Review of Cold, by Mariko Tamaki

Cold

by Mariko Tamaki
read by Katharine Chin and Raymond J. Lee

Macmillan Young Listeners, 2022. 4 hours, 37 minutes.
Review written August 19, 2022, from a library eaudiobook

Cold is told in two voices, and one is the voice of Todd, a boy who just died. He’s hovering over his body, in a park naked and frozen in the snow, when his body is found by a dog. Detectives come and begin trying to figure out what happened to him and who killed him.

The other narrator is Georgia, a girl who didn’t even know Todd. But as she learns about him, she feels like they have some things in common. They’re both queer and don’t have many friends at their respective high schools. It turns out that Todd was a Senior at the boys’ school where Georgia’s big brother Mark is also a Senior. Mark tells her he didn’t know Todd, but something’s bothering her about that statement.

Meanwhile, while Georgia is thinking about Todd’s death and what might have happened, Todd’s ghost is following the investigation. The detectives are interested in the one teacher who was kind to him. Todd didn’t have a lot of friends, and maybe if he hadn’t wanted one so badly, things would have turned out differently.

This isn’t really a detective story, as the mystery isn’t solved so much as slowly revealed. When Georgia and the reader find out the answer, all the pieces fall together.

Todd’s ghost watching events takes some of the sting out of the story of a 17-year-old being murdered — but not entirely. I was left with a sense of sadness, as Georgia’s left thinking about what it all means.

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Review of Make Way for Animals! by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Bao Luu

Make Way for Animals!

A World of Wildlife Crossings

by Meeg Pincus
illustrated by Bao Luu

Millbrook Press, 2022. 32 pages.
Review written July 4, 2022, from a library book.
Starred Review

This is a simple nonfiction picture book about many different things people have constructed to help animals get across busy roadways that cut across their habitats.

I have been fascinated by animal crossings ever since seeing wooded bridges above the highways in Europe.

This book shows bridges like that in the Netherlands, but also a pipeline for penguins in New Zealand, a crossing for crabs on Christmas Island, an underpass for elephants in Kenya, a rope bridge for ringtail possums in Australia, and much more.

The book also gives details about the specific animals helped by the crossings. Notes at the back give details about specific places.

The main text is simple but fascinating. I like the variety in the different kinds of crossings featured. All of them save animals lives and help them have a wider habitat.

MeegPincus.com
lernerbooks.com

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Review of How to Raise an Elephant, by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Adjoa Andoh

How to Raise an Elephant

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Adjoa Andoh

Recorded Books, 2020. 8.5 hours on 8 compact discs.
Review written October 7, 2021, from a library audiobook

Here’s the latest installment of the adventures of Mma Ramotswe and her associates with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana. This audiobook has a new narrator, and I wasn’t crazy about some of her character voices, but I did love the way she rolls all her Rs and of course her delightful accent.

If you haven’t read any other books in this series, I do recommend beginning with the first book, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. That one is better written as a detective story, but the main point of these stories are not the cases the agency must deal with, but the relationships between the delightful characters and their observations on life and human nature.

In this one, there are three main cases to be considered: a distant cousin of Mma Ramotswe’s asking for money, new neighbors moving in next door who seem to be having marital troubles, and Charlie borrowing Mma Ramotswe’s tiny white van for a mysterious purpose.

The cases aren’t solved by figuring out puzzles, but as we see the ins and outs revealed, we gain insights on relationships and approaching life with compassion. Though Charlie’s story – which is not too surprising because of the title – ends up involving an orphaned baby elephant.

I’ve taken to listening to these books on my commute because I don’t quite have patience for the rambling and meditative observations on human nature when reading an actual book. But stuck in traffic, they never fail to make me smile. The books are anchored in Botswana, and I’m starting to feel like the country itself is a beloved friend.

recordedbooks.com

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Review of The Lucky Ones, by Liz Lawson

The Lucky Ones

by Liz Lawson

Delacorte Press, 2020. 343 pages.
Review written December 12, 2020, from a library book

The Lucky Ones in this book are teens who survived a school shooting in their high school the previous year. The reader does learn they’re not very lucky.

We follow two teens with a very different relationship to the tragedy. May was in a closet when the shooting happened in the band room. Her twin brother, her favorite teacher, and several of her friends were killed. She stayed in the closet. After the tragedy, she kept lashing out at school, and was eventually asked to take a leave of absence and home school. Now it’s second semester of the following school year and students from May’s old high school have been moved to the two closest high schools. She’s trying to go back to class. At least it’s a new building.

Zach’s mother is the lawyer who took the case of the school shooter. And when that happened, he lost all his friends except one. Someone – Zach doesn’t know it was May – has been vandalizing their house at night. But then a new girl shows up in class and smiles at him.

It feels good to both May and Zach to find new romantic interest in someone. Then they find out who the other is.

This is a tough book, dealing with so many awful emotions in the aftermath of a school shooting. It’s terrible how many teens may relate to it. It’s a well-written story, with both kids figuring out what’s going on in their own heads and how to communicate and what’s the best way to express all those mixed-up emotions. And not all the trauma happens before the story begins.

This is a good story and does end with a note of hope, but it’s not light reading.

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Review of Revolution in Our Time, by Kekla Magoon

Revolution in Our Time

The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People

by Kekla Magoon

Candlewick Press, 2021. 390 pages.
Review written August 20, 2022, from my own copy, purchased at the Walter Awards and signed by the author.
2022 Printz Honor Book
2022 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award
2022 National Book Award Finalist
2022 Walter Dean Myers Honor Award
Starred Review

Revolution in Our Time is an amazing work of scholarship, telling the complete history of the Black Panther Party for young people, complete with hundreds of photographs and plenty of sidebars and analysis. It won multiple Honor awards, and the meticulous research and clear presentation make it an obvious choice, even for awards that are usually won by novelists.

I didn’t know much at all about the Black Panthers. And honestly, all my impressions of them were negative. I certainly didn’t know that much of their reason for existing was to protest the same disproportionate police violence against Black people that still exists today. But it went much further than that. They wanted to help Black people in poverty and help Black communities come together. Reading this book helped me understand the organization was much more nuanced than anything I’d heard about them.

The Panthers fought a revolution in their time, just as we are fighting one in ours. They were called troublemakers, terrorists, and branded as anti-American, but the truth of their work belies these labels. They boldly claimed their place at the vanguard of a centuries-old fight for equality, and their legacy continues to lead the way forward. The story of the Black Panther Party is one of violence and heartbreak and struggle and conviction. It is the story of a group of young people who set out to change the world around them — in very radical ways.

They came up against many obstacles — including an FBI effort to stop them. They had many successes and many failures. This book tells their complete story, and it opened my eyes.

I was especially interested to learn that especially at the beginning, they were careful to follow all laws. They “policed the police” following police actions with legally owned guns, to protect people in their neighborhoods from police violence. I’m afraid I’m not surprised this resulted in some changes to what was legal.

I like the way the last chapter focuses on how young the founders of the Black Panther Party were. There is a reason the author targeted this amazing work of scholarship to young people. Here’s a paragraph from that last chapter:

I discovered an archival video in the course of my research, with former civil rights movement leaders who were looking back in the early 2000s at their own words and convictions of the 1960s. They declared in retrospect that the biggest mistake of the civil rights era was to believe that all the problems could be solved in their lifetime, and they failed to train the next generation to take up the mantle in the necessary ways to maintain the struggle. My own life experience bears this up in a lot of ways: young people are often underestimated and excluded from challenging conversations. Whether it’s to protect the children, or due to a misguided faith in their own power to solve everything, the perennial mistake of elders is to dismiss the power and potential of youth. On the flip side, the mistake of youth is often to dismiss the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before. In their day, the Panthers didn’t make either of these mistakes. They placed the core of their emphasis on building a cadre of revolutionary youth, and they promoted empowerment through education about Black history. They were undermined and overturned at every stage, perhaps partly because of the truly systemic nature of the change they envisioned, and the fact that they made real progress in these directions in a very short time frame.

Not that the author paints a completely rosy picture of what the Black Panthers were trying to do. But whatever you know about the Black Panthers, I suspect this book will give you a fuller picture. An amazing story of people who wanted to bring about equality and were willing to fight to get it.

keklamagoon.com

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Review of Escape at 10,000 Feet, by Tom Sullivan

Unsolved Case Files

Escape at 10,000 Feet

D. B. Cooper and the Missing Money

by Tom Sullivan

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 98 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book clearly lays out for kids all the facts about the only unsolved airplane hijacking case in the United States.

It happened in 1971. A man who called himself Dan Cooper hijacked an airplane and asked for $200,000 in cash and two front and two back parachutes. He later jumped off the plane and was never heard from again – but neither was his body found.

The money he was given was marked – and it was never used. But in 1980, a child found three bundles of twenty dollar bills from the hijacking – buried in a riverbank in the general area where the man had jumped off the plane.

It’s all presented in a matter-of-fact, precise way, with eye-catching pictures on every page. Some theories are presented at the end, along with why they are probably wrong.

Metal detector screenings at airports began shortly after this episode. Kids will be amazed at how lax security was back in 1971, though still amazed at what D. B. Cooper was able to do – though they might argue whether or not he lived through it.

I don’t think of myself as interested in true crime, but I couldn’t stop reading this one. It’s especially intriguing to realize it really happened.

thomasgsullivan.com
harperalley.com

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Review of I’ll Go and Come Back, by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Sara Palacios

I’ll Go and Come Back

by Rajani LaRocca
illustrated by Sara Palacios

Candlewick Press, 2022. 36 pages.
Review written April 23, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ll Go and Come Back is a lovely picture book telling two parallel stories. First, a girl and her parents fly across the world to India “to see aunties and uncles, cousin-brothers and cousin-sisters, and Sita Pati.”

At first, she feels lonely when her cousins are in school. It’s all so different. She wants to go home.

But even though they don’t speak the same language, she and her Sita Pati do fun things together, filling the time with love and joy.

When it was time to go home, I didn’t want to. I held Pati’s hand with its soft, soft skin. Her sari rustled and smelled of silk. “Goodbye,” I said.

“Poitu variya?” asked Sita Pati. “Will you go and come?”

And I remembered that no one in India just said “goodbye.” “I’ll go and come back,” I said. “Poitu varen.”

Then it’s Sita Pati’s turn to visit. The next summer, she visits the family in America. She, too, seems lonely at first.

But the girl and her Sita Pati find parallel things to do together. As before, they spend their days playing and reading and cooking.

And when it’s time for Sita Pati to go back to India the words of farewell are again, “I’ll go and come back.”

This picture book will resonate with anyone who has loved ones who live far away.

rajanilarocca.com
candlewick.com

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Review of Nicky and Vera, by Peter Sis

Nicky & Vera

A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

by Peter Sis

Norton Young Readers, 2021. 64 pages.
Review written March 1, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Nicky & Vera tells about Nicky, a young Englishman who cancelled a ski vacation and followed his friend to Prague in 1938, and ended up working to get Jewish children out of Prague while there was still time. It also tells about Vera, who was one of those children.

The story is a little sad, because although Vera survived the war, no one else in her family did.

But it does tell about the six hundred sixty-nine children that Nicky was able to save.

Nicky was a quiet hero. He didn’t tell anyone about his heroic work after the war until his wife found his records in their attic about fifty years later. Then a television show arranged for many of those children to get to thank Nicky in person.

The stories are told with illustrations in Peter Sis’s distinctive almost surreal style, full of symbolism, which adds emotional impact to the words.

After Nicky was thanked by the grown children he saved, the book ends (except the extended Author’s Note) with these words:

669 children would not have survived
if not for Nicky, who went to Prague and saved their lives.

I was not a hero, Nicky said.
I did not face any danger, as real heroes do.
I only saw what needed to be done.

A lovely and inspirational story.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Review of Freeing Jesus, by Diana Butler Bass

Freeing Jesus

Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence

by Diana Butler Bass

HarperOne, 2021. 285 pages.
Review written July 25, 2022, from my own copy, purchased via amazon.com
Starred Review

In Freeing Jesus, Diana Butler Bass tells us her life story — and how her life experiences affected the way she looked at Jesus.

She goes through six names for Jesus, which fit how she saw him during six stages of her life. I thought it was interesting that they were the same six names — even “Way” and “Presence” — my pastors used in a sermon series on names of Jesus.

Her journey had many similarities to mine, about a decade before me. I know the Christian college she refers to, because I went to a nearby Christian university that was a sports rival with it.

But it also got me thinking about the ways my views of Jesus have changed — and many of those ways were similar to the journey she describes. I like reading about her wrestling with the theology she was taught, because I’ve wrestled with some of the same ideas. Here’s a passage I marked because I love the way she expresses these transcendent ideas:

Jesus was born a savior, and he saved during his lifetime. “Fear not!” “Peace on earth!” He did not wait around for thirty-three years and suddenly become a savior in an act of ruthless, bloody execution. Indeed, the death was senseless, stupid, shameful, evil. It meant little other than silence without the next act — resurrection — God’s final word that even the most brutal of empires cannot destroy salvus. This is no quid pro quo. Rather, Easter proclaims that God overcomes all oppression and injustice, even the murder of an innocent one. At-one-ment means just that. Through Jesus, all will be renewed, made whole, brought back into oneness, reunited with God. Salvation is not a transaction to get to heaven after death; rather, it is an experience of love and beauty and of paradise here and now. No single metaphor, not even one of Paul’s, can truly describe this. We need a prism of stories to begin to understand the cross and a lifetime to experience it.

I love this concept she spells out at the end of her book:

We know Jesus through our experience. There is no other way to become acquainted with one who lived so long ago and who lives in ways we can barely understand through church, scripture, and good works and in the faces of our neighbors. In these pages, I have shared six Jesuses whom I experienced through something I call “memoir theology” (not theological memoir). Memoir theology is the making of theology — understanding the nature of God — through the text of our own lives and taking seriously how we have encountered Jesus.

This spoke to me because I’m working on a book about Psalms that uses my own experiences to illuminate the different types of Psalms. But she demonstrates with this book how much richness is added to her insights by looking at them through the lens of experience.

And after she said that, she points out that even though many church “fathers” wrote theology in the context of memoir, it was taken seriously because only certain (mostly male) perspectives were taken seriously. But she points out that all our experiences matter:

There is an old Berber proverb: “The true believer begins with herself.” Your experience of Jesus matters. It matters in conversation with the “big names,” when you argue with the tradition, and when you read the words and texts for yourself. It matters when you hear Jesus speaking, feel Jesus prompting, and sink into despair when Jesus seems absent. It all matters. The Jesuses you have known and the Jesus you know matter.

Read this book to think about who Jesus is in the light of one woman’s life story, with inspiration to reflect on how Jesus has touched your own life story. Think about who Jesus is and how he has touched your life.

dianabutlerbass.com
harpercollins.com

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Review of Merci Suárez Plays It Cool, by Meg Medina

Merci Suárez Plays It Cool

by Meg Medina

Candlewick Press, September 2022. 346 pages.
Review written July 23, 2022, from an Advance Reader Copy I got at ALA Annual Conference, signed to me by the author.
Starred Review

This is the third book about Merci Suárez, in a trilogy that began with the book my committee chose to win the 2019 Newbery Medal, so it has a special place in my heart. But even though it didn’t seem possible, Merci grows on me even more with each volume.

And yes, I think you should read all three books in order, growing with Merci from sixth grade to eighth grade. She’s growing in her perspectives, but she still has issues with friends and family to face.

Now starting eighth grade, she’s got an in with one of the cool girls because of being on the soccer team together. And her schedule has more classes with her than with her older friends. But can she navigate that without hurt feelings? And how does she feel about it?

Then at home, her Lolo’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, which is hard on everyone. And the twins are as incorrigible as ever.

None of this sounds funny and interesting and engaging when I give it in summary, but it’s all of that. It’s a solid book about an eighth grade girl growing up and navigating relationships with family and friends, and all packed with humor and heart. If you’ve read the others, you’ll be eager to spend more time with Merci. If you haven’t, good news: You can read the entire trilogy without waiting to find out what happens next!

megmedina.com
candlewick.com

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