Archive for May, 2021

Review of The Kingdom of Back, by Marie Lu

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

The Kingdom of Back

by Marie Lu

Putnam, 2020. 313 pages.
Review written December 26, 2020, from a library book

The Kingdom of Back is a story of Nannerl Mozart, the big sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, based on things we know about her life.

We know that she was a child prodigy before her little brother came along, and she performed with him before the royalty of Europe. We also know that she composed music – but we don’t know about any of that music existing. We don’t know if some of her music got published in the name of her brother.

We’re also told that she and her brother invented a country, the Kingdom of Back, and had their family’s servant draw a map for them of this country. In this novel, it’s an actual magical kingdom they got to visit, and it’s tied to young Nannerl getting her heart’s desire – to be remembered in her own right.

Nannerl meets a princeling of the magical kingdom who tells her he can grant her desire, but first she needs to complete three tasks for him. Those tasks get more and more sinister, and Nannerl isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing. But she loves her music and wants to be able to compose.

Here’s a magical look at the young Mozarts that will leave you thinking about what it was like to be a creative young woman in a time when making art was the province of men. This isn’t a typical fantasy novel, but it is a beautifully woven tale.

marielubooks.com
PenguinTeen.com

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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.

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Review of Hear My Voice, compliled by Warren Binford

Monday, May 24th, 2021

Hear My Voice

The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States

compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

Workman Publishing, 2021. 96 pages.
Review written May 20, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

It is horrible that this heart-wrenching book exists.

It’s all true. The words are taken entirely “from the sworn testimonies given by children while they were being held at Border Patrol facilities or other detention centers near the US border, often in violation of their rights.”

Those words tell us about terrible things.

The words are accompanied by illustrations from seventeen Latinx illustrators, adding tremendous power to what is said, with haunting images.

The testimonies tell of the danger they fled from, of family in the United States they want to join, of severely crowded conditions, of not getting fruits or vegetables, of waking up in the night hungry, of being verbally abused, of being cold, of having to sleep on the floor under glaring lights, of being woken up in the night at random times, of not getting medical care when sick, and more.

There are six pages after the picture book text, explaining the situation. Warren Binford, who compiled the material, is a lawyer who has visited the facilities as part of official inspections. He begins by explaining cases that established what the law requires, since 1997. This includes that children should be released as quickly as possible from government detention, and children should be released to family members. While they are in detention, they must be properly cared for in safe, clean conditions, with many specifications of what that should look like (which are clearly not being met).

Then he talks about his own visits to border patrol facilities, with an especially horrific visit to the Clint Border Patrol Station in 2019. After talking with the children as part of a mandated inspection, they decided to amplify those children’s voices and share the children’s stories. This book is part of that.

Although this is a children’s book, you’ll want to talk about it with kids, and some guidelines are included for doing that. Here’s what Warren Binford has to say about that:

We call it a “children’s book” because Hear My Voice is about children’s lives and experiences. Every word is from a child being held in a US detention facility. Every passage was selected while envisioning a child’s eyes and mind reading and contemplating the content. Every illustration is intended to help bridge the humanity between the children whose collective stories are told and the child who is trying to understand what is happening to children forced to move across national borders.

Although this is a children’s book, we recommend that thoughtful adults are on hand to help young readers process what they are learning from these children’s accounts. The book should be viewed as an opportunity to better understand human migration and children’s rights.

This book is also a dual-language book – if you flip it over, you get the same text and pictures in Spanish. So half of the 96 pages are given to each language. The unfortunate thing about that is our library is shelving it in the Spanish language section, and I’m afraid English-speaking children won’t find it.

This is a powerful and heart-breaking set of testimonies. The book also includes a section titled “Here are some ways your family can help,” and you will want to get started on those right away.

project-amplify.org/declarations

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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.

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Review of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laura Viera Rigler

Wednesday, May 19th, 2021

Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict

by Laura Viera Rigler
read by Kate Reading

Tantor Audio, 2009. 9 hours.
Review written May 17, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

I’d already read and reviewed the companion to this book, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, where Courtney Stone from modern-day Los Angeles gets transferred to the body of Jane Mansfield, a young lady who lived in Regency England. This book gives us the flip side of that exchange, and tells us what it’s like for Jane Mansfield to wake up in modern-day Los Angeles, in Courtney’s body.

I enjoyed this story more. I’m sure it was partly that I’d gotten used to the premise and didn’t get bogged down on the fantasy of the mechanics and how it wouldn’t really work to switch bodies. I was used to the idea and just went with it.

And the challenges of a young lady from the past trying to deal with present-day technology are astounding! She didn’t even have the vocabulary to know what things were called. The author did make use of “cellular memory” – the body itself knew how to do things, just as Courtney was remarkably good at embroidery when she was in Jane’s body. So Jane in Courtney’s body could quickly navigate using a computer, once somebody showed her what it was. She used her concussion as a reason to need a lot of things explained to her.

It was a lot of fun seeing the modern world through a 200-year-old consciousness. When she arrives and Pride and Prejudice is playing on Courtney’s TV, Jane is astonished, wondering how the actors got into the box, and she definitely recognizes the scene, for she, too, is a Jane Austen addict – but didn’t even know the name of the author of Pride and Prejudice. She’s delighted that there are four more novels by this same author on the shelves of her modern-day apartment.

I still wasn’t exactly happy about how each woman was trying to straighten out the other’s love life. Because who is really in love with whom if it’s a different person in that body? And then the author fudged the ending a bit, so it didn’t end exactly as I expected it to. Did I misunderstand the ending of the other book? All the same, it seems everyone will live happily ever after. What more could you ask for?

This set of books is a lot of fun, and the more so the less you get bogged down in trying to figure out how it would work. Don’t try; just enjoy it. After all, it would take a little magic for someone to live and learn to thrive in a life 200 years in the future.

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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 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.

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Review of Zonia’s Rain Forest, by Juana Martinez-Neal

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

Zonia’s Rain Forest

by Juana Martinez-Neal

Candlewick Press, 2021. 40 pages.
Review written May 18, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Zonia’s Rain Forest tells about a young Asháninka girl who lives in the rain forest with those she loves. (Her mother and infant brother are pictured.) It’s a simple story. Every day, Zonia likes to go greet her friends, and we see beautiful active paintings of Zonia with various creatures found in the rain forest (with a guide in the back as to what they are), with a blue morpho butterfly accompanying her on every page.

Some of the animals, such as the jaguar and the spectacled caiman look dangerous to this mom for a little girl to be cavorting with them, but it’s a child’s fantasy adventure, and Zonia is friends with the rain forest and with its inhabitants. I love the way Zonia is pictured always happily in motion.

The book ends with a frightening bare patch in the forest. Encouraged by her mother, Zonia purposes to answer the forest’s call to help. The final words of the book are, “We all must answer.”

In this beautiful and inviting book, every reader will feel Zonia’s kinship with the rain forest.

The five pages of back matter include, besides an identification of the animals pictured, a translation of the text into Asháninka, some facts about the Amazon, and a list of threats to the Amazon. It’s a call to protect the world given in a way that children can understand.

juanamartinezneal.com/zonia
candlewick.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.

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Review of Broken (in the best possible way), by Jenny Lawson

Monday, May 17th, 2021

Broken

(in the best possible way)

by Jenny Lawson

Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 285 pages.
Review written May 15, 2021, from a library book

I love Jenny Lawson’s books. She blogs as The Bloggess, and is indeed the queen of humor. Her books are sure to make me laugh out loud in many spots, and this one is no exception.

I’ve found that her books are a mix of laugh-out-loud humor and poignancy – especially when they talk about her struggles with mental and physical illnesses. The chapter about her dealings with her insurance company, trying to get life-saving care paid for, was infuriating and horrible – and I’m glad she’s going public with that story.

But also in the mix are sections of, shall we say, coarse humor, with many, many mentions of gender-specific body parts. For me, personally, there were far more mentions of penises than I ever want to think about. A chapter toward the end with Shark Tank ideas went way overboard for me. When she suggested skipping the chapter if you’re under seventeen, I should have realized I wouldn’t find it particularly funny. Oh well! It made me feel like the balance of funny, poignant, and coarse elements was a little off in this book and heavy on coarse. But I am still glad I read it, and I still laughed out loud over and over again while reading it.

However, at the very end, there’s a section about the cover illustration, and it sums up what Jenny Lawson does so wonderfully well – helping us see that we are broken, but we are still beautiful. Here’s how that section and the book finishes up:

And yet, there is something wonderful in embracing the peculiar and extraordinary monsters that make us unique. There is joy in accepting the curious and erratic beasts that force us to see the world in new ways. And there is an uncanny sort of fellowship that comes when you recognize the beasties that other people carry with them and the battles we are all fighting even when they seem invisible to the rest of the world.

We all have these monsters, I suspect, although they come from different places and have different names and causes. But what we do with them makes a difference. And, whenever I can, I take mine out in the sun and try to appreciate that the flowers it rips up from the garden can sometimes be just as lovely when stuck in the teeth of its terrible mouth.

Embrace your beasties. Love your awkwardness. Enjoy yourself. Celebrate the bizarreness that is you because, I assure you, you are more wondrous than you can possibly imagine . . . monsters and all.

thebloggess.com
henryholt.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.

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Review of Starfish, by Lisa Fipps

Sunday, May 16th, 2021

Starfish

by Lisa Fipps

Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random House), 2021. 244 pages.
Review written May 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Starfish is a novel in verse about a middle school girl named Ellie who’s fat.

She’s mercilessly bullied – by people at school, but more heartbreakingly, by her own mother and brother. Her mother first put her on a diet when she was four years old, and people at school have called her a whale or “Splash” ever since her fifth birthday party when she did a grand cannonball in the pool.

Now Ellie only swims by herself or with her best friend Viv. Except just before school starts, Viv moves to a different part of the country. But a new girl, Catalina, has moved in next door, and even though she’s thin, she knows how to be a friend.

But Catalina’s going to a different school from Ellie, so Ellie still has to face the same bullies on her own. They duck when she goes by in the hall as if there’s no room for her to pass, and do things much worse when no teacher is looking. At home, Ellie’s Mom even goes through her trash to make sure she’s not eating snacks. She won’t buy Ellie new clothes for school, because she wants Ellie to be motivated to lose weight. Mom even arranges an appointment with a doctor who wants her to consider surgery.

And Ellie hates it that she is a source of conflict between her parents. Dad has promised her that he will never allow surgery, so Mom made that appointment behind his back. When both parents arrange for Ellie to see a therapist, she feels betrayed.

But the therapist turns out to help Ellie think of ways to cope, to be able to speak up for herself, take up space, and stop hiding her feelings.

At home, in the pool, still early in the book, I like the place where Ellie decides to be a starfish:

As I float,
I spread out my arms
and my legs.
I’m a starfish,
taking up all the room I want.

This is a beautiful book. Ellie deals with some horrific bullying, and it’s not handled in simplistic ways, but she does get better at handling it. And she does learn to stop apologizing for taking up space, that she is beautiful and loved as she is.

Sadly, the Author’s Note at the back begins like this:

Starfish is a work of fiction, and a lot of people will read this and think, “It’s definitely fiction because people would never say or do such cruel things.” But a variation of every single mean thing people said or did to Ellie happened to me when I was a child. Fat Girl Rules exist.

I hope that this lovely book will help kids see the value in every person – whether they personally are fat or thin.

penguin.com/kids

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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.

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Review of Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Winterkeep

by Kristin Cashore

Dial Books, 2021. 518 pages.
Review written May 11, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Winterkeep is a fourth book in the series that began with Graceling. Like the rest, it deals with enough new characters and situations that you could enjoy it perfectly well without having read the earlier books. Though I always have to add that you should read them, they’re wonderful! In fact, I checked my reviews, and it’s been nine years since I read Bitterblue, so I’m thinking it’s time to reread them all, and no wonder the details were vague as I read this book. The author caught me up with anything I needed to know.

Bitterblue has now been queen of Monsea for five years, but they have recently learned about Winterkeep, a country across the sea. Bitterblue’s emissaries who last visited Winterkeep never returned, and she’s afraid they’re dead and wants to find out what happened to them. She has also learned that several merchants were cheating her by buying cheap zilfium from her mines – it turns out to be a valuable source of fuel in that other country.

Bitterblue wants to find out more, so she plans a voyage to Winterkeep, along with Giddon, her friend and a member of the council, and Hava, her half-sister, who is graced with the ability to make people see her how she wants them to see her. But the voyage does not go as planned.

I wondered that we had characters who are adult in a young adult novel, but then the reader learns about Lovisa Cavenda, a student in Winterkeep. Her parents are powerful in Winterkeep politics, even though they are part of opposing parties. They plan to host the visiting delegation, but it begins to become clear to Lovisa that they are up to something.

Winterkeep doesn’t have gracelings or monsters like the lands we’ve heard about before, but it does have telepathic foxes, who bond to one human – or so people think. There are also silbercows – seal-like creatures living out in the sea that communicate with selected humans with mental images. And the silbercows know about a giant creature with tentacles – they call her the Keeper – who lives in the depths of the sea.

There are plenty of mysteries and plots winding you through this intriguing and magical world. We learn about nefarious things happening, but not until the end do we find out why. And then our characters must work to thwart those responsible.

Something I love about Kristen Cashore’s books is that she does put her characters through trauma – but she’s realistic about what that costs them and about their struggles to heal from trauma. Even defeating a villain can be costly to a person’s mental health, especially if the villain is your own father, and her books show this more than once.

All of her books pull me in and absorb me and make me want to stay immersed in them until I finish – which is a big problem since they are so long. Be forewarned! This is a magical world that will feel real and will make you care about the fate of its characters.

kristincashore.blogspot.com
penguinteen.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.

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Review of Legacy, by Nikki Grimes

Friday, May 14th, 2021

Legacy

Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

by Nikki Grimes

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021. 134 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book

Quick, name a female poet from the Harlem Renaissance! I couldn’t do it before I read this book.

Here Nikki Grimes features poems from fifteen women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. After each poem she selects, she writes her own Golden Shovel poem – taking a significant line from the original poem and using those words at the ends of the lines in her tribute poem.

She says in the introduction:

In these pages, you will meet some of the gifted female poets – and remarkable women – of the Harlem Renaissance who created alongside and often nurtured the male poets we know. They didn’t all produce poetry collections of their own, but each played an integral part in this historic era in America.

Then, alongside the challenging, inspirational, and beautiful poetry is placed art from nineteen black women artists. In the back, there are biographies of all the poets and all the artists.

The poems themselves are inspirational. As an example, the poem “Four Walls,” by Blanche Taylor Dickinson, about overcoming obstacles, is paired with Nikki Grimes golden shovel poem “What Girls Can Do,” also about breaking out of boxes.

This is especially an anthology to hand to black girls to let them know there are no limits, but anyone can appreciate this message and the beauty of the words and images. And find out about some too-long-overlooked poets.

nikkigrimes.com
bloomsbury.com

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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.

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Review of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, by Abbi Waxman

Thursday, May 13th, 2021

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman
read by Emily Rankin

Penguin Audio, 2019. 9 hours.
Review written May 10, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

This book was recommended by members of my Silent Book Club Facebook group as a feel-good read, and I was delighted with it.

Nina Hill lives alone with her cat and likes it that way. She has plenty of activities after her work day at a bookstore, but she’s careful to schedule one night per week for reading. She was raised by a nanny, as her international photographer mother was always traveling, and her mother told her she didn’t even know who Nina’s father was.

So Nina is surprised when a lawyer informs her that her father has died and she’s mentioned in the will. It turns out that her mother had told him to never contact Nina, but he was, in fact, her father. It also turns out that she now suddenly has a great big family of siblings and nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews who also live in the Los Angeles area. (When I say “great big,” it’s not anywhere near as big as my family. But going from zero to a dozen or so is a big change. So I’m talking big for a normal person.)

At the same time, her trivia team members are urging her to get to know the handsome man on an opposing quiz team – and his team members are urging the same thing. But can Nina have a good relationship with someone who doesn’t read?

Honestly, I took it a little personally that the book implied that Nina looking for a man who reads would be unrealistic. I couldn’t actually see that they have a whole lot in common and wonder what they will talk about after they stop spending all their time together having sex. (Though admittedly, it turns out that his occupation is perfect.)

On top of that, every new family member she got to know had something in common with Nina, many being avid readers, and it was easy to see she’ll become good friends with them. Shouldn’t she also have something in common with a romantic partner? (Bear in mind that I’m unduly sensitive, since I would like to find a man who reads. I suppose if he’s good-looking, smart, and kind, like this guy, that might be enough – but I’m reserving some skepticism.)

It’s a delightful book, though. I related to book-lover Nina so very much. I did keep wishing she’d discover Library Science, though! She could get a Master’s in Library Science, become a librarian, and do all the things in a library that she was doing in the bookstore – without having to make a profit and getting a little more respect for her prodigious knowledge. She could still run book clubs and activities, but instead of needing to sell books, she could simply encourage people to read books. And her encyclopedic knowledge of trivia would come in handy at the reference desk.

But that’s the book I wanted, not the book before me. And the book before me was wonderful!

If you’re a book-lover at all, there’s an excellent chance you’ll love this particular book – the story of one of us.

abbiwaxman.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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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.

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Review of The Farmer and the Monkey, by Marla Frazee

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

The Farmer and the Monkey

by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2020. 32 pages.
Review written February 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

The Farmer and the Monkey is the sequel to The Farmer and the Clown, both wordless books picturing an old and plainly dressed farmer with an unusual visitor who has fallen off the circus train.

When it’s a monkey, the farmer initially wants nothing to do with him. But even the farmer doesn’t want to leave the monkey out in deep snow.

And then we get to see the farmer loosen up and gain affection for the monkey, despite some chaos that follows after him.

The ending is similar, when they see the circus train coming back.

But the flap copy tells us this is going to be a trilogy! I’ll be watching for The Farmer and the Circus.

What makes these books so much fun is how much is told through pictures alone. I look forward to the day I can use this in a storytime, because it would be so much fun to hear what kids see in these wonderful pictures.

marlafrazee.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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.

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