Category Archives: book review

Dreamers and doers

Imagination can take us all kinds of places – artistic and creative, practical and creative.

Whether you’re looking for a book to share about the power of imagination and art OR the power of creativity in science, these two are a fearsomely wonderful pair.  A story where museum art sneaks off of the walls and fully enters into community life?  I’m there!  Another where a pig wants to fly?  OK, sign me up!

Have some fun.  Give your brain a break from the world around you.  Maybe you’ll paint a picture.  Maybe you’ll build a rocket.  Either way, you win!

Imagine! by Raúl Colón

The Dreamer by Il Sung Na


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The particular sadness of the news cycle

unwantedNot long ago, our government announced that it would again cut refugee admissions, following the whole ridiculous farce last year about needing to make an already multi-year process more difficult.  Do I have strong feelings about this?  Yes, yes, I do.

As this book notes in the postscript, “There are about 5.7 million Syrian refugees.  In the first three months of 2018, the United States has accepted eleven for resettlement.”   Eleven!  When I wrote the White House about the issue, the reply I got back was a full page of what a wonderful job ICE agents are doing on the border.  I wasn’t at all surprised, but it was a little depressing.

I look at all that refugees I have personally known have done to make this country, state, and city a better place, and I am appalled that our government feels like it’s ok to do so little in the face of unspeakable horror and tragedy.   But that’s the news cycle for you.  It’s as if it isn’t even happening anymore.

Do yourself a favor and read this book.  It’s probably not ideal for younger kids –there are some visuals suggesting executions, bombings and other violence – but it would be eye-opening for teens (and adults).

The Unwanted: stories of the Syrian refugees by Don Brown

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Speak up, people

what can a citizen doWho is a citizen?  What can a citizen do?

Look out grown-ups.  The young ones are about to transform this world.  Let’s hope so, anyway.

In this one, they’re righting wrongs, turning things upside down, letting bears be citizens, grabbing a voice and remembering when they speak out  that “the world is more than you.”  Almost revolutionary.  Makes me want to grab a few buddies and get out there and vote, though only when it’s age-appropriate, of course.

What Can a Citizen Do?  by Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris.

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Different, different, same

What’s traditional?  What’s normal? What’s best.  Whatever.

Some moms and dads (or grandmas or uncles or guardians) work at night.  Some fly across the country and can’t be home for bedtime.  Still, with a little creativity, we can still connect with them, right?

These two sweet picture books consider a little of what it’s like to have a parent who doesn’t work a daytime schedule or maybe travels for work a lot.  It’s nice to see some representation for kids who might be missing their dad or mom (or guardian).  However it happens–on a plane, on a bike, in the morning, late at night — it’s nice to see people who love each other building memories and expressing love for each other.

I Love You More Than….  by Taye Diggs and Shane Evans

Night Job by Karen Hesse and G. Brian Karas

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Of doodlebugs, walruses, lying grannies and Louisiana Elefante

louisanas way homeLouisiana Elefante is the quirkiest of the quirky, but as we will find out, she’s not simply the daughter of flying trapeze artists who died tragically.  She’s not just a girl who can sing “Amazing Grace” and make mourners weep or the granddaughter of a woman who flees in the night with no explanations.  She is always so much more than any single emotion when she feels it, and her voice is crystal clear.

Kate DiCamillo is a genius of voice, and not just for Louisiana.  She creates the welcoming and the crabby equally well.  One of my favorites in this book is a small character – there are no small parts here, people! – her friend Burke Allen’s grandfather, also called Burke Allen.  He calls Louisiana “doodlebug” and accepts her as if she’s always been part of his life, offering to buy all the cakes in a raffle for her just because. “Holding on to his horse hoof gave me some comfort and courage,” Louisiana says in a difficult moment.

I keep going back to that line, because it highlights for me just how good the writing is in this book, although that maybe sounds a little crazy.  It’s a small thing, but the idea that Louisiana likes this person and simultaneously thinks of him as having horse hoof hands might not work with some characters.  But Louisiana is stating her reality, not throwing out criticism, and that’s what makes it perfect.  It jumps out at you, but then you think, “That’s SO her!” or maybe something less dated than that if you’re cooler or hipper than I am.  (I live with a teenager who is constantly reminding me how out of step with this moment I am.  Groovy,  I think.  I am just fine with that.)

Reading these characters, you know them.  They are alive in your head, even just two pages in.  Sometimes it’s the details that jump out at you; sometimes it’s the awkward thought a character shares.   Before long, though, I am always walking with the character, in the character – not as someone observing the story, but as someone living it.

Such a gift!  Dang, Kate DiCamillo, that’s a good book.

Lousiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

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Have we learned anything? Do we ever learn?

1947It’s easy to feel like the world is in chaos, but hasn’t it always been a little that way?

1947: where now begins  is a reminder, not just of how much can happen in one year – a lot – but that some fights we think we’ve won really just putter on, hiding out or growing or morphing into some new awful thing over weeks, months, years.  People in power make dumb decisions that hurt people all the time and frequently lose little sleep over it.  Justice can be more about keeping people in their places than fairness or democracy.

I wouldn’t call it a fun read, but it is a powerful one.

1947: where now begins by Elisabeth Åsbrink

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Completely ridiculous

mac bDid you ever imagine yourself – back in 3rd or 4th grade – as a spy or a detective or some other cool secret person?  Would you be like Encyclopedia Brown, taking on the neighborhood bullies?  Or would you indulge in a little international intrigue?  Give me a fake passport, a ticket, and some spending money, and, obviously, I’d be on the plane to France.  Tout suite, people.

Clearly Mac Barnett was better connected or luckier than most of us.  The Queen wasn’t seeking out Kansas girls for any of her detecting needs during the Cold War.  But Mac B. picks up the phone one day, and it’s her, The Queen, and the crown jewels are missing.  The President of France will make an appearance, as will the KGB.  It’s completely ridiculous.

Still, jealous as I am, it’s delightful.  Silly.

Mac B. Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett and Mike Lowery

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Superheroes in cardigans

lyric mckerriganLyric McKerrigan doesn’t actually sport a cardie in this goofy superhero/supervillian picture book.  Cardigans are practical and even occasionally stylish, and they are much loved by library staff members, especially in buildings with inconsistent heating and cooling systems.  You might need layers at a library.  Cardies are perfect for that.  But do we care that our hero wears a vest instead?  We do not.

She is, after all, a secret librarian.  She throws the bad guys off their groove by suggesting books they’d like.  She manages to conceal reading material on picking locks in the food of the good guys the evil genius has locked up.  She parachutes down to the bad guy’s hideout with a copy of Defeating Evil in Three Easy Steps.

Perfection.  Though I’d keep an eye on that Doctor Glockenspiel.  He looks like he’s headed for a sequel.

Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian by Jacob Sager Weinstein and Vera Brosgol



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Color me rainbow

color monsterWhen my son was little, we used to play a game where we’d hide our mouths and then pretend to be smiling or surprised or angry.  The other person had to guess what emotion was under the hands.  Angry?  Happy?  Sad?

He was kind of the master at being able to do angry eyebrows with a huge smile.  Very tricky.  At the time, it was just a silly game, but I suppose he was also learning how to read others’ emotions.

So I can appreciate a book that talks about emotions head on – how they feel and how your friends and family can help.  It’s also a fun way to talk about colors and what they mean to us.  Does blue really mean sad to you?  Is red always angry?  What colors would you choose to describe your moods?

Anna Llenas has created some wonderful art here.  Expressive, layered, detailed, alive…and it all adds to the story.

The Color Monster: a story about emotions by Anna Llenas

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What do we value? What is our history? Who are we?

We-Are-Grateful-fnl-jktWEBWe are, none of us, just one thing.  Children form their ideas of who they are by what they see around them, who loves them, what they think, what they value.

A few weeks ago, I heard Jacqueline Woodson speak, and she noted how important it is for kids to see themselves in the books they read.  We don’t see many picture books about Native Americans or native nations, and often, the ones we see are historical representations, not people living now.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga is just one book, but it’s much needed, and we need more.  Not just for kids whose families are Native American, but for all of us.  Following the seasons and highlighting important events, it reminds us all that how we see ourselves is part of the bigger picture of our communities and our country as a whole.

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac

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