Review of Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama

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Dreams from My Father:  A Story of Race and Inheritance,

by Barack Obama

Crown Publishers, New York, 2004.  First published in 1995.  442 pages.

http://www.crownpublishing.com/

My Auntie Sue wanted me to read this book so much, she sent me a copy.  Thank you, Auntie Sue!

And I admit, it was down low in my pile of books to read for quite awhile.  Once I did finally open it up and look inside, I was quickly hooked.  Whatever else you might say about Barack Obama, he does have a way with words.

This book was written before Senator Obama started his political career, so it’s not a story about politics.  Instead, it’s a story of growing up as someone who felt like an outsider.  He was naturally forced to think deeply about questions of race and questions of belonging.

Barack Obama was brought up by his white mother and her parents, in Hawaii.  His father was an international student from Kenya.  The father went to study at Harvard, but didn’t have the money to bring his family with him, and ended up going back to Kenya on his own.

Later, Barack’s mother married an Indonesian, so he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia, and went to college in California.

This book covers those growing up years, his years working as a community organizer in Chicago, and then a trip to Kenya where he met family members on his father’s side and learned about the father he only met when he was ten years old.

As a child growing up in a white family with brothers and sisters from Africa, as an American who spent several formative years living in Indonesia, Barack Obama is in a unique position to reflect on race in America, on community and belonging, as well as on attitudes about poverty that have similarities worldwide.

This is fascinating and thought-provoking reading.  Now I will try to get my hands on his later book, The Audacity of Hope.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/dreams_from_my_father.html

Review of The Complete Peanuts, 1967 to 1968

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The Complete Peanuts:  1967 to 1968:  Dailies and Sundays:  The Definitive Collection of Charles M. Schulz’s Comic Strip Masterpiece

by Charles M. Schulz

introduction by John Waters

Fantagraphics Books, 2008.  325 pages.

Hooray for Fantagraphics Books!  This is now the ninth volume of The Complete Peanuts series, publishing every single comic strip from Peanuts, from the day it began in 1950.

In the 1967 to 1968 volume, we’re getting into the classic Peanuts that I knew and loved as a little girl.

There’s a strip that I think epitomizes this golden age of Peanuts:  Franklin comes into the neighborhood, looking for Charlie Brown.  He meets Lucy in her psychiatrist booth and Snoopy wearing his Red Baron goggles.  When Linus tries to tell him about the Great Pumpkin, that’s the last straw.  Franklin can’t handle it.  As Franklin tells this to Charlie Brown, Schroeder comes up and says, “Hi!  Did you guys know there are only sixty more days until Beethoven’s birthday?”  Franklin’s comment is “Like, wow!”  (Remember, this is the Sixties.)

Yes, in this period, each character was fully into his own neuroses.

I was also surprised to discover, in this volume, a strip about military musicians.  Naturally, it’s between Lucy and Schroeder:

Lucy says, “In a way, you’re quite lucky Schroeder..  If you ever go into the army, they won’t put you in the front lines…  You could play the piano for the officers while they eat!”

Schroeder’s reaction?  AAUGH!

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www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/complete_peanuts_6768.html

Review of Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

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Ever,

by Gail Carson Levine

HarperCollins, 2008.  244 pages.

Starred Review.

Hooray!  A new book by Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted and Fairest.  In Ever, the author takes us to a different sort of world.  Instead of magic and fairies, this world is inhabited by gods and goddesses.

Olus is a youthful god, the god of the winds.  He is curious about mortals, and so travels far from his own country and disguises himself as a mortal, a herder of goats.  He finds himself fascinated by the family of his landlord, especially Kezi, who makes beautiful weavings and beautiful dances.

Then, because of an unfortunate vow, Kezi’s life is to be sacrificed.  Can Olus find a way to save her?  Perhaps he can make her immortal like himself.  Only this will mean both of them undergoing a terrible ordeal.

Here is an enchanting story about love and fate, about uncertainty and awareness.

As with her other books, Gail Carson Levine again achieves a mythic quality to her story that I love so much.  We have a simple story with undercurrents of Truth.  Delightful!

http://www.gailcarsonlevinebooks.com/

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/

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www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/ever.html

Review of Peeled, by Joan Bauer

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Peeled,

by Joan Bauer

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.  248 pages.

Hildy Biddle is a girl with an obsession.  Hildy’s obsession is to report the news, to let people know the truth, to make their high school newspaper shine.

But when a scare starts at the old Ludlow house, with a death and rumors of haunting, the town newspaper only seems to want to fan people’s fears.

Can Hildy and her high school friends stand up for what’s right against the interests of powerful adults?

In many ways, this feels like the same story Joan Bauer has told in her other wonderful books, like Hope Was Here and Rules of the Road.  A teenaged girl with an obsession stands up for what’s right against powerful interests.  However, I can’t complain — This story Joan Bauer is telling is a good one, makes fun reading, and does stick with you.

I do think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t had the vague feeling I’d read this before.  However, I will still highly recommend it to young teen readers.  Joan Bauer tells a good story, and Hildy Biddle joins her cast of strong young women who stand up for what’s right and entertain the reader while doing it.

http://www.joanbauer.com/

www.penguin.com/youngreaders

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This review is posted on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/peeled.html

Review of Why War Is Never a Good Idea, by Alice Walker

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Why War Is Never a Good Idea

by Alice Walker, illustrations by Stefano Vitale

HarperCollins, 2007.  32 pages.

Starred Review

Though War has eyes

Of its own

& can see oil

&

Gas

& mahogany trees

& every shining thing

Under

The earth

When it comes

To nursing

Mothers

It is blind;

Milk, especially

Human,

It cannot

See.

Though War is Old

It has not

Become wise

It will not hesitate

To destroy

Things that

Do not

Belong to it

Things very

Much older

Than itself.

Here is a haunting and poetic, artistic and beautiful book. 

The language is simple.  The author talks of things that War cannot understand, but that it can destroy.

The artwork is haunting, memorable and symbolic.  On one page, the words are: Picture frogs beside a pond holding their annual pre-rainy-season convention.  They do not see War. Huge tires of a camouflaged vehicle about to squash them flat.  The illustrations show a close-up painting of frogs on the left, with a photo of a rusty wheel on the right side, wadding up pages of peaceful villagers falling underneath it.

The portrayal is not graphic, but symbolic, making it all the more striking.

Don’t read this book to your child if you want to make apologies for War, if you want to explain about necessary evils. 

However, if you think you can use some convincing, or want to express an unambiguous idea to a child, this book makes a powerful and persuasive case for why War is never a good idea.  The language is simple enough for a child, yet something that will linger in the mind of an adult.

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/why_war_is_never_a_good_idea.html

Review of Larklight, by Philip Reeve

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Larklight

Or:  The Revenge of the White Spiders!

Or:  To Saturn’s Rings and Back!  A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space!

by Philip Reeve

Performed by Greg Steinbruner

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. 400 pages.

Audiobook:  Recorded Books, 2007. 8 CDs, 8.75 hours.

Starred Review.

Imagine for a moment that outer space is not a black emptiness, but really the “aether,” and full of living things.  Imagine that there’s life on Mars, life on Venus, life on Saturn, and even “ichthyomorphs” floating in the middle of space.

Now imagine that instead of just discovering gravity, Isaac Newton used alchemy to figure out how to make spaceships.  Imagine that in the 1800s, the British Empire wasn’t just an earthly empire ruling the seas, but ruled the solar system.

Art and Myrtle Mumby grew up on Larklight, a large old house that orbited the moon.

At the start of the book, their house is attacked by space spiders the size of elephants.  Their father is captured by the spiders, but they manage to escape and land on the moon.  On the moon, their life is in danger from giant moths, but they are rescued by space pirates.  The captain of the pirates is a teenage boy, but the crew are all aliens.

The pirates don’t want to obey Myrtle’s demands and take them to a British Embassy, and the children’s adventures are only beginning.  The book presents narrow escape after narrow escape as Art and Myrtle travel the solar system and end up saving the world.

This story is indeed a “rousing tale of dauntless pluck.”  I was put off at the beginning because I hate the thought of giant spiders, but before long I was lingering in my car to listen.  Even though I knew Art would surely escape, several times I found myself wondering how on earth he would get out of the latest tight spot.

Once again, I was enchanted by the delightful accents of the British narrator.  This audiobook would be a fabulous adventure to listen to for a family traveling on summer vacation.  Although there are some fearsome situations, Art and Myrtle emerge unscathed from them all.  Great fun!

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www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/larklight.html

Review of The Prophecy, by Hilari Bell

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The Prophecy
by Hilari Bell

Reviewed June 1, 2008.
EOS (HarperCollins), New York, 2006. 194 pages.
Starred Review.

I loved this book! The Prophecy is exactly the sort of book I would love to write. A well-crafted, light fairy tale type story, it still packs a punch. I was completely charmed.

Prince Perryndon’s father is the forty-fifth warrior king of Idris. Perryn would rather study than learn to fight.

However, when the king is home from the wars with the Norsemen, the master-of-arms makes a show of teaching Perryn to fight. The show only makes Perryn look like a fool and a failure and makes his father despise him all the more.

Then, studying in the library, Perryn discovers something that he thinks can win over his father after all: A prophecy that tells how to defeat the dragon! All they need is a true bard, a unicorn, and the Sword of Samhain.

The king scoffs at the prophecy, and scoffs at Perryn for believing it. However, his work does get him some attention.

When Perryn asks a magic mirror to show him any more writing about the prophecy, it shows him Cedric, the master-of-arms, writing a letter. In the letter, Cedric tells the Norsemen that Perryn has discovered the prophecy. He writes:

The sword was lost long ago, but magic often finds a way to raise itself. The boy is too weak willed to do anything on his own, but if he convinces his father to go looking for that sword, the dragon might be killed. 

If Idris were prosperous and well manned, it would be almost impossible to conquer — it is proving hard enough, even with the dragon eating away their strength from within.

So I will kill the boy. It can be made to look like an accident.

Now, knowing that Cedric will kill him at his first opportunity, Perryn decides to prove he is not too weak willed to do anything. He will assemble the pieces of the prophecy himself. If he can kill the dragon, surely he can win his father’s approval.

I love the way Hilari Bell shows us a prince with plenty of strikes against him, yet who is desperate enough to find a way to do something and help his people.

A truly wonderful book. This is my favorite of all the books I read for this year’s summer reading program.

This review is posted on the main site at: 

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/prophecy.html

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Review of American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang

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American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang, color by Lark Pien.
First Second, New York, 2006.  233 pages.
Winner of the 2007 Printz Medal.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008, Number 1, Contemporary Teen Fiction
My son loves graphic novels, but I haven’t read many myself.  However, when American Born Chinese won the Printz Medal for an outstanding Young Adult Novel, I decided this was one I should read.

I checked it out, but didn’t get around to reading it until it was due the next day.  I loved it!  I knew my son just had to read it.  Fortunately, graphic novels are quick reading, so he finished it before the day was over and I could turn it in.

This book is done beautifully.  The author uses the graphic novel form in a way that makes the story better than it would be as a regular novel.  I love the expressions on faces, and the way he uses visual storytelling and creative formats to tell the story.

There are three parallel stories in this book.  First is the story of the Monkey King.  He goes to a party with other gods, and they laugh at him for being a monkey.  He shows them.  Then we see Jin Yang, a boy born in America to Chinese parents.  They move from Chinatown in San Francisco to a place where he is the only Chinese kid in his class.  The third story has the format of a television show.  An American high school kid named Danny somehow has a cousin Chin Kee who’s terribly Chinese.  He visits Danny every year and embarrasses him so badly at his school that Danny’s been switching schools every year.

All the stories beautifully and unexpectedly come together at the end, with a well-told theme of being who you truly are.

At one point in the story of the Monkey King, he meets Tze-Yo-Tzuh, He Who Is, a God more powerful than any other gods.  At first, I was a bit offended when he started describing himself with words used from the Bible:  “I was, I am, and I shall forever be.  I have searched your soul, little monkey.  I know your most hidden thoughts.  I know when you sit and when you stand, when you journey and when you rest.  Even before a word is upon your tongue, I have known it.  My eyes have seen all your days.”

However, as I read on, I realized the author had beautifully placed the God Who Is into this tale about being the person (or monkey god) whom you were created to be.  This is a beautifully told, powerfully presented tale of the individuality God has lovingly placed in each one of us.  Yet it doesn’t come across as a religious story at all.  On the contrary, it comes across as a laugh-out-loud light-hearted comic book story.  Magnificent!

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Review of The Secret of Priest’s Grotto, by Peter Lane Taylor

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The Secret of Priest’s Grotto:  A Holocaust Survival Story, by Peter Lane Taylor with Christos Nicola

Kar-Ben Publishing, Minneapolis, 2007.  64 pages.

http://www.karben.com/

http://www.lernerbooks.com/

http://www.changeagentventures.com/

The official world record for the length of time spent underground is held by Michel Siffre, at 205 days.  But during the Holocaust a community of thirty-eight Jews spent 344 days hiding in huge network of caves.

The Secret of Priest’s Grotto tells about cavers Peter Lane Taylor and Christos Nicola learning about the story, meeting survivors, and going back to the cave and discovering proof of their tale.

The families that went into the caves included young children as well as grandparents.  Some of the men went out to gather supplies, and they lived in fear of discovery.  Those in the caves determined to survive and to live for their families.

This book includes pictures of the caves now as well as the families in happier times before the war.  An amazing story unfolds of what people will do for their families.

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This review is on the main site at www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/priests_grotto.html

Review of Seeing Redd, by Frank Beddor

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Seeing Redd:  The Looking Glass Wars, Book Two, by Frank Beddor

Dial Books, New York, 2007.  371 pages.

http://www.lookingglasswars.com/

www.penguin.com/teen

In Seeing Redd, the sequel to The Looking Glass Wars, Queen Alyss’s Aunt Redd is again plotting to take over the queendom of Wonderland.  Now she’s in our world gathering a sinister army to join her.  Next door to Wonderland, Alyss’s neighbor King Arch has plots of his own.  Meanwhile, Hatter Madigan is finding out what happened to his family while he was gone.

This second book has a darker feel, with lots of time taken up showing the evil of those dedicated to Black Imagination.  There’s also lots of detail in the fighting and weaponry.  This trilogy (I believe it will be) will make an exciting movie some day with lots of special effects, but I had trouble visualizing the detailed weaponry, and wasn’t terribly interested in that part.

I am now quite interested in Alyss, so I will definitely want to read the third book when it comes out.  I hope she gets a time of rest at the end!

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This review is posted on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/seeing_redd.html