Archive for June, 2021

Review of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, by Laurie Wallmark, art by Brooke Smart

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter

How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

words by Laurie Wallmark
art by Brooke Smart

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written May 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book biography features a female American code breaker, a woman I’d never heard of before – whose work was declassified in 2015, thirty-five years after her death.

Most of us have heard of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the German’s Enigma code. I hadn’t realized that America was working separately on cracking the code and succeeded separately to crack the code. And the person in charge of that effort was a woman, Elizebeth Friedman.

Her work as a code breaker began long before that. She was hired in 1916 to try to find secret messages hidden in Shakespeare’s plays by Francis Bacon, whom her employer thought was the real author of the plays. She didn’t succeed in finding any, but that got her started in decoding. She and her husband were involved in the United States government’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Ciphers, in 1917 during World War I. They wrote pamphlets about the techniques they developed which are considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology.

She didn’t only work during war time, although she served during both wars. She also used her methods to catch smugglers during Prohibition and later captured spies.

I’ve recently reviewed books about making and breaking codes and ciphers, so I love this one about a woman who made that her life’s work. The author includes fun details such as the dinner party that Elizebeth and her husband hosted in 1938 where the guests had to solve clues to figure out where each course was being served.

Because of the top secret nature of her work, Elizebeth wasn’t celebrated for her accomplishments in her lifetime. Here’s how this picture book biography ends:

Elizebeth was a true heroine of both World War I and World War II. She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time. Yet no one knew how many codes she broke, how many Nazis she stopped, how many American lives she saved . . . until now.

There’s more information at the back of the book including hints about coded messages hidden in the illustrations. This is a perfect book for kids interested in codes.

lauriewallmark.com
brooke-smart.com
abramsbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/code_breaker_spy_hunter.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 A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik

Saturday, June 5th, 2021

A Deadly Education

Lesson One of the Scholomance

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 2020. 320 pages.
Review written May 21, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book is wonderful. It’s the story of magical kids sent to wizard school – but this wizard school wants to kill the students.

Naomi Novik’s world-building in this new series is incredible. All kinds of details about this school for wizards, existing in the void, where maleficaria – monstrous creatures – come to feed on people who use magic. And the heroine of the story, Galadriel, daughter of a good witch who lives in a mundane commune and is loved by everyone – was born to balance that out, destined to be a powerful sorceress wielding death and destruction. And nobody likes her.

Here’s how the book begins:

I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life. I hadn’t really cared much about him before then one way or another, but I had limits. It would’ve been all right if he’d saved my life some really extraordinary number of times, ten or thirteen or so – thirteen is a number with distinction. Orion Lake, my personal bodyguard; I could have lived with that. But we’d been in the Scholomance almost three years by then, and he hadn’t shown any previous inclination to single me out for special treatment.

Selfish of me, you’ll say, to be contemplating with murderous intent the hero responsible for the continued survival of a quarter of our class. Well, too bad for the losers who couldn’t stay afloat without his help. We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.

Ah, but what about me, you ask, since I’d needed him to save me? Twice, even? And that’s exactly why he had to go. He set off the explosion in the alchemy lab last year, fighting that chimaera. I had to dig myself out of the rubble while he ran around in circles whacking at its fire-breathing tail. And that soul-eater hadn’t been in my room for five seconds before he came through the door: he must have been right on its heels, probably chasing it down the hall. The thing had only swerved in here looking to escape.

The whole elaborate world-building is fascinating and surprising. In that world, kids brought up in wizard enclaves have big advantages – being able to share power, and with automatic alliances. You need alliances to survive graduation – when the seniors on the bottom level of the school have to get out through the graduation hall, where maleficaria have been building up.

Those who aren’t in an enclave, like El, are at a disadvantage. It turns out she’s got amazing abilities – but her natural affinity is toward death and destruction, and she’s determined not to suck the life force out of any living creatures. Which makes things more difficult for her. And when Orion is anywhere near, anything dramatic she pulls off is assumed to be his work.

It’s hard to explain the charm of this book. If you like elaborate world-building at all, this one is amazing. And you’ll be pulled in by the grumpy witch trying not to become an evil sorceress, but trying to survive. And she might have to make some friends and kill some monsters to do so.

The book ends in a way that hints at a big conflict in the future. Nothing’s ever simple for El! I plan to preorder Book 2, coming out in September. I don’t even want to wait for a library copy.

TheScholomance.com
naominovik.com
randomhousebooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/deadly_education.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 Sticks and Stones, by Patricia Polacco

Friday, June 4th, 2021

Sticks and Stones

by Patricia Polacco

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written January 27, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Patricia Polacco’s books are long for picture books. Lots of pages, and lots of words on each page. These are not for the preschool storytime crowd, but they are for young elementary school proficient readers or for elementary school classrooms, people who appreciate pictures to go with the thoughtful text.

It’s a story of bullying. But also a story of friendship. As in many of her books, Patricia tells a story from her childhood in first person. One year, she spent the school year with her father in Michigan instead of with her mother in California. But her summer friends abandoned her, and the boy who was nice to the new girl was called Sissy Boy by the bully. The bully called Patricia, Cootie, and their other friend, Her Ugliness.

But the book shows the beauty of their friendship. Continued bullying, but fast friends. It turns out that Sissy Boy secretly takes ballet classes and loves ballet, and Her Ugliness makes beautiful kites and costumes from hand-painted silk.

The book tells the story of their friendship and culminates in a stunning ballet performance by Patricia’s friend Thom. But what really packed a punch for me was the author’s note at the back saying that now, more than fifty years later, Thom has retired as the artistic director of the American School of Ballet, and Ravanne (“Her Ugliness”) lives in Paris and has retired after an incredible career as a fashion designer.

I love the message this gives to kids that so often, bullies are just plain wrong.

PatriciaPolacco.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/sticks_and_stones.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 Intimate Conversations with the Divine, by Caroline Myss

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

Intimate Conversations with the Divine

Prayer, Guidance, and Grace

by Caroline Myss

Hay House, 2020. 271 pages.
Review written May 10, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

I wasn’t completely sure what to expect with this book. Knowing she’s a medical intuitive, I was expecting something New Age-y. But I’m going to list it in the “Christian” section of my review page, because these are prayers addressing God as “Lord,” and I’m completely comfortable with them as a Christian. She does have a note at the front that her current idea of God doesn’t look a lot like the God she was taught about in her Catholic upbringing. She believes that humans crave love and crave the sacred. Her note finishes this way:

If there is one thing I could communicate to you with this book, it’s that our holy channel of communication with the Divine has nothing to do with religion. Heaven is not the formal organization that religion is. Leave all the formalities in your rearview mirror. And don’t let the misdeeds human beings have perpetrated in the name of religion stand in the way of your nourishing yourself with the grace of the Divine. Choose an intimate way of addressing the Divine in your prayers, one that works for you, and pray. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that all prayers are heard and heaven always responds.

This is a book about prayer and a book of prayers. In the Introduction, she talks about the importance of prayer:

When we pray, we ask the Divine to show us how to see, how to speak, how to create. We ask God to reveal, to illuminate, the right path for us. God, show me how to see this. Reveal your wisdom to me, Lord. Show me the way. One word will do. One word is all I need. Then, suddenly, the word hope arises in you. Or patience. This word, this revelation, becomes the most holy word you have. You can hang on to it; you can use it to guide you. This is the true meaning of prayer: a request for help in how to see.

This is why I had to write this book, to urge you toward this new way to pray, one that is not about supplication and asking God to remove the consequences of your bad decisions. It’s not to explain why bad things happen to good people – that’s above my pay grade. It’s to share my way of prayer, which is a simple request for grace. “Help me out here, God. Don’t let me say something stupid. Give me the words. If I try to do this on my own, I’m going to do damage.

The bulk of the book consists of one hundred of the author’s prayers, written out, prayers asking for grace. Along with each prayer, she includes Guidance – teaching about the issues coming up in this prayer. She also includes a shorter petition asking for a certain kind of Grace.

The prayers are from actual situations and problems, when she needed different graces, such as acceptance, determination, endurance, healing, or hope. There’s an index at the back of which grace is requested in which prayer.

She has this to say at the front of the prayers:

The pages that follow contain 100 of my own personal prayers. Many of my students use them as they are, reading and contemplating them. But truly, my intention is to inspire you to engage in a prayer practice of your own. Contemporary prayer is a dialogue with the Divine and is the conduit for grace to enter your life and our world. Each of these prayers illustrates a different type of grace that feeds the human soul. As such, I have included words of guidance as well as a petition for grace with each prayer.

I already had a prayer practice before reading this book – but reading a prayer from this book each day has become part of it. Now that I’ve gone through the whole book, I’m starting over again immediately. They are that encouraging. These prayers make me think, but even more than that, they make me feel heard. They remind me that God is paying attention to my life, and I want to pay attention to God.

This is a lovely set of prayers whatever your religious or non-religious background.

myss.com
hayhouse.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/intimate_conversations_with_the_divine.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 Clues to the Universe, by Christina Li

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

Clues to the Universe

by Christina Li

Quill Tree Books (HarperCollins), 2021. 292 pages.
Review written April 28, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Set in the 1980s, after they watched the space shuttle launch together, Ro and her dad were going to build a rocket of their own. But then her dad died in a car accident, but she’s determined to launch a rocket anyway. But she also has to start at a new school, because she knows the private school she used to attend is an expense they can no longer afford.

Meanwhile, Benji, whose father walked out on their family years ago, is missing his own best friend, who moved away in the summer. Benji gets assigned to be Ro’s science partner, and they need to do a science fair project together. He has to do well in Science, or his mother will make him drop Art in favor of Study Hall.

But because of a folder mix-up, Ro learns that Benji is a fan of the comic Spacebound, and Benji wants to find his dad, who is the author of Spacebound. They make a pact. Benji will help Ro build and launch her rocket for the science fair, and Ro will help Benji find his father.

What follows is a book about life and family and friends and failure and fathers. It’s a heart-warming story, with some surprises along the way. This book has the usual challenges of middle school with a little extra heart.

christinaliwrites.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

Buy from Amazon.com

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