Review of How to Explain Coding to a Grown-Up, by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Teresa Martinez

How to Explain Coding to a Grown-Up

by Ruth Spiro
illustrated by Teresa Martinez

Charlesbridge, 2023. 32 pages.
Review written November 17, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review

I love this title! It of course gives a clear and simple explanation of coding — because that’s what grown-ups need.

The pictures show an elementary school-aged kid and her grown-up. And the book explains that sometimes your grown-up may need your help understanding things. I love the Pro Tips sprinkled throughout. Here are some examples:

Pro Tip: When dealing with grown-ups, don’t jump into the complicated stuff too fast. Start with something they already know.

At that point, you’re explaining that many common objects in your home have computers inside them.

Pro Tip: Now may be a good time to check in with your grown-up. Ask if they have any questions before you move on.

That tip comes after showing what’s inside a computer, talking about what code is, and telling that programmers write the code.

Then to explain algorithms, you’re encouraged to take your grown-up for a walk in the park with healthy snacks, using an algorithm to decide whether to swing on the swings (depending on if one is available). With that example, the grown-up learns about conditionals and loops.

Then the book adds some more details such as debugging, and then it’s time to ask your grown-up questions.

Pro Tip: If your grown-up can explain it, that shows they understand it!

It all adds up to a basic explanation of coding that’s a lot of fun to read.

ruthspiro.com
charlesbridge.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 Next New Syrian Girl, by Ream Shukairy

The Next New Syrian Girl

by Ream Shukairy

Little, Brown and Company, 2023. 409 pages.
Review written March 27, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 More Teen Fiction

The Next New Syrian Girl beautiful interlaces the story of Khadija, a Syrian American girl about to graduate from high school, with Leene, a Syrian refugee girl the same age who has come to Detroit with her mother.

Khadija chafes under the control of her mother and finds relief at a local gym, where she learns to box, wearing her hijab. But when Khadija’s mother opens their home to Leene and her mother – and then holds Leene up as what a Syrian daughter should be like – Khadija isn’t pleased.

But as the girls get to know each other, they find each has something to learn from the other. Both girls are mourning the Syria they knew before war struck, but each had very different experiences.

I like the way Khadija wears a hijab but is not at all stereotypical. The characters read like distinctive individuals, so you feel like you’re getting to know real people when you read this book. A lot of the plot hinges on an enormous coincidence, but that coincidence means both girls are highly motivated to go to great lengths to make things right, so it did further the plot.

This debut stirred my heart and opened my eyes.

Reamshukairy.com
Lbyr.com
Thenovl.com

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Review of Rough Sleepers, by Tracy Kidder

Rough Sleepers

Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People

by Tracy Kidder
read by the Author

Books on Tape, 2023. 8 hours, 42 minutes.
Review written January 3, 2024, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 More Nonfiction

I’ve read a few of Tracy Kidder’s in-depth biographies now: Among Schoolchildren, Strength in What Remains, and Mountains Beyond Mountains. Like those amazing books, this one takes a deep dive into a man who has given his life to helping people who need it.

In this case, we’re looking at Dr. Jim O’Connell, who got drafted into a program of providing medical care for the homeless in Boston after he’d finished his internship. His plan was to simply help out for a year, but the people there and the need pulled him in, and his work has gone on for decades.

Tracy Kidder traveled along with Dr. O’Connell and gives a picture of the day-to-day and night-to-night work he and his organization do. They’ve got a van that goes out to rough sleepers, bringing blankets and cocoa. They’ve got a home where people can go when they’re discharged from the hospital but not yet able to care for themselves. Most of all, the homeless people of Boston have doctors looking out for them, caring for them. I’m honestly a little envious – but at the same time glad that this vulnerable population has people in their corner.

And the portrayal of Jim O’Connell makes him shine like Mr. Rogers — someone who sees people, who cares about his patients. He sees them as wonderful people, looking far beyond their difficult circumstances.

The book doesn’t sugarcoat the situation. Many of their patients die, and sleeping rough is still associated with shorter lives. Even efforts to get them housing doesn’t always work because the patients don’t necessarily know how to conduct themselves in that situation. We also get stories of some of the striking characters, with all their complexity, whose lives have been touched by Dr. O’Connell’s work and whose lives in turn touched others.

This doctor shines because he sees the beauty and wonder in vulnerable people and cares for them. This book shines because it helps the reader see that, too.

tracykidder.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 Sing Me to Sleep, by Gabi Burton

Sing Me to Sleep

by Gabi Burton

Bloomsbury, 2023. 417 pages.
Review written July 9, 2023, from an Advance Review Copy sent by the publisher.
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #10 Teen Speculative Fiction

Sing Me to Sleep is the story of Saoirse, a siren living in a kingdom ruled by fae, where her existence is illegal. Fortunately, she has access to magic that enables her to change her appearance. By night, she sets aside that magic and works as a hired assassin. She has the power to sing to her marks and convince them to kill themselves. This satisfies the instincts that being near water rouse in her – water calling to her to kill.

By day, working in the training academy, Saoirse has posed as a fae who has no affinity for water or fire or air, even though they are generally despised, so that her power to control water will not be noticed. Then she must work to outperform all the other trainees. But when she achieves the top ranking, she is assigned to serve the Prince, part of the regime she despises.

The reader is of course not surprised when romantic tension sparks between them, despite Saoirse’s disguise with a scar across her face. But this leads Saoirse into conflict about the people she’s been asked to kill and the goals of her employer. The question of who her employer is becomes more important. Did the people she killed deserve death? Does she want the monarchy overthrown if it means the prince will die? And who, exactly, can she trust?

The world-building in this book is expertly done, without info dumps, as we gradually come to see there are more nuances than simply the monarchy is bad and needs to come down.

All the characters in this book have black or brown skin – a simple given, which is refreshing. Saoirse is stunningly beautiful – that’s her deadly weapon, and it’s nice seeing a black girl in that role.

The book does come to a finish at a nice place – but provides a lead-in to more. That’s how I like fantasy series to work. A danger was averted and the kingdom saved – but there’s still more to be done. And I’m looking forward to reading on.

gabiburton.com
bloomsbury.com

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Review of My Own Lightning, by Lauren Wolk

My Own Lightning

by Lauren Wolk
read by Emily Rankin

Listening Library, 2022. 7 hours, 22 minutes.
Review written January 16, 2023, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #6 More Children’s Fiction

My Own Lightning is a sequel to the amazing and Newbery-Honor-winning Wolf Hollow. It had been a long time since I read Wolf Hollow, but I didn’t feel lost with this book. However, I do think it’s better to read the first book first, since this one does give away some things that happened in the first book.

Set in a farming community during World War II, this book begins with Annabelle being struck by lightning. Someone beats her chest and saves her life, but she doesn’t know who. And after it happens, she now can understand animals, with a connection like nothing she ever experienced before.

So when a new neighbor has a lot of dogs in his barn and their own dog is missing, Annabelle can’t resist investigating. Meanwhile, a kid who did some awful things a year ago is also missing a dog. And Annabelle starts getting some reasons to look at him differently. But what is right?

This is a book about seeing people — and animals — more deeply than what meets the eye. Like Wolf Hollow, it’s a thoughtful and meditative book. Perfect for animal-loving kids.

laurenwolk.com
listeninglibrary.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 All the Fighting Parts, by Hannah V. Sawyerr

All the Fighting Parts

by Hannah V. Sawyerr

Amulet Books, 2023. 387 pages.
Review written October 2, 2023, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 William C. Morris Award Finalist
2024 Waler Award Honors
2023 Cybils Novels in Verse Finalist
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 More Teen Fiction

[Note: This review was written after my first reading. I read it again, and saw even more on rereading. A marvelous novel and one of our Morris Finalists!]

All the Fighting Parts is a novel in verse about a teen dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault.

Amina’s mother died when she was five years old, and she’s been told that her mother was an activist and a fighter, and that Mina inherited all the fighting parts from her. Her father doesn’t really know how to relate to her, and has taken refuge in the church. When Mina’s teacher calls after she fought back in class, his suggestion is to do some volunteer work at the church as a penalty.

The book interweaves what led up to the assault with the police report about the assault and dealing with it afterward. At first, Mina pushes her friends away and won’t talk to anyone. That felt authentic and realistic. But I also like the way Mina is portrayed grappling with healing. Her boyfriend is almost too good to be true in his understanding – but as a reader, I definitely wanted that for her.

There’s another person abused by the same perpetrator, a respected member of the community, and she has a different way of dealing with it. But this is a sensitive and powerful portrayal of a teen trying to do what’s right and getting her trust betrayed. Then having to figure out it wasn’t her fault what happened.

hannahsawyerr.com
abramsbooks.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 Saints of the Household, by Ari Tison

Saints of the Household

by Ari Tison

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2023. 312 pages.
Review written May 14, 2023, from my own copy, sent by the publisher.
Starred Review
2024 Walter Dean Myers Award Young Adult Winner
2024 Pura Belpré Award Young Adult Author Winner
2024 William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 More Teen Fiction

[Note: This review was written after I read the book the first time, before I discussed it with the Morris committee and before two more readings. I was blown away by this book from the first time I read it.]

Saints of the Household opens when two brothers, Jay and Max, are going to back to school after being suspended for beating up the school soccer star. They’re both seniors in high school, eleven months apart, and have to meet with a counselor, who is also requiring them to meet with their victim for reconciliation.

Jay is trying to figure out how things went so far, but we gradually learn that they saw the soccer star being rough with his girlfriend Nicole, Jay and Max’s cousin. Jay, Max, and Nicole are the only indigenous people at their Minnesota rural high school. Jay’s worried she won’t speak to them again, but also worries that the boy isn’t treating Nicole the way she deserves to be treated. And we find out that the boys’ dad isn’t treating their mother the way she deserves to be treated, either. In fact, Jay and Max have plenty of personal experience with abuse.

The story is told in short vignettes from Jay and poetry from Max, who is an artist. Jay worries that if Max doesn’t take the reconciliation process seriously, he won’t get into art school. But he has to learn that they each have their own burdens to carry.

As the book goes on, we grow to understand how each boy is coping. The book deals with abuse, trauma, depression, and protecting others – but also art, healing, strength and survival. The beautiful writing draws you in and makes you care about these boys.

Here’s one of Jay’s vignettes toward the end (not giving anything away), when he’s helping his grandpa get his home ready after an absence in the Minnesota winter:

First, we warm the house, and then we pull off the panels nailed to the windows that protected them in the cold. We have hammers, and we tug to undress this house.

I feel like this house.

Boxed up for a season of survival. I have survived well like this house. My muscles are as strong as ever as I tear off each panel. It’s a good strength, one I don’t need to use to hurt. A useful strength, and it has me crying. I start tearing off the wood faster and faster because I can’t help but think of each of these boards as a thick skin I had put up. I don’t even know what’s inside there.

The writing is stunningly beautiful, and I was amazed this is a debut author.

aritison.com
fiercereads.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 Mexikid, by Pedro Martín

Mexikid

A Graphic Memoir

by Pedro Martín

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2023. 316 pages.
Review written January 3, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review
2024 Newbery Honor Book
2024 Pura Belpré Award Winner for Illustrator and Author
2024 Odyssey Award Honor Audiobook
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Children’s Nonfiction

It’s no secret that I think graphic novel memoirs celebrating middle school years are the best thing ever. In this one, the author looks to be a little younger than middle school, and he and his family went on an amazing adventure. Pedro’s the 7th of 9 children, and his whole family hit the road in a Winnebago in 1977 and drove to Mexico to pick up his Abuelito and bring him back to California. Hijinks ensue.

Honestly, I can’t do justice to all that’s in here. Pedro loves to draw, and imagines his Abuelito as a superhero, based on the stories of his time during the Mexican Revolution. But then when he sees Abuelito, he does some feats of amazing strength.

Seriously, if you don’t think traveling in a Winnebago with a whole bunch of kids has all kinds of funny things to write about, you’ve never done it. Hmm. My family did that a few years before Pedro’s family, when there were probably 8 kids. But we didn’t have to deal with crossing a border and getting toys confiscated and nothing to listen to except “Shipoopi.”

You’re going to have to trust me that this book is hilarious and fun and full of adventure, because I don’t even know how to start describing details. It’s also about family – siblings and cousins, parents and grandparents, and a classic road trip bringing them all together.

mexikid.com
Penguin.com/kids

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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 She Is a Haunting, by Trang Thanh Tran

She Is a Haunting

by Trang Thanh Tran
read by Emi Ray

Bloomsbury, 2023. 9 hours, 41 minutes.
Review written March 30, 2023, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review
2023 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Teen Speculative Fiction

Okay, let’s start with some honesty: I did not enjoy listening to this audiobook.

But the reason I listened to the whole thing is that I’m on the Morris Award committee. And the reason I didn’t enjoy it was that I don’t enjoy reading horror, and this book creeped me out. Once I’m done, I have to admit that this book was really well-written. So I’m writing up my thoughts *before* any discussion with the committee to see if I can articulate what was good about it. (I am pretty sure that others in the committee, who actually like horror, will probably find even more things than I do, but I want to be clear that I’m writing this before any discussion, so these are my initial impressions only.) I’ll also say that I listened to this one for the sake of time, but if it is a contender, I’ll be reading it in print form as well. But all this is to say that if you read Sonderbooks because your reading preferences match mine, think twice about this one. It is really well-written, though.

And also to be honest, by the time I was done with it, I’m glad to have read it.

[Note: Yes, this was one of our Finalists, and I read it again in print form. I enjoyed it more the second time, knowing what to expect. And wow, the way she gradually builds the creepiness and dread and works in themes of colonialism… It’s just so good.]

Okay, here’s the set up: Jade Nguyen is in Vietnam for five weeks in a deal to get her long-estranged father to pay for her first year of college.

He left them years ago, and Jade didn’t want anything to do with him. But her mother is working too hard already, and she turned to Ba for tuition money. He used that as leverage to get her to spend time with him in the decrepit French colonial house he’s renovating to be a bed and breakfast. He also requires her to work on the website for the house, along with Florence, the niece of his business partner. Ba wants Jade to be friends with Florence, and she resists, but then when she finds herself attracted thinks that’s one more thing her parents could hold against her. Jade’s sister Lily is there with them, too. Lily is actually happy to be with their father. And their father reveals that his grandmother was once a servant in this very house. Their ancestors planted the hydrangeas that abundantly bloom to this day.

The horror builds gradually. First there are piles of dead bugs in her bedroom and some kind of insect leg in her mouth when she awakes. Then she begins having dreams – and waking up paralyzed, still seeing awful things, unable to move.

Jade meets a white couple who are investing in the house, thrilled about the Frenchwoman who once lived here while her husband was in the army.

That gives Jade a name to the red-haired ghost she’s been seeing. But there’s another ghost, a beautiful young Vietnamese woman, who begins sharing her memories with Jade. The Frenchwoman called all Vietnamese people parasites – and parasites are a theme in the house. The Vietnamese ghost warns Jade not to eat anything in the house, but can she really keep the parasites at bay?

I liked that Jade had a reason to stay – she needs the money for college. And when that motivation is not enough, she needs to try to protect her sister. The horror builds gradually and the house becomes harder and harder to escape.

I also liked that themes were naturally built into the story rather than spelled out. For example, once when out doing things with Florence, Jade gets upset with herself that she doesn’t speak fluent Vietnamese. It’s a natural way to show us how she feels torn between the two cultures. This author is good at subtleties like that.

So if you like well-written books and can handle some horror, this book is one you shouldn’t miss. I’m not sure if this book will end up getting honored by our committee, but it’s a strong debut. [Added later: This was one of the earliest books I’d read. At the end of the year, it still stood out.]

Trangthanhtran.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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Singing the Praises of Good Books

It’s Book Award Season!

Monday was the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards, and it’s a time to celebrate Book Joy!

What’s more, yesterday I spent five hours online deliberating with the committee to select this year’s Mathical Book Prize winners (announced February 21), and I’m also in charge of getting some annotations in for the zero to five reading group of Capitol Choices and overseeing the Young Adult Speculative Fiction judges choosing a Cybils Award winner (announced February 14). So awards are on my mind!

Now, I put a huge number of books on hold Monday. And was feeling smug that I already have several honorees checked out. But I wanted to take a moment to celebrate some of the books I’ve already read and already love.

First, I was on the Morris Award committee this year and am super happy that now I can post the reviews I wrote of our winner and finalists. (I will try to get them posted within the next week or so.) Almost all of them won other awards, and I was so proud! So I have to celebrate them first:

Rez Ball, by Byron Graves
Our William C. Morris Award Winner!
American Indian Youth Literature Award Winner, Young Adults
CYBILS Young Adult Fiction Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 More Teen Fiction

Saints of the Household, by Ari Tison
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Walter Award Winner, Teen Category
Pura Belpré Award Winner, Young Adult Author
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 More Teen Fiction

Once There Was, by Kiyash Monsef
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Odyssey Award Honor (for the audiobook)
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Speculative Fiction

All the Fighting Parts, by Hannah V. Sawyerr
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Walter Award Honor, Teen Category
CYBILS Finalist, Novels in Verse
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 More Teen Fiction

She Is a Haunting, by Trang Thanh Tran
William C. Morris Award Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #9 Teen Speculative Fiction

For the other awards, the one that simply filled me with joy was the beautiful book Big, by Vashti Harrison, winning the Randolph Caldecott Medal for most distinguished picture book of the year. Everyone, read this wonderful book! Read it to your children!

Big, by Vashti Harrison
Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner
Coretta Scott King Honor, both for Author and Illustrator
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Picture Books
(Number one was my personal favorite for quirky reasons, but this was the book I wanted to win the Caldecott — and it did!)

Another super joyful moment with recognition for a book of my heart was this one:

Simon Sort of Says
John Newbery Medal Honor
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist
Schneider Family Book Award Honor, Middle Grades
CYBILS Middle Grade Fiction Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 More Children’s Fiction

And more favorites that picked up wins:

Mexikid, by Pedro Martin
John Newbery Medal Honor
Odyssey Award Honor (for the audiobook)
Pura Belpré Award Winner, for both Illustrator and Children’s Author
CYBILS Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 Children’s Nonfiction

A First Time for Everything, by Dan Santat
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Winner
CYBILS Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Children’s Nonfiction

In Every Life, by Marla Frazee
Randolph Caldecott Medal Honor

Remember, by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Michaela Goode
American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor, Picture Books
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Picture Books

The Lost Year, by Katherine Marsh
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 Children’s Fiction

Warrior Girl Unearthed, by Angeline Boulley
American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 More Teen Fiction

Hidden Systems, by Dan Nott
National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Teen Nonfiction

America Redux, by Ariel Aberg-Riger
YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist
Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Teen Nonfiction

Now, because of reading for the Morris Award in 2023, I did not read widely this year. So this is a small sampling of award winners, but I am very sure that many more will show up on my 2024 Sonderbooks Stand-outs list.

Happy reading!