Review of How to Be Cooler Than Cool, by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien

How to be Cooler Than Cool

by Sean Taylor
illustrated by Jean Jullien

Candlewick Press, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written April 8, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ve got a whole category of Delightfully Silly picture books, and this book fits right in with a story that makes my heart smile. I was already a big fan of these creators from their book Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise, and this book is equally quirky and wonderful.

As the book opens, Cat finds a pair of sunglasses. And they bring a revelation:

“You know what,” she said.
“I’m not just any old cat at the playground.
I’m a real cool cat who can glide backward down the slide, looking cooler than cool . . .
WITH EXTRA COOL ON TOP!”

But gliding down the slide doesn’t go as Cat had hoped, and among other things, the sunglasses go flying off her face.

Cockatoo finds them.

“You know what,” he said.
“I’m not just any old cockatoo.
I’m a supercool cockatoo
who can dance coolly along the seesaw,
doing the supercool cockatoo boogaloo!”

>

But Cockatoo’s antics, too, don’t end up as cool as he’d hoped.

Some more animals get into the act, and the book finishes up with a wonderful message that it’s not about trying to be cool — it’s all about having fun.

But the fun part to this book is of course how it gets there — the expressive faces in the pictures, the comments in speech bubbles, and yes, seeing animals who think they’re cool having a downfall.

This book is more for Kindergarten through first graders than preschoolers, and if I were booktalking in schools this year, this would be on top of my list. It would also work great for family storytimes — or, okay, anyone who has five minutes to read it. Yes, this is the sort of book I push on my coworkers to make them smile.

Read this book! You’ll be cooler than cool if you do!

candlewick.com

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Review of The Choice, by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

The Choice

Embrace the Possible

by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
with Esmé Schwall Weigand

Scribner, 2017. 288 pages.
Review written April 5, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This book was published five years ago, but it still has a long holds list at the library. In fact, I had to read it in two sections, because I’d been reading only a chapter at a time, and in the middle I had to return the book and put it on hold again.

The story is powerful, inspiring, and transformational. This book is a memoir by a Holocaust survivor — but it also contains powerfully encouraging words about healing from trauma by a doctor of psychology.

Here’s how Dr. Eger finishes the Introduction:

Whether you’re in the dawn or noon or late evening of your life, whether you’ve seen deep suffering or are only just beginning to encounter struggle, whether you’re falling in love for the first time or losing your life partner to old age, whether you’re healing from a life-altering event or in search of some little adjustments that could bring more joy to your life, I would love to help you discover how to escape the concentration camp of your own mind and become the person you were meant to be. I would love to help you experience freedom from the past, freedom from failures and fears, freedom from anger and mistakes, freedom from regret and unresolved grief — and the freedom to enjoy the full, rich feast of life. We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible. I invite you to make the choice to be free.

Like the challah my mother used to make for our Friday night meal, this book has three strands: my story of survival, my story of healing myself, and the stories of the precious people I’ve had the privilege of guiding to freedom. I’ve conveyed my experience as I can best remember it.
The stories about patients accurately reflect the core of these experiences, but I have changed all names and identifying details and in some instances created composites from patients working through similar challenges. What follows is the story of the choices, big and small, that can lead us from trauma to triumph, from darkness to light, from imprisonment to freedom.

You couldn’t ask for a more dramatic story as an illustration than Dr. Eger’s. We hear her heart-wrenching story during the Holocaust, and then she’s honest about the difficulty it took her to heal from that trauma.

If she can heal from her trauma, then surely we can heal from ours.

Her message is consistent: “You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now.”

Here’s to choosing freedom! This book will help you do it.

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Review of Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? by Leslie Connor

Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?

by Leslie Connor

Katherine Tegen Books, 2022. 322 pages.
Review written April 19, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Leslie Connor is the author of The Truth According to Mason Buttle, a book that completely stole my heart from the year I was on the Newbery Committee. It did win the Schneider Family Award for portrayal of a disability, and Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? may well do the same.

Frenchie is an eleven-year-old boy who doesn’t speak. But his best friend, Aurora, knows how to watch him and find out what he’s thinking and feeling. Frenchie loves birds, the sky, and the sun. Aurora is in many ways the opposite of Frenchie, loud and talkative. But together, they have adventures. They live in the Maine woods, and enjoy seeing the wildlife and natural wonders, though Frenchie is the best at spotting birds. He’ll whistle and flap his hands when he does. Aurora likes to do things like follow the amazing piebald deer that has been lurking in the woods.

Aurora’s shaken by the news that for sixth grade, she and Frenchie will be in different classrooms. She makes some new friends in her new classroom, but Frenchie is still her best friend. And Aurora walks him to his classroom each morning.

But one morning, Aurora’s father drives them to school, and Frenchie doesn’t make it to his classroom. No one can find him in the school building anywhere. Aurora feels like she’s failed her friend.

But the entire town springs into action, and the quest to find Frenchie is on.

The story is mostly told from Aurora’s perspective, but we also get episodes from other characters who live in the town, as well as Frenchie’s perspective. When he first wanders off, following something he knows Aurora would want to see, he passes very close to other people in town, but one after another, they fail to notice him.

The characters in this book are delightful, including loud and exuberant Aurora, who’s so good at noticing what Frenchie needs, the softball coach who knows woodcraft, the couple who bakes and delivers blueberry pies, and Frenchie himself, who keeps pictures of birds in his special needlepoint purse. I also enjoyed Aurora’s toddler brother, who spotted what Frenchie was up to right from the start — if only anyone had understood him.

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Review of A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher, read by Patricia Santomasso

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

by T. Kingfisher
read by Patricia Santomasso

Tantor Audio, October 2021. 8 hours, 30 minutes.
Review written March 30, 2022, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2020 Andre Norton Nebula Award Winner
2021 Locus Award Winner for Young Adult Fiction
2021 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Winner for Children’s Literature

I loved this book! I listened to it while driving to and from vacation, and it helped make the driving delightful. Patricia Santomasso’s English accent captured the voice and tone of the main character beautifully.

The book begins when 14-year-old Mona goes in to work in her aunt’s bakery in the wee hours of the morning — and finds a dead body! Even worse, when the authorities are alerted, they think Mona is suspicious because she’s a magic worker. Never mind that her magic is confined to working with bread.

Mona can make dough rise quickly, keep bread from burning, and even make gingerbread men dance. She’s got a sourdough starter in the basement named Bob that seems to be sentient. But she certainly wouldn’t be able to kill anyone with bread!

Fortunately, when Mona is brought before the duchess, things get straightened out — but that’s only the beginning. More magic workers are dying, and Mona, even confined to bread magic, may be a target. And things keep going and escalating — until the fate of the entire city may depend on Mona using bread magic to defend against an invading army.

This book is just so much fun. Mona is resourceful and compassionate and knows her own limits. The book is full of humor and joy as we read about a worthy heroine thrust into impossible situations and figuring out how to do her best.

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Review of Galloping Gertie, by Amanda Abler, illustrated by Levi Hastings

Galloping Gertie

The True Story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse

by Amanda Abler
illustrated by Levi Hastings

Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2021. 48 pages.
Review written February 19, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Galloping Gertie tells the story of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge that collapsed in 1940 only four months after it opened.

To keep the book from being too somber, it gives us the point of view of a boy named Dale Wirsing. He could see the bridge from his house and walked across it once with his parents. The windy day of the bridge’s collapse was Dale’s birthday. As a kid, he thought it was an incredibly exciting event to watch the bridge twist in the wind and eventually blow apart.

The book gives plenty more background, both in the text itself and in the back matter.

A local engineer, Clark Eldridge, had designed the bridge to be lightweight and flexible . . . perhaps a little too flexible.

When the wind blew, the center span bounced up and down. The men who built the bridge nicknamed her “Galloping Gertie.” People said they could see the cars ahead of them disappear and reappear as they drove across her. Others claimed it was like riding a roller coaster!

We are presented with the drama of the day of collapse, and how the few people on the bridge before it shut down did make it to safety (but alas! not the dog). The bridge designer, being local, had driven across the bridge early that morning and actually watched its destruction.

I knew about the bridge because of an exhibit on bridges at the St. Louis Science Center – where our family used to go frequently with my kids. It had a video running of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse and claimed the reason was due to resonance — so I was interested in the discussion at the back that said experts now believe the collapse was due to aeroelastic flutter. I also enjoyed the terms to search for on YouTube and I again watched the bridge collapse.

This subject could be very grim, but this author and illustrator make it dramatic, compelling, and fascinating.

LeviHastings.com
sasquatchbooks.com

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Review of Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan

Once Upon a Wardrobe

by Patti Callahan

Harper Muse, 2021. 292 pages.
Review written March 28, 2022, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com

I ordered a copy of this book because of how much I loved the author’s other novel involving C. S. Lewis, Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

In this book, we’ve got a 17-year-old Oxford mathematics student in 1950 named Megs who is devoted to her younger brother George, who is frail and dying.

George reads The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and it opens his life and his imagination. He asks Megs where it all came from — and Megs decides to find out from C. S. Lewis himself.

Surprisingly, Jack Lewis and his brother Warnie are sympathetic to Megs’ story of her brother and welcome her into their home. But they don’t really answer the question. Instead, Jack begins telling Megs stories from his life, stories that help understand the creation of Narnia.

When Megs goes home and tells these stories to George, they always begin with “Once upon a wardrobe, not very far away…”

I enjoyed this book, but I’m afraid the framing didn’t quite work for me. Probably because we’re told Megs was a maths student who loved mathematics because of its order and logic. She wants everything to make sense, to have exact answers.

Trouble is, I was a math major myself, and I know many mathematicians. I don’t know a single one who feels that way about stories or a single one who’d have the cognitive problems Megs had with it. On the contrary, several of my college classmates especially loved The Chronicles of Narnia. I would say that math students are more inclined to love metaphor, not less.

So I wasn’t quite pulled into the book as much as I’d like to be — but I still enjoyed the stories from the life of C. S. Lewis and the book in general. It’s always wonderful to think about Narnia and where such powerful magical stories come from.

patticallahanhenry.com
harpercollinsfocus.com/harpermuse/

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Friday Night Wrestlefest, by J. F. Fox, illustrated by Micah Player

Friday Night Wrestlefest

by J. F. Fox
illustrated by Micah Player

Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written March 31, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I met the author of this book at the Highlights Foundation Retreat Center, doing a writers’ retreat. I found the book on our library shelves and was completely charmed.

The picture book shows us a Friday night tradition. After a pizza dinner, there’s a blocked off “Arena” with lots of cushions and pillows and blankets. A banner declares “FRIDAY NIGHT WRESTLEFEST” with a sign saying “Main Event: Battle to the Bedtime.”

In this corner it’s — DANGEROUS DADDOO!

He’s mad. He’s bad.
He’s DAD.

Over on the kid crew we have — THE TAG TEAM TWINS. Featuring tthe nutty-by-nature PEANUT BROTHER and the wriggly-giggly JELLYFISH

*with special guest star* . . . BIG BALD BABY!

And then the Wrestlefest begins! All the participants have homemade costumes and specially named moves appropriate to them. (Daddoo’s may involve tickling and kissing.) There’s a twist in the action coming from MAMA-RAMAAAAAA doing a Flying Mom Bomb. And it all wraps up with a surprise offensive from Big Bald Baby.

And then, like all the best picture books, the story ends with the kids tucked into bed. I like the way the bedtime routine gets wrestle move names, too, like Brush-n-Flush and Book-n-Tuck. The wrestlefest becomes a nestlefest.

It’s all got simple language, fun pictures, and big, dramatic action.

What especially made the book fun for me was hearing from the author that this Friday Night Wrestlefest was based on actual Friday nights in their home. Perhaps readers can start their own Friday night tradition!

jffox.com

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Atlas of the Heart, by Brené Brown

Atlas of the Heart

Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of the Human Experience

by Brené Brown

Random House, 2021. 304 pages.
Review written March 17, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

Brené Brown does an amazing job of taking scholarly research on human emotions and communicating the information in a way people can understand and apply it to their lives. With this book, she’s outdone herself.

This book is in a large format with glossy pages and color photographs, so it’s something of an art book as well. The bulk of the book is a catalog of emotions. They’re presented in thirteen chapters, which gather similar emotions. For example, the first chapter is “Places We Go When Things Are Uncertain or Too Much” and includes Stress, Overwhelm, Anxiety, Worry, Avoidance, Excitement, Dread, Fear, and Vulnerability.

With each emotion, she explains what it is and how you can notice it in yourself, as well as what psychological research says about it. It’s all fascinating as well as helpful. And it helps us understand ourselves better.

But the end of the book quietly packs a punch. After exploring all the emotions, there’s a section called “Cultivating Meaningful Connection,” which she explains is built on grounded confidence, the courage to walk alongside others, and story stewardship. It’s all explained beautifully, and there’s even a comic to help the reader understand how it looks.

At the back, she explains how the entire “atlas” of emotions was building to these ideas:

As you review the model, you’ll see that knowing and applying the language of human experience and emotion is a key property of all the major categories that support meaningful connection. That’s how we ended up here, together, sharing this book. When this emerged from the data, I thought, “Damn. I can’t write a book on meaningful connection without including some kind of glossary or compendium of emotion and experience words.” It was and remains weirdly shocking to me that access to and application of language are central to grounded confidence, walking alongside one another, and story stewardship. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see language emerge as core to one of these, but that it’s central to all three speaks to its power.

So learn about the language of emotions in order to build meaningful connection with the people in your life. This book will help you on that journey.

brenebrown.com
randomhousebooks.com

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Review of Stuntboy: In the Meantime, by Jason Reynolds, drawings by Raúl the Third

Stuntboy #1

In the Meantime

by Jason Reynolds
drawings by Raúl the Third

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), 2021. 268 pages.
Review written March 5, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review
2022 Schneider Family Honor Book

Stuntboy is not quite a graphic novel, since it doesn’t use speech balloons — at least, not very many. But it does have drawings on every page and lots of variety in the way the text is presented. If a kid, like Stuntboy himself, is easily distracted, the fact that each page is different in this book should keep their interest going.

Stuntboy is Portico Reeves. He lives in a castle — well, at least in the biggest house on the block, what other people call an apartment building.

We learn early on that Portico sometimes gets the Frets.

What?
You’ve never heard of the frets?
You’re kidding, right?
The un-sit-stillables?
The worry wiggles?
The bowling ball belly bottoms?
The jumpy grumpies?
(Or the grumpy jumpies, depending on who you ask.)
The hairy scaries, or worse, the VERY hairy scaries?
No?
Maybe it’s because your mom probably calls it what Portico’s grandma calls it – “anxiety.”

Portico is a character impossible not to love. I love his bright outlook on life. He and his best friend are fans of superheroes, so they decide to be superheroes themselves. Stuntboy is a superhero who does the stunts for other heroes (like his friend Zola) so they don’t have to get hurt. Often those stunts involve bouncing off walls, and Stuntboy doesn’t mind practicing. And he’s happy to save heroes when they don’t even realize it.

But when Portico walks in on his parents having a fight and they ask him to go to Zola’s apartment “in the meantime,” he figures that’s the time in which his normally nice parents are being mean to each other. And the meantime starts happening more and more often.

And every superhero has a nemesis. Stuntboy’s is another kid in the castle, Herbert Singletary the Worst.

I’m excited this is only the beginning of this series about an extremely likable kid. This will keep young readers turning pages.

JasonWritesBooks.com
RaulTheThird.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of Punching Bag, by Rex Ogle

Punching Bag

by Rex Ogle

Norton Young Readers, 2021. 207 pages.
Review written January 6, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

In Punching Bag, Rex Ogle continues to tell about his life. Free Lunch</em> told about the difficulty of being poor when he was in middle school. In Punching Bag, he’s in high school and his family is no longer desperately poor, but he gets frequently beaten by both his mother and his stepfather.

The book is framed with a story about coming home from a summer away when he was seven years old. His mother tells him a baby sister was born while he was gone. But she died. She tells Rex that it’s his fault because he left.

Then we flash to high school. When things get rough, Rex imagines his sister watching him, helping him cope.

Meanwhile, he’s got his actual little brother with him, to help, to entertain, and to try to protect. Rex doesn’t want to turn to violence like his mother and Sam do, but sometimes it all wells up inside him.

There’s lots of humor in this terribly sad book. His style gives us a taste of how surreal the situation must have been for a teen and how trapped he must have felt. The book is powerful, but painful. I’m so glad I read it.

Let me pass along the Author’s Note at the front of the book:

This is a true story. This is my story. It happened to me.

And as painful as it was for me to write, it may be equally or more painful for you to read – especially if you’ve lived through something similar.

If you’re not ready to read this, then don’t. Please, go enjoy some sunshine, watch a funny movie, or buy yourself an ice cream. This book will be waiting for you when you are ready.

But know this: I lived this, I survived. You survived your past too, or you wouldn’t be here reading this. We are both alive. We may have a few more scars than we’d like – inside or out – but we made it through. No matter how dark the past, or even the present, the sun will always come up tomorrow. There is hope.

This story (and that ice cream) are waiting . . . whenever you’re ready.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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