communications Throughout History, with 21 Codes and Ciphers

by Jean Daigneau

Chicago Review Press, 2020. 129 pages.
Review written December 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a nice solid book on codes and ciphers for upper elementary through middle school kids. It’s got activities – the 21 codes and ciphers from the subtitle – but it’s also heavy on the history of how secret communication has developed, all the way up to talking about how cryptography works today and how important it is in computer applications.

The library got three new books on codes at the same time, and together they make a nice picture of how kids can use codes but also how the world around us uses them. This one doesn’t have any cartoon illustrations, but uses historical photographs, so it’s got a less playful approach, while still full of ideas for how kids can try out what they’re learning.

In fact, the first activity this author suggests is making a cryptologist’s kit – assembling materials used in making and breaking codes into a backpack. As more activities are presented, they usually suggest something to go into your cryptologist’s kit.

The codes and ciphers presented here are rooted in history. They begin with spies and the codes they used, as well as thinking of other languages and writing systems as a kind of code. Some of the historical items the reader gets to make are an Alberti Cipher Disk, invisible ink, a Jefferson Cipher Wheel, a message hidden inside an eggshell, a St. Cyr Slide Cipher, semaphore flags, and a secret book compartment.

When I was in junior high, I’d read about the tap code used by American POWs in Vietnam and used it to send messages with my friends. This is the first book I’ve seen that includes that cipher. In general, this one has more to say about codes in the present day than the other books I’ve read for kids.

There’s a lot of good information here, and lots of ideas that interested kids can take much further.

chicagoreviewpress.com
ipgbook.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/code_cracking_for_kids.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?

Recommended Math-Related Books for All Ages

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

I recently did a talk for a local group about math-related books I recommend for all age levels, and I made a long list of such books.

I decided to make this list a page on my website, because these weren’t the first people to ask me about this. And I’ll add to the list when I encounter more mathy titles that I love. I’ve already added a few after doing the talk.

Philosophy: Math at home should be nothing but FUN. Math in books should be nothing but FUN.
I look for exploring, discovery, and playfulness.

I haven’t reviewed all the books, but I’ll put a link to the review for those I have.

Earliest Learners
Goodnight, Numbers, by Danica McKellar
Crash! Boom! A Math Tale, by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Chris Chatterton
Stack the Cats, by Susie Ghahremani
One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller, by Kate Read
Quack and Count, by Keith Baker

Early Numeracy

Counting
The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins
The Cookie Fiasco, by Dan Santat
How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, illustrated by Yancey Labat
8: An Animal Alphabet, by Elisha Cooper
Count the Monkeys, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
Math Fables, by Greg Yang, illustrated by Heather Cahoon
100 Bugs! A Counting Book, by Kate Narita, pictures by Suzanne Kaufman
Monkey Time, by Michael Hall
Anno’s Counting Book, by Mitsumasa Anno
Anno’s Counting House, by Mitsumasa Anno

Comparing
Lia and Luís: Who Has More? by Ana Crespo, illustrated by Giiovan Medeiros
Balancing Act, by Ellen Stoll Walsh
Who Eats First? by Ae-hae Yoon, illustrated by Hae-won Yang
How Long Is a Whale? by Alison Limentani
How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

Critical Thinking
How Many? A Different Kind of Counting Book, by Christopher Danielson
Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada
Pattern Fish, by Trudy Harris, illustrated by Anne Canevari Green
Sam Sorts, by Marthe Jocelyn
I Know Numbers, by Taro Gomi
Bedtime Math, by Laura Overdeck
Bedtime Math: This Time It’s Personal, by Laura Overdeck
Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out, by Laura Overdeck

Young Elementary School Math

Counting/Estimation/Number Sense
Everybody Counts, by Kristin Roskifte
A Million Dots, by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Mike Reed
Great Estimations, by Bruce Goldstone
Greater Estimations, by Bruce Goldstone

Mapping and Measuring
Mapping Sam, by Joyce Hesselberth
Millions to Measure, by David M. Schwartz, pictures by Steven Kellogg

Addition and Subtraction
Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action, by Caroline Stills, illustrated by Judith Rossell
Do Not Open This Math Book, by Danica McKellar

Multiplication and Division
The Best of Times, by Greg Tang
The Times Machine, by Danica McKellar

Fractions
Piece = Part = Portion: Fractions = Decimals = Percents, by Scott Gifford, photographs by Shmuel Thaler
Fractions in Disguise, by Edward Einhorn, illustrated by David Clark
Fraction Frenzy, by Rob Colson

More Math-Related Fun
Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature, by Sarah Campbell
I See a Pattern Here, by Bruce Goldstone
That’s a Possibility! by Bruce Goldstone
Infinity and Me, by Kate Hosford, illustrations by Gabi Swiatkowska
Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math, by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan
Math at the Art Museum, by Group Majoongmul, illustrated by Yun-ju Kim

Prime Numbers
You Can Count on Monsters, by Richard Evan Schwartz

Number Facts
A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars, by Seth Fishman, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg
Just a Second, by Steve Jenkins
It’s a Numbers Game! Basketball, by James Buckley, Jr.
If…, by David J. Smith, illustrated by Steve Adams
If America Were a Village, by David J. Smith, illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
Just the Right Size: Why Big Animals Are Big and Little Animals Are Little, by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton

Critical Thinking
Which One Doesn’t Belong? by Christopher Danielson
Cao Chong Weighs an Elephant, by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Christina Wald
Anno’s Magic Seeds, by Mitsumasa Anno
Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar, by Mitsumasa Anno
How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane? by Laura Overdeck
If Dogs Were Dinosaurs, by David M. Schwartz, illustrated by James Warhola

Picture Book Biographies
The Boy Who Loved Math, by Deborah Heiligman
Nothing Stopped Sophie, by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock
The Boy Who Dreamed of Infinity, by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman
Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, by Joseph D’Agnese, illustrated by John O’Brien

Upper Elementary/Middle School

What’s the Point of Math? by Ben Ffrancon Davis
Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, by Danica McKellar
Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, by Danica McKellar

Codes and Ciphers
Create Your Own Secret Language, by David J. Peterson
Can You Crack the Code? A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography, by Ella Schwartz
Code Cracking for Kids with 21 Codes and Ciphers, by Jean Daigneau

Building and Making
Calling All Minds, by Temple Grandin
Girls Who Build, by Katie Hughes
How to Be a Coder, by Kiki Prottsman

Critical Thinking
Really Big Numbers, by Richard Evan Schwartz
The Cat in Numberland, by Ivar Ekeland, illustrated by John O’Brien
Anno’s Hat Tricks, by Akihiro Nozaki and Mitsumasa Anno

Children’s Novels
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Secret Coders (Graphic Novel Series), by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes
Numbed! by David Lubar

Biographies
Changing the Equation: 50+ US Black Women in STEM, by Tonya Bolden
Hidden Figures: Young Readers’ Edition, by Margot Lee Shetterly

High School Math
Hot X: Algebra Exposed, by Danica McKellar
Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape, by Danica McKellar

For Adults

Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences, by John Allen Paulos
How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff
Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, by Charles Seife
How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, by Eugenia Cheng
Here’s Looking at Euclid, by Alex Bellos
Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
The Numbers Behind Numb3rs: Solving Crime with Mathematics, by Keith Devlin and Gary Lorden
Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World, by Matt Parker
How Charts Lie: Getting Smarter About Visual Information, by Alberto Cairo
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, by Jordan Ellenberg

Stories of People
In Code, by Sarah Flannery, with David Flannery
Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich
Busting Vegas, by Ben Mezrich
Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly
Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet
Struck by Genius, by Jason Padgett
Count Down: Six Kids Vie for Glory at the World’s Toughest Math Competition, by Steve Olson

Novels
Beyond the Limit, by Joan Spicci
The Sand-Reckoner, by Gillian Bradshaw

Coloring Books
Patterns of the Universe, by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss
Visions of the Universe, by Alex Bellos and Edmunc Harriss
The Golden Ratio Coloring Book, by Steve Richards

Web Resources
Bedtime Math: bedtimemath.org
Mathical Book Prize: mathicalbooks.org
Math Book Magic: mathbookmagic.com
Talking Math With Your Kids: talkingmathwithkids.com
Mathematical Knitting: sonderbooks.com/sonderknitting

Review of The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

Sunday, March 21st, 2021

The Jane Austen Society

by Natalie Jenner
read by Richard Armitage

Macmillan Audio, 2020. 12 hours, 34 minutes.
Review written March 11, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Oh, The Jane Austen Society is delightful in every way! I had recently discovered I can listen to eaudiobooks while pulling holds at the library and was finding myself making more lists of books to pull to get more time to listen to this book. I was surprised to learn the author is a debut novelists, and disappointed that I can’t immediately read more of her books.

The Jane Austen Society is set shortly after World War II, focusing on a disparate group of people from Chawton, the final home of Jane Austen. Tourists already came to Chawton looking for signs of Jane, but there was no place focusing their interest. The Knight family that owned the estate has no direct heir, so the things that Jane once lived among were in danger of getting lost. A group of people living in the village discover that they all love Jane Austen, and decide to do something about preserving her legacy.

A lot of the charm of the novel is discovering how the different people all develop their love for Jane Austen’s novels and are surprised to learn this love is shared. Yes, there are romances among the characters, and yes, some of them echo the situations from Jane Austen’s novels.

There are also problems with the inheritance of the estate, and personal problems as so many in the village are grieving losses from the war. There’s even a movie star who loves Jane Austen and has some money to bring to the project. Her fiancé is interested in pleasing her by helping to back the project, though it’s questionable how much his heart is in it.

A lot of the story is told from the perspective of the local widowed doctor, who knows everyone in the village and sees to everyone’s medical needs. Which also means he feels personally responsible when there are people he can’t save, especially when that included his own wife. Then there’s the farmer who does odd jobs for everyone in the village, and the maid on the estate who had to leave school early but is fascinated by the books in the family library, which once Jane Austen might have read.

In all, the author does a magnificent job of showing us a village of people in complicated relationships with one another – rather like Jane Austen herself would do.

And it’s all narrated with the marvelous deep voice of Richard Armitage, distinguishing between the characters enough to help us follow the large cast as they interact. (I am never very fond of how British folks do American accents, but all the lovely British accents made up for it.)

A special treat for me, a hardcore Jane Austen fan, was the many discussions among the characters of fine points in Jane Austen’s books, discussions of favorite characters, of blind spots in the characters, and this or that subtle point made. The delight of eavesdropping on these conversations added to my enjoyment of the book. And, yes, I knew all the references. Other hardcore Jane fans will enjoy that part, too, though it’s not a requirement to love the book.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/jane_austen_society.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?

Review of Lia & Luís: Who Has More?

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Lia & Luís

Who Has More?

by Ana Crespo
illustrated by Giovana Medeiros

Charlesbridge, 2020. 32 pages.
Review written February 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 Mathical Book Prize Winner, ages 2-4

This picture book from Charlesbridge’s “Storytelling Math” series is a lovely way to get small children thinking about quantity, and it’s cross-cultural, too.

Luís often brags to his sister Lia. When they each choose their favorite Brazilian snack from their Papai’s store, Luis is quick to brag that he has more. His bag is bigger.

But what if you count what they have? What if you count something different?

When Lia finally comes up with the idea to measure the treats, she can make a strong case that she has more – and a way to make them equal.

This puts the simple idea of measurement and quantity into a situation that small children will find compelling. Because you always want to have more than your brother. It’s an important early math concept, and it’s a good story.

anacrespobooks.com
giovanamedeiros.com
charlesbridge.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/lia_and_luis.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?

Review of Pain Studies, by Lisa Olstein

Sunday, March 14th, 2021

Pain Studies

by Lisa Olstein

Bellevue Literary Press, 2020. 191 pages.
Review written December 2, 2020, from a library book

Pain Studies is a book of musings about living with migraines. I’ve gotten migraines since I was a child, so I was ready for a book like this. Though it also made me thankful for how very much better they’ve gotten since menopause.

I’m not sure I approached this book in the best way, just a short chapter every day or two. Using that approach, I didn’t really catch her train of thought too well, so it felt like scattered musings about living with pain. When I look back, I see a few more themes than I remembered. Joan of Arc, for example, is mentioned in the last chapter, and I’d almost forgotten how much attention she’d gotten earlier in the book, as someone who experienced voices and visions other people didn’t understand – a little bit like how migraine sufferers experience things other people don’t understand.

This doesn’t try to pull meaning out of migraine, doesn’t try to make the reader see a higher purpose. I appreciated that, even if the result felt a little bit scattershot. But my own thoughts about migraines, when I have them, take on that same wide-ranging aspect. And I found many nuggets I appreciated. There’s a fellowship of migraineurs that none of us actually wants to be part of, but I recognized this voice speaking from that group.

Let me give you a couple of the nuggets I liked. This is in a chapter about the difficulty of describing pain:

The trouble with standard pain scales, it seems to me, is that they weren’t written by the right people – the people in pain. Often misheard as language that does not communicate, it turns out that the seemingly chaotic fragments of description people in pain manage to offer in fact cohere into meaningful systems of categorization. Researchers, Scarry tells us, have gathered up the shards and found logic in their arrangement, mapping dimensions relevant not only to diagnosis but also to treatment and sometimes even cure.

This one’s at the start when she’s introducing the topic of pain:

Drowning is one of the words we use to describe pain when we’re desperately in it, though often it’s used for other things, too: heartbreak, overwhelm. I’ve never experienced anything close to drowning, but I imagine that, like pain, it has a way of flooding you with the present. Yes, it makes you hazy, it fogs up memory’s edges, but in the moment, it is the moment and you are nowhere else except and only exactly where it puts you.

In some ways like any acute pain and in some ways possibly unlike any other, migraine is a particular version of the present. What happens when its present becomes yours for extended periods of time, for a significant portion of your life? This is the pain, or the present, I wish to discuss.

There’s a chapter toward the end that reminded me of all the times people asked me what caused my migraines.

Sometimes chance is cause, but is it ever what we mean by causality? Chance is cause stripped of meaning, an origin story or fated end without moral or lesson. (“People get what they get; it has nothing to do with what they deserve.” [House M.D.]) But any cause as yet unknown glows luminous. Answerless, we search for answers, because questions call and press. Somewhere out there, we feel sure, is the information that means, but, beyond our reach, it can’t matter yet. And when causality’s riddle turns out to be procedural or a purely chance operation, can it ever?

Maybe it’s a question of meaning versus meaningfulness. Chance may not teach us anything, but chance identified is a kind of answer and therefore a kind of balm, a version of no blame. I mean, in a way it’s reassuring how clearly the migraines come and go of their own volition, according to their own logic. One way of translating the void, the reams of unilluminating data, the typically atypical patterns: there’s nothing you did; there’s nothing you can do.

So this isn’t exactly a book I’m going to recommend to all my friends who get migraines. Because it’s not exactly comforting or inspiring. But on the other hand, it’s validating to read someone else’s musings on pain you’ve experienced. And if you’ve never experienced pain like this, perhaps reading this book will bring you a step closer to understanding.

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