Review of Jack and the Baked Beanstalk, by Colin Stimpson

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk

by Colin Stimpson

Templar Books (Candlewick Press), 2012. 36 pages.

Here’s a cinematic retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk set in what looks like 1930s America. Jack and his mom run a diner, but when a huge overpass is built, all their business goes away, and they’re down to their last few pennies. Jack’s mother sends him to buy some coffee beans, but then Jack meets a guy who looks like a bum under a city bridge who offers to sell him a can of magic baked beans.

Now Jack had read enough fairy tales to know that you don’t turn down an offer like that. Also, baked beans were his favorite food in the whole world, so he couldn’t resist tasting some magic ones. Thanking the man, Jack exchanged his last pennies for the beans and ran home.

You know how the story goes. This vine, instead of growing regular beans, grows cans of baked beans as it stretches high into the sky.

But this story has all the unkind and unethical bits taken out.

“We have visitors,” boomed the giant.

“So I see,” squawked the chicken.

“And we know just what to do with visitors, don’t we?” said the giant. “Now you STAY THERE. I’ll be back in a jiffy.” And with that the giant grabbed a handful of the chicken’s eggs and marched off to his kitchen. Soon the sound of clattering pots and pans was making the table tremble.

“Is he going to eat us, Chicken?” squeaked Jack.

“Don’t be silly!” cackled the chicken. “He just wants to make you some lunch. He hasn’t cooked for someone new in a long, long time.”

You see, it’s all good-hearted and ever so friendly. No nasty running off with the harp or stealing the goose that lays the golden eggs. (And instead of a harp, it’s a magic radio. Instead of eggs of gold, the chicken lays eggs that taste good.)

I wasn’t surprised to read at the back that Colin Stimpson has been an art director and production designer for Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney Feature Animation, because these paintings look like stills from an excellent animated feature film. He uses light to highlight the action. He has incredibly detailed three-dimensional-looking backgrounds. This would work well as a cartoon short.

But mostly, it’s just plain fun. The nice giant helps good-hearted Jack and his mother (and his ever-present dog) feed plain working folk. And everybody ends up happy. Did I mention the book is beautiful to look at? This book will leave you smiling.

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Review of When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky, by Lauren Stringer

When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky

Two Artists, Their Ballet, and One Extraordinary Riot

by Lauren Stringer

Harcourt Children’s Books, 2013. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book nonfiction book is extraordinary. It’s a picture book; the language is simple enough for young elementary school students to fully understand. The pictures exquisitely evoke the music and dance of the ballet The Rite of Spring.

I’ve seen a performance of The Rite of Spring years ago in Los Angeles, but I wasn’t prepared for how completely this book brought that performance — which I hadn’t thought about in years — to the forefront of my mind.

I hadn’t remembered that the first time the ballet was performed, it ignited a riot in Paris. That event is the climax of the book, but it gets there in such a delightful way.

First, the book talks about the music and dance that Stravinsky and Nijinsky created by themselves.

Then Stravinsky met Nijinsky
and his music began to change.

His piano pirouetted a puppet,
his tuba leaped a loping bear,
and his trumpet tah-tahed
a twirling ballerina.

And when Nijinsky met Stravinsky,
his dance began to change.

His torso trumpeted a melody,
his arms and legs sang from strings,
and his feet began
to pom-di-di-pom like timpani.

Stravinsky inspired Nijinsky.
Nijinsky inspired Stravinsky.

Together they decided to dream of something different and new.

The book goes on to talk about the creation of The Rite of Spring and the reactions of the musicians and dancers, and, eventually, the crowd in Paris.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful the illustrations are. They aren’t a literal, photographic description of the times. They use styles of the art of the times to symbolically represent what’s going on, while still showing concrete things like dancers in Paris. I love the faces of the people in the music hall and in the streets of Paris. Some are smiling beatifically. Others have their hands over their ears with their faces puckered in disgust.

I also love the picture of Stravinsky and Nijinsky in tuxedo with tails dancing together surrounded by a ring of music with costumed dancers and instruments and music with unusual time signatures. That goes to show I can’t describe it nearly as effectively as one glance at the picture will give you. Across the page, there’s an exuberantly dancing cat and dog.

This is a colorful and exuberant book that tells a good story about art and a true moment in history and the way two friends working together helped both attain greatness.

This review is posted today in honor of Nonfiction Monday, hosted today at Anastasia Suen’s Booktalking.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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.

Sonderling Sunday – Pullman’s Grimm

It’s Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books or, in this case, English translations of German fairy tales.

This is the week I normally would have gone back to James Kennedy’s Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, but it so happens that my hold just came in on Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. I know, I know: I should purchase my own copy. I probably will. But I want to see how its different from the nice edition I already have, which was given to me in Germany by Jeff Conner, the librarian who first hired me to work in a library. So for now, I’ll use Philip Pullman’s book for the couple weeks I have it checked out.

Now, Philip Pullman says in the introduction, “A fairy tale is not a text.” So I’m curious what elements of his own he has put into these fairy tales….

I’m going to use the edition of Grimm’s Märchen I purchased in Germany, not necessarily based on “the seventh edition of 1857” that Philip Pullman worked from. I’m going to look at his translation, along with the Barnes & Noble English edition I already have, copyright 1993, which doesn’t identify the translator.

Let’s start with “Der Froschkönig oder der Eiserne Heinrich,” which Philip Pullman correctly translates as “The Frog King or Iron Heinrich” rather than calling it what we’re used to in English, “The Frog Prince.”

Right away, I’ve got a discrepancy with my German version. It starts immediately with the princess, eine Königstochter. However, both English versions give more of a setting:

Barnes & Noble: “Long ago, when wishes often came true, there lived a King whose daughters were all handsome, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun himself, who has seen everything, was bemused every time he shone over her because of her beauty. Near the royal castle there was a great dark wood, and in the wood under an old linden tree was a well; and when the day was hot, the King’s daughter used to go forth into the wood and sit by the brink of the cool well.”

That’s where my German version starts: Es war einmal eine Königstochter, die ging hinaus in den Wald und setzte sich an einen kühlen Brunnen.
(“There was once a king’s daughter, who went out in the Wood and sat by a cool well.”)

Pullman begins like this: “In the olden days, when wishing still worked, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful; but the youngest daughter was so lovely that even the sun, who has seen many things, was struck with wonder every time he shone on her face. Not far away from the king’s palace there was a deep dark forest, and under a lime tree in the forest there was a well. In the heat of the day the princess used to go into the forest and sit by the edge of the well, from which a marvellous coolness seemed to flow.”

So my immediate conclusion: They’re both using a different German edition than what I have. But it does continue on as mine does.

I like this expression:
rollte und rollte geradewegs in das Wasser hinein (“rolled and rolled directly into the water”)
B&N: “rolled in”
Pullman: “ran right over the edge and disappeared”

Oh those yammering whiners!
Da fing sie jämmerlich zu weinen an und zu klagen
B&N: “Then she began to weep, and she wept and wept as if she could never be comforted”
Pullman: “She began to cry, and she cried louder and louder, inconsolably.”

Königstochter, was jammerst Du so erbärmlich?
(“King’s daughter, what makes you cry so pitifully?”)
B&N: “What ails you, King’s daughter? Your tears would melt a heart of stone.”
Pullman: “What’s the matter, princess? You’re crying so bitterly, you’d move a stone to pity.”

Du garstiger Frosch (“you nasty frog”)
B&N: “Oh, is it you, old waddler?”
Pullman: “Oh, it’s you, you old splasher.”

both English: “companion”

Deinem goldenen Tellerchen (“your little gold plate”)
B&N: “your plate”
Pullman: “your dish”

Was schwätzt dieser einfältige Frosch wohl
(“Whatever this stupid frog babbles…”)
B&N: “What nonsense he talks!”
Pullman: “What is this stupid frog saying?”

both: “mouth”

Am anderen Tage sa? die Königstochter an der Tafel, da hörte sie etwas die Marmortreppe heraufkommen, plitsch, platsch, plitsch, platsch!
B&N: “The next day, when the King’s daughter was sitting at table… there came something pitter-patter up the marble stairs”
Pullman: “Next day the princess was sitting at table… when something came hopping up the marble steps: plip, plop, plip, plop.
(Props to Pullman for plip, plops!)

wie ihr das Herz klopfte
B&N: “how quickly her heart was beating”
Pullman: “that her heart was pounding”

Okay, next there’s poetry. I do like Pullman’s better.
Königstochter, jüngste
mach mir auf,
wei?t Du nicht was gestern
Du zu mir gesagt
bei dem kühlen Brunnenwasser?
Königstochter, jüngste,
mach mir auf.

(Literally: “King’s daughter, youngest
let me out,
do you know what yesterday
you said to me
by the cool well water?
King’s daughter, youngest
let me out.”)

B&N: “Youngest King’s daughter,
Open to me!
By the well water
What promised you me?
Youngest King’s daughter
Now open to me!”

Pullman: “Princess, princess, youngest daughter,
Open up and let me in!
Or else your promise by the water
Isn’t worth a rusty pin,
Keep your promise, royal daughter,
Open up and let me in!”

(Much nicer poetry, don’t you agree?)

I always like this German word:
hüpfte herein
both: “hopped in”

B&N: “was afraid”
Pullman: “frightened”

I don’t find this exact line in the English versions, but I like it:
sie war bitterböse in ihrem Herzen (“She was bitter-evil in her heart”)

Sie packte der Frosch mit zwei Fingern (“She grabbed the frog with two fingers”)
B&N: “She picked up the frog with her finger and thumb”
Pullman: “She picked the frog up between finger and thumb”

warf die ihn bratsch! an die Wand
(literally: “threw him Bratsch! on the wall”)
B&N: “she threw him with all her strength against the wall”
Pullman: “threw him against the wall” (Shucks, no sound effects!)

I love it! My B&N English version goes straight to the wedding. In German, it says, Der war nun ihr lieber Geselle, und sie hielt ihn wert wie sie es versprochen hatte, und sie schliefen vergnügt zusammen ein.
(Literally: “He was now her beloved companion, and she held him dear as she had promised, and she slept together with him with pleasure.”)
Pullman is more coy: “And she loved him and accepted him as her companion, just as the king would have wished.” [Yeah, I bet the king would have wished it!] “…Then they fell asleep side by side.”

kam ein prächtiger Wagen mit acht Pferden bespannt, mit Federn geputzt und goldschimmernd
B&N: “there came to the door a carriage drawn by eight white horses, with white plumes on their heads, and with golden harness”
Pullman: “It was pulled by eight horses with ostrich plumes nodding on their heads and golden chains shining among their harness.”

treue Heinrich
B&N: “faithful Henry”
Pullman: “Faithful Heinrich”

nicht vor Traurigkeit zerspringe
literally: “not from sadness shatter” (“spring apart”)
B&N: “to keep it from breaking with trouble”
Pullman: “to stop it bursting with grief”

It finishes up with a poem, which this time Pullman translates as prose.

Heinrich, der Wagen bricht!
Nein, Herr, der Wagen nicht,
es ist ein Band von menem Herzen,
das da lag in gro?en Schmerzen,
als Ihr in dem Brunnen sa?t,
als Ihr ein Frosch wart.

Literally: “Heinrich, the carriage breaks!
No, my lord, not the carriage,
it is the band around my heart,
that was in great pain,
when you sat in the well,
when you were a frog.”

B&N: “The wheel does not break,
‘Tis the band round my heart
That, to lessen its ache,
When I grieved for your sake,
I bound round my heart.”

Pullman: “‘Heinrich, the coach is breaking!’
‘No, no, my lord, it’s just my heart. When you were living in the well, when you were a frog, I suffered such great pain that I bound my heart with iron bands to stop it breaking, for iron is stronger than grief.”

Pullman includes a comment about Faithful Heinrich in his notes at the end of the story:

The figure of Iron Heinrich appears at the end of the tale out of nowhere, and has so little connection with the rest of it that he is nearly always forgotten, although he must have been thought important enough to share the title. His iron bands are so striking an image that they almost deserve a story to themselves.

So, verdict? Undecided. It’s a little frustrating that I’m obviously not using the same German text as both of the English translators. The B&N translator leans a little more literal with what I do have, and Philip Pullman, no surprise, uses more beautiful English, while seeming to retain the points made in the story.

This isn’t as fun to play with as James Kennedy’s ever-interesting phrases to translate, since fairy tales almost by definition use simple language. But it’s still fun to look at these classic tales.

Was schwätzt dieser einfältige Frosch wohl, I still think it’s fun to hear a classic story told in different ways — and different languages.

Review of Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, by Nina Sankovitch

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

My Year of Magical Reading

by Nina Sankovitch

Harper, 2011. 240 pages.
Starred Review

Three years after Nina Sankovitch’s beloved older sister died, Nina decided to embark on a year of reading. One book each day.

Here’s where she explains setting out on her project:

I needed comfort now. I needed hope. Hope that when life turns on you for the worst, it will turn back again, for the good. We girls had been protected for so long from misfortune. But then everything changed. My sister, the one with the reaching hand, was dead. Life had unleashed its unfairness, its random dispersal of pain, its uncaring lynching of certainty. I had tried running, but now I would try reading. I would trust in Connolly’s promise that “words are alive, and literature becomes an escape, not from, but into living.”

My book reading would be a discipline. I knew there would be pleasure in my reading, but I needed to hold myself to a schedule as well. Without a commitment, the rest of life could creep in and steal time away, and I wouldn’t read as much as I wanted or needed to. I couldn’t have my escape if I didn’t make books my priority. There is always dust to sweep and laundry to fold; there is always milk to buy and dinner to cook and dishes to wash. But none of that could get in my way for one year. I was allowing myself one year to not run, not plan, not provide. A year of nots: not worry, not control, not make money. Sure, our family could use another income, but we’d gotten by for so long on just one salary, we could do it for one more year. We would lay off the extras and find enough in what we had already.

I planned to begin my book-a-day project on my forty-sixth birthday. I would read my first book that day, and the next day I would write my first review. The rules for my year were simple: no author could be read more than once; I couldn’t reread any books I’d already read; and I had to write about every book I read. I would read new books and new authors, and read old books from favorite writers. I wouldn’t read War and Peace, but I could read Tolstoy’s last novel, The Forged Coupon. All the books would be ones I would have shared with Anne-Marie if I could have, ones we would have talked about, argued over, and some we would have agreed upon….

I was ready — ready to sit down in my purple chair and read. For years, books had offered to me a window into how other people deal with life, its sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations. I would look there again for empathy, guidance, fellowship, and experience. Books would give me all that, and more. After three years of carrying the truth of my sister’s death around with me, I knew I would never be relieved of my sorrow. I was not hoping for relief. I was hoping for answers. I was trusting in books to answer the relentless question of why I deserved to live. And of how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.

She doesn’t write in this book about all 365 books — though she does provide a list at the back. Instead, she looks at certain books and the insights from those books or memories they provoked that touched her life and advanced her healing. I’ll provide a few examples:

Man in the Dark is a novel that imagines another world mirroring our own. Two worlds coexisting: Auster uses the device to dig deeply into what keeps us going, what keeps us participating in the motions and the emotions of life. A man, his daughter, and his granddaughter are all facing their own private heartbreaks. They are unsure of how to go on and wavering as to the necessity of even trying to go on. Why bother? And then, in the prose of a lesser-known poet, they find a single sentence that makes perfect sense: “The weird world rolls on.”

The world shifts, and lives change. Without warning or reason, someone who was healthy becomes sick and dies. An onslaught of sorrow, regret, anger, and fear buries those of us left behind. Hopelessness and helplessness follow. But then the world shifts again — rolling on as it does — and with it, lives change again. A new day comes, offering all kinds of possibilities. Even with the experience of pain and sorrow set deep within me and never to be forgotten, I recognize the potent offerings of my unknown future. I live in a “weird world,” shifting and unpredictable, but also bountiful and surprising. There is joy in acknowledging that both the weirdness and the world roll on, but even more, there is resilience.

In talking about The Emigrants, by W. G. Sebald, she says:

But now, in reading my books of escape, I had found another way to respond. It was not a way to rid myself of sorrow but a way to absorb it. Through memory. While memory cannot take sorrow away or bring back the dead, remembering ensures that we always have the past with us, the bad moments but also the very, very good moments of laughter shared and meals eaten together and books discussed….

Only now am I grasping the importance of looking backward. Of remembrance. My father finally wrote out his memories for a reason. I took on a year of reading books for a reason. Because words are witness to life: they record what has happened, and they make it all real. Words create the stories that become history and become unforgettable. Even fiction portrays truth: good fiction is truth. Stories about lives remembered bring us backward while allowing us to move forward.

The only balm to sorrow is memory; the only salve for the pain of losing someone to death is acknowledging the life that existed before. Remembering someone won’t literally bring them back, and for one who died too young, memories are not enough to make up for all the possibilities of life that they lost out on. But remembrance is the bones around which a body of resilience is built. I think my father found an answer to how his mother continued on, and he found a way to go on himself. He wrote a history for me to read. Stories helped him, and stories were helping me, both the stories of my father and the stories in all the books I was reading.

Discussing the book By Chance, by Martin Corrick, with its main character James Watson Bolsover, she says:

Bolsover tries to find an explanation for the two deaths, to uncover some reason they had to happen or if they could have been avoided. He searches for answers in books. At the beginning of By Chance, he asks the question, “If fiction is not concerned to understand, what is its subject? Is its purpose merely to pass the time?” but he already knows the answer. The purpose of great literature is to reveal what is hidden and to illuminate what is in darkness.

I especially enjoyed the part where she talked about the reviewing part of her year of reading:

People share books they love. They want to spread to friends and family the goodness that they felt when reading the book or the ideas they found in the pages. In sharing a loved book, a reader is trying to share the same excitement, pleasure, chills, and thrills of reading that they themselves experienced. Why else share? Sharing a love of books and of one particular book is a good thing. But it is also a tricky maneuver, for both sides. The giver of the book is not exactly ripping open her soul for a free look, but when she hands over the book with the comment that it is one of her favorites, such an admission is very close to the baring of the soul. We are what we love to read, and when we admit to loving a book, we admit that the book represents some aspect of ourselves truly, whether it is that we are suckers for romance or pining for adventure or secretly fascinated by crime.

And often, she’d turn to how much this experience was doing for her:

The Assault is about more than war. Hannah Coulter is about more than war. Those two books — and all the great books I was reading — were about the complexity and entirety of the human experience. About the things we wish to forget and those we want more and more of. About how we react and how we wish we could react. Books are experience, the words of authors proving the solace of love, the fulfillment of family, the torment of war, and the wisdom of memory. Joy and tears, pleasure and pain: everything came to me while I read in my purple chair. I had never sat so still, and yet experienced so much.

I haven’t read a lot of the books she chose. So I especially took notice when she let her thoughts flow from a book I’d read and loved, Little Bee:

But books were showing me that everyone suffers, at different times in our lives. And that yes, in fact, there were many people who knew exactly what I was going through. Now, through reading, I found that suffering and finding joy are universal experiences, and that those experiences are the connection between me and the rest of the world. My friends could have told me the same, I know, but with friends there are always barriers, hidden corners, and covered emotions. In books, the characters are made known to me, inside and out, and in knowing them, I know myself, and the real people who populate my world.

Yes, this is a memoir for book lovers. Again, I especially loved her reflections on what she’d gotten out of writing about the books. This one was from her discussion of finishing up the year of reading:

I do need to talk about books. Because talking about books allows me to talk about anything with anyone. With family, friends, and even with strangers who contacted me through my Web site (and became friends), when we discuss what we are reading, what we are really discussing is our own lives, our take on everything from sorrow to fidelity to responsibility, from money to religion, from worrying to inebriation, from sex to laundry, and back again. No topic is taboo, as long as we can tie it in to a book we’ve read, and all responses are allowed, couched in terms of characters and their situations.

Now, one of my reactions to Tolstoy and the Purple Chair is envy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to make your “work” each day be to read a book! However, as I write this, I’m on the ballot for next year’s Newbery committee. And serving on the Newbery committee would be a way of dedicating my life to reading for a solid year, every bit as much as Nina Sankovitch did, though perhaps in a different way. I like her approach of treating books as therapy, as escape, as growth. Now my divorce is complete; I’m moving into my first purchased home on my own. What a good time it would be to celebrate the new phase in my life with books!

But even if you don’t have an opportunity to devote a year of your life to books, for anyone to whom that idea sounds delightful, I highly recommend the vicarious experience of spending some time with Nina Sankovitch as she explores her own healing through books.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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.

Review of A Greyhound of a Girl, by Roddy Doyle

A Greyhound of a Girl

by Roddy Doyle

Amulet Books, New York, 2012. First published in the United Kingdom in 2011.

A Greyhound of a Girl is a sweet story of four generations of Irish women. The book starts with twelve-year-old Mary, who feels guilty that she hates the hospital, where her dear granny is dying. Then one day, Mary meets a mysterious woman.

The woman was old. But, actually, she wasn’t. Mary knew what it was, why the woman seemed old. She was old-fashioned. She was wearing a dress that looked like it came from an old film, one of those films her mother always cried at. She looked like a woman who milked cows and threw hay with a pitchfork. She was even wearing big boots with fat laces.

After meeting the woman a few more times, Mary learns she’s her granny’s mother, Tansy, who died when Granny was three years old. Mary’s mother gets pulled into the story, and we end up with their interwoven tales culminating in a four-generation road trip, with one of the generations dead and another dying.

The story isn’t morbid, and it’s all told on the level of things children will find interesting. We look at the previous generations through the eyes of childhood and current times through Mary’s eyes. Through it all, there’s the flavor of Ireland. I like that they didn’t change the language drastically for American readers. They’ll quickly get the idea that when things are “grand,” they’re going well. And they’ll learn the meaning of “cheeky.”

This is a book that will remind you of the ways life is grand and family is grand.

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Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Should I Stay Or Should I Go?, by Lundy Bancroft and Jac Patrissi

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

A Guide to Knowing if Your Relationship Can — and Should — Be Saved

by Lundy Bancroft and JAC Patrissi

Berkley Books, New York, 2011. 417 pages.

Here’s another valuable resource for women struggling in their relationships. Although I’m already divorced, I read it to gain some perspective; to figure out what went wrong; to process that the divorce has truly happened.

So often, when a marriage breaks down, there are some lies and untruths going on. This book helps you look at your experiences and your feelings and figure out the root issues and what’s really going on for you.

The introduction tells you if this book will be helpful for you:

You are holding a book that has been written for women who are going through repeated conflicts, frustrations, and dissatisfactions in their relationships, and are beginning to wonder what the root of the problem might be. You may be asking yourself whether your partner and you are just not a good match, and perhaps considering whether all this struggle is worth it. . . .

This book can help you find out what has gone wrong, and what steps you need to take to get your relationship back on track. We will also guide you in figuring out if your relationship can’t be saved — or shouldn’t be — and how you can move yourself decisively toward a happier life whether you and your partner succeed in staying together or not. . . .

You are going to be okay, whatever happens. In this book, we will guide you in how to give the best possible chance to your relationship while also making sure to take equally good care of yourself. Some days you may feel that your life depends on fixing your current relationship; but it doesn’t; if you go through the steps and exercises that we lay out in the pages ahead, you will find yourself able to handle the challenges that lie ahead for you. . . .

The issue we address right away in Chapter 1 — because we think it will be at the forefront of your mind — is whether the difficulties you are having are just the typical ones that all relationships go through, or whether they are symptoms of something deeper. We’ll ask you to examine your expectations, to answer the question “Do I just expect too much from a relationship?” (We’re already guessing that you don’t; we meet more women who expect too little than too much.) . . .

Welcome, then, to a process of healing and clarification. We believe you will gain insights that will build your strength, increase your faith in your own thinking, and help you to love yourself. Along the way, you will learn how to give your partner a great gift: the opportunity to experience tremendous growth, and to make his relationship with you a vibrant and satisfying one. If he chooses not to do the work, he will be punishing himself. And whether he does or not, your growth will leap forward, and you will come out feeling in charge of your life and relationships.

That should give you a good idea of whether or not this book will be useful to you. I was not in the target audience, since my marriage was already legally over. But the book still gave me good things to think about and reinforced the healing process. It reminded me of what I deserve in a relationship and made me feel much less of a failure about my ended marriage.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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.

SLJsBoB: Getting Ready for Round Two!

The first round of School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books has finished up. I predicted exactly half of the matches correctly in both the first half and the second half.

However, up to Match 6, even though I only predicted half of the matches correctly, the one I did predict correctly was the one I’d picked to move on in Round Two, so at first it didn’t look like my picks in Round Two would change.

But a couple things have happened to change that.

First, I finished reading Endangered. Even though it plays havoc with your emotions as much as The Fault in Our Stars, it feels less manipulative as it does that. Not that I thought The Fault in Our Stars manipulated my emotions. But Endangered even less so, even though it’s every bit as weighty a book. Does that make sense?

I still want Code Name Verity to win the top bracket. But I’m reversing my pick for Endangered vs. The Fault in Our Stars. Now that I’ve read Endangered, I want it to win.

Admittedly, I still think The Fault in Our Stars or Code Name Verity, whichever one is knocked out, will win the Undead Poll. So I expect to see both of those in the Big Kahuna Round anyway. If they both get knocked out? I shudder to even think of that possibility!

But the second problem to my Second Round picks is that I hoped The One and Only Ivan would win the entire bottom bracket. This is clearly no longer going to happen.

I did, however, hope that one of Starry River of the Sky or Liar & Spy would get knocked out, despite my predictions, so I wouldn’t have to choose between the two. Well, I’m a little sorry my wish was granted.

But it does make my decision easier. No dithering here! It turns out that in every Round Two Match, there is one book I predicted correctly, and one book I didn’t. Except for Endangered (see above), I always want the book I predicted correctly in the Round One to win Round Two.

That means I want Starry River of the Sky to beat Splendors and Glooms. No question about it.

And Seraphina over No Crystal Stair. Easy-peasy choice, despite whatever judge Paul Griffin may say about it.

Round Three? If it goes as I wish, the top half is still all about Code Name Verity. In the bottom half? Well, can I cop out and say whichever of the Round Two matches I get right?

But if by some amazing miracle I guess both right, Starry River of the Sky vs. Seraphina? Well, I think Starry River is the more expertly crafted book, so I’ll go with it. But that’s one where I wouldn’t be as sad, because I did love Seraphina.

If I get the Second Round Bottom Half both wrong, I’d choose Splendors and Glooms over No Crystal Stair.

And I still want Code Name Verity to win it all!

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I HAD to Buy…But Are Sitting on My Shelf Unread

Today I just had to join in on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

Because, Aaaargh, buying books I desperately want to read — and then not reading them — is my undoing.

I wasn’t bad until I started working in a library. Once I worked at a library, I got much much better at not blowing my budget on books. I only bought books I really really wanted to read. Then I didn’t read them, because they didn’t have a due date!

Sometime around 2010, I finally had a clue and made myself a new Reading Rule: I would alternate reading library books with books I owned. By then, I’d started getting Advance Review Copies, and it seemed unethical to have taken so many at ALA conferences but not read them. Not to mention the books I’d bought. So I started alternating between books with a due date and books without a due date.

That was good, and worked well for me. But it wasn’t complicated enough for this Lover of Rules. So last year, I made myself a much more complicated system. As far as books I’ve bought, it boils down to I read one of those every sixth book. But at least I get to them! Eventually.

So, currently, these are my Top Ten Books I HAD to Buy…But Are Still Sitting on My Shelf Unread:

1. The Far West, by Patricia C. Wrede

Don’t you hate it when you actually preorder book…and then don’t get around to reading it until a few months after it comes out. But this one is next up when I am ready to read a book I’ve bought.

2. The Fox, by Sherwood Smith. And The King’s Shield. And Treason’s Shore. And Banner of the Damned.

Sherwood Smith is unquestionably one of my favorite authors. She’s had Sonderbooks Stand-outs 12 times.

But here’s what happened: I read Inda and made it a 2007 Sonderbooks Stand-out. But that was the year I was finishing my MLIS, looking for a job, and trying to get my life together. I never got a review written. When the sequel came out, I eagerly ordered it. But then I thought I really should reread Inda first and write a review. Now there are four hardcover books waiting for me. They are large books. I know that if I tackle them, it will be a long time before I get around to library books again. Aaargh! I’m actually hoping, sometime soon, to make Inda the next book I reread in my six-book cycle. Then to get to the others….

3. Bewitching, by Alex Flinn. Also Cloaked

I loved Beastly and A Kiss in Time. Just haven’t gotten to these ones yet.

4. Alchemy of Fire, by Gillian Bradshaw. And The Elixir of Youth, The Somers Treatment, The Sun’s Bride, Bloodwood, Dark North, and The Land of Gold.

I bought these long before I made any rules about alternating with library books. And after there got to be a certain number, some kind of critical mass built up. I love Gillian Bradshaw! One of her books was in my very first issue of Sonderbooks! Must get these read!

5. Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. Also League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, I Will Repay, Sir Percy Hits Back, Pimpernel and Rosemary, and The First Sir Percy.

I bought these with much delight when Amazon was relatively new. You could find books that had not been in print! Books in public domain now reprinted! I didn’t have to find the Scarlet Pimpernel novels in used bookstores any more! I read some, I admit, and I still mean to read them all. But somewhere around the fifth or sixth book, I lost steam.

6. Stewards of the Flame and Promise of the Flame, by Sylvia Engdahl

Another author I adore. Bought them, but they didn’t have a due date….

7. Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker

This one’s particularly annoying. Because I had this checked out from the library. It’s a big fat book, and it was incredibly good, incredibly insightful. So I decided to buy my own copy, so I could read it at my leisure and really get a lot out of it. Well, then it didn’t have a due date….

8. Od Magic, by Patricia A. McKillip. And The Bards of Bone Plain and Ombria in Shadow

Another good author.

9. 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, by Jane Smiley

This looked so fascinating. Haven’t cracked it open.

10. The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones. Also House of Many Ways and The Game.

There you have it! The perpetual problem: So many books, so little time. Sigh.

Bummer! Making this list did not make me feel better about these neglected books! Because I still really really want to read them! Sigh.

Review of Endangered, by Eliot Schrefer


by Eliot Schrefer

Scholastic Press, New York, 2012. 264 pages.
Starred Review
2012 National Book Award Finalist
2013 School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books Contender

Endangered is the only Battle of the Books contender this year that I hadn’t already read. I’m glad I finished it before it’s out of the Battle. And, dare I say it?, now I find myself hoping it pulls an upset over The Fault in Our Stars. Though I don’t want it to beat my favorite, Code Name Verity in the next round, and The Fault in Our Stars is bound to come back from the dead anyway, so this doesn’t feel like a very fateful prediction.

But Endangered is a gripping, powerful, and suspenseful story that feels like it’s teaching you at the same time. I knew nothing about bonobos and very little about Congo or life in Congo. Eliot Schrefer writes with authenticity that sure makes the reader think he knows what he’s talking about.

I already had an idea of the story. Sophie was visiting her Mom on a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Without asking permission, she adopted Otto, a baby bonobo being sold on the side of the road. Later, her Mom heads out to release some adult bonobos at a safe location in the wild, but while she is gone, war erupts. UN peacekeepers try to take Sophie to safety, but Sophie won’t leave Otto to die.

What follows is an epic journey. Because war comes to the sanctuary. Sophie takes refuge in the electrified enclosure with the adult bonobos, so her first challenge is to be accepted by them. But when the electricity goes off, she knows she must escape before the soldiers come in to kill them all. Can she travel through the jungle and find her mother, miles away?

This book is a survival tale, a frightening story of war, and full of authentic details about bonobos and life in Congo.

At first, I was a little annoyed with Sophie for seeming more concerned about bonobo life than human life. But as the book went on, I came to feel that someone needed to care about “the least of these.” When another opportunity came up for her to go to safety if she abandoned Otto, but she had clear evidence he would die if she did, I was by then fully on Sophie’s side in continuing on with Otto.

Sophie’s journey takes her from one danger to another. But she never feels unduly lucky. There are many setbacks. Some she deals with better than others, and she does end up finding kind strangers who help along the way, after initial help from the bonobos. It’s hard to write a series of narrow escapes and still have the reader feel like it could happen, but Eliot Schrefer pulls it off. It all feels believable and terribly scary.

During a quiet moment it struck me that Congo was an easier country to survive in than most during a time of war. In peacetime the teacher couldn’t afford to buy food at the markets, which meant he had a field, and snares for wild game, and a well for water since the government had never run pipes out here. I tried to imagine getting by if the same thing happened in Miami and couldn’t. When a country was as primed for civil war as Congo was, when it came apart, the pieces weren’t as heavy.

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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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. 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.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Colors and Codes

I just got a tweet that made me prouder than I’ve EVER been of my Prime Factorization Sweater, and that’s saying a lot.

The tweet was from @milesmac, Miles MacFarlane, a teacher, with the words, “#LeilaN students deciphered @Sonderbooks Prime Factorization Sweater – Now making own code #7Oaks”

Here’s the picture that accompanied it. Even by the backs of their heads, you can tell those are engaged kids!

Yes! That’s what it’s about! Mr. MacFarlane, you made my day!

And the timing is lovely. Next week, at my own City of Fairfax Regional Library, I’m doing a program I’m calling “Colors and Codes” where we’re going to do exactly that. I’ll wear the sweater (or maybe my prime factorization t-shirt and bring the sweater. And the scarf). I’ll show them how we can assign each letter of the alphabet a number from 1 to 26. We’ll start with a factorization code, but move on to things like Base 6 or Binary. And I’m going to have foam shapes for them to make crafts with codes in colors or shapes.

Yay! See, we don’t have to make Math fun! Math is fun!