Category Archives: book review

A truth universally acknowledged

Kids love stories about underwear.  Here is a whole book about underwear:  what you can do with underwear (create hair, be a super hero, etc.), how you can have fun with underwear (scare your parents, dance, etc.), how you can rhyme a whole lot of words to “underwear” (bear, chair, fair, pair, glare).

A hoot.

Underwear by Jenn Harney


Patience and wonder, hard work and sunshine

Get outside, people!  At least venture out on the porch or look out a window!

Nature has so much to teach us.  This book weaves the beauty of it all into how we can be lifelong learners every single day, just by paying attention to the sky or looking at a bee. 

From Tree to Sea by Shelley Moore Thomas and Christopher Silas Neal

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Frida Kahlo, mansplaining, women at war and more

There are days when I need a bright, cheery, radical kind of book with lots of quick bites of interesting information.  And here we are!  Just when I needed you…

Whether it’s finding out about the history of feminism – not talked about much—to thinking about whether feminists can wear heels, there are just all kinds of interesting topics, covered with digestible information and fun graphics.  There are so many angles to what being a woman means now, in the past, in the future, so why not look at a bunch of them in one place?  This would be a great discussion book for teens (which is where it’s placed in our library) but it’s also fun for the grown folks who are just thinking about the arc of their lives and how things have changed.  Nice.

Feminism is… by Alexandra Black, Laura Buller, Emily Hoyle, Dr. Megan Todd

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Hidden messages, doorways, cats

boy and a house“Give destiny a chance.”  “Let it go.  Don’t plan so much. Let life surprise you.”

It’s all there in what I’d usually call a wordless picture book.  You have to look pretty closely to see the literal writing on the walls.  But looking closely also means you’ll see the lizard tail sticking out of the little door in the wall by the steps,  as well as the mice following you through the house.

“Look at the stars!  And again!  Always!  Forever!

Oh, and the story of the boy and the doorways and the cat and the new friend?  That’s good, too.

A Boy and a House by Maja Kastelic



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The Secret Society of Dads

neighbors.jpgSome years ago, we were visiting friends when, in order to avoid explaining something to the kids, my husband and friend claimed that they had to keep the answer secret.  Why?  Because they belong to the Secret Society of Dads.  (I might not be giving you the real name here, since, you know, it’s secret.)  Periodically, this mysteriously omniscient organization will pop up in conversations with the kids, even though I’m pretty sure there was only a second or two where our son wondered if it was true, and that was when he was maybe six years old.

For the most part, parents are really boring people – at least you have to hope so.  Having the parent who’s always doing some wild thing, dealing with addictions, gambling away the family savings, deciding to build a fall-out shelter or prepare for the zombie apocalypse – well, that’s hard on a kid.

This book plays with the stereotype just a little, but you don’t know it until the end, and that makes it all the more fun if you’re a member of the Mysterious Maelstrom of Moms.

The Neighbors by Einat Tsarfati

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You’re not the boss of me

i'm in chargeCould this be a book for budding tyrants and dictators?  Perhaps.

It’s a nice reminder that if you think you want to be in charge of everything, you also might have to be willing to take responsibility for everything that happens under your watch.  After years working in non-profits, this might explain perfectly why I love a job where I’m only really in charge of a bulletin board.

If you’ve had to deal with charging wildebeests and warthogs that get in your way all the time, you might be ok with just being a little rhino doing your thing.

I’m in charge! by Jeanne Willis and Jarvis

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The truth is out there

belonging-9781476796628_lgThis morning, my husband was lamenting the lack of interest in history displayed by his students, who are young and not terribly concerned about a past that doesn’t seem to mean anything in their daily lives.  They are often unaware, for example, that the Renaissance wasn’t mostly giant roasted turkey legs and jousting.

History can be a hard sell to young people, who are often developmentally uninterested in much that doesn’t touch their lives at any given instant – even if historians could argue that history does still touch their lives.  There’s just a lot going on.

But once you start questioning things, wondering about those family members who have died or vanished from your family history, the bigger picture gets a lot more interesting, doesn’t it?

And if you’re a German who’s moved to another country and started wondering what being German really means, you might start collecting information.  Maybe your family has told varying stories about the past.  You might take advantage of the well-documented history of the Nazi regime to find out where your family stood.  Even with registers and letters and old phone books for proof, there will still be questions.

Nora Krug has taken the questions, documents, stories and pictures and created a lively graphic memoir.  It’s also a reminder of what you miss when you leave and how history lives on, whether we want it to or not.

Belonging: a German reckons with history and home by Nora Krug

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Love is not the only emotion our hearts feel

my heartI know.  I should probably make the emotion about the science of my brain instead of my heart, but it’s that time of year when heart-shaped chocolates and Wonder Woman valentines with matching pencils show up.  Hearts are more than just an organ that keeps us alive, people.

“Closed or open, I get to decide.”  That’s how the book ends, and it sums up perfectly the sentiment of the book.  We all have roller coasters, slides, fences of emotion that take up space in our hearts.  Young or old, feelings can be powerful and scary and confusing, and knowing that you have the power for yourself  is, well, a powerful thing.

Corinna Luyken has also cleverly worked heart shapes into each and every illustration, something you could mention to a child and then re-read the book looking for those details.  Excellent.

My Heart by Corinna Luyken

Let me count the ways

how do i love theeI’m not sure why this book was so unexpected.  To take a love poem – Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous Victorian poem—and create a picture book that takes some words and expands the poem to include everyone: parents, children, friends, lovers, nature – what a wonderful idea!  It’s beautifully illustrated, light and action-filled where you might expect something more solemn.

And it’s also a nice introduction to what poetry can be, which means it’ll be visiting a certain kindergarten I know very soon.  Start them young.

How Do I Love Thee? by Jennifer Adams and Christopher Silas Neal

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What is love? And who is Beatrice?

love-zLooking for something for Valentine’s Day?  This might be it, although it’s more about how love surrounds us, keeps us safe, and creates a cozy space.  Even robots can figure it out, although it might take a quest to find a wise woman named Beatrice to do it.

Love, Z by Jessie Sima

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It’s complicated

in full flightOur lives are filled with moments of strength and weakness, but few have quite as many at such opposite ends of that spectrum as Dr. Anne Spoerry.  She was a medical student who joined the French resistance during World War II, was caught and transported to Ravensbrück concentration camp, helped separate others out to go to the gas chambers, injured and killed the mentally ill, hid prisoners from guards and saved lives, was exiled by a French military tribunal, charged with war crimes (although not convicted), escaped to Africa, and then spent fifty years not talking about her past, becoming a ground-breaking “flying doctor” and doing a whole lot of good while still being a very complicated and difficult person.  Whew!

This might not be a story that could happen today, with social media and Google searches that surely would have “outed” her long before her death, but it’s fascinating, unsettling, horrible and inspirational.  I still don’t know how I feel about her, but John Heminway’s done an amazing job uncovering the totality of her life. Decide for yourself.

In Full Flight:  a story of Africa and atonement by John Heminway

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Frederick Douglass – a life

frederick douglassThere were cries of fake news way, way back. No surprise, right?

When Frederick Douglass finally escaped slavery and began to speak about his life, many white people questioned whether someone so well-spoken and literate could have really been a slave.  Sound familiar?

He’d learned to read from a woman who didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to teach him until her husband found out.  Then he found clever ways to trick white children into helping him learn.  He listened while his owner’s son’s tutor talked about how to speak like an educated person. He worked to help others learn, too, by teaching Sunday school and quietly passing on what he knew.

Such an incredible life!  He met Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony,  traveled extensively, spoke and wrote about his experiences and opinions, and started a newspaper.

I like nonfiction graphic novels, because they open up whole parts of our history and world in a format that open doors to all kinds of readers.  It’s not just kids who like comics or graphic formats, and I’m a fan of putting knowledge in front of as many people in many different kinds of formats.  Take a look.  (Language probably makes this one better for teens and adults.)

The Life of Frederick Douglass:  a graphic narrative of a slave’s journey from bondage to freedom by David F. Walker, Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise

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Of zooxanthellae and radiolaria

secrets of the seaAnd also moon jellies and sea angels and so much more.

Looking out at a snowy day and a driveway that still needs to be plowed, thinking of the sea and beautiful colors and shapes and patterns and weird-looking creatures is the perfect, perfect escape.  The illustrations are so detailed and lively and interesting that your mind travels away to somewhere silent and deep and isolated from the chaos of the human world, and you almost forget that long list of things you need to do.  A gift.

Secrets of the Sea by Kate Baker and Eleanor Taylor

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More fun with Little Owl

little owls snowOne reason I’ve liked Divya Srinivasan’s previous Little Owl books is that they are bright and cheery, but also present some science-based information for kids – which animals are nocturnal, for example.  This one is no different and an excellent addition to any winter/snow storytime.  You’ve got the forest animals doing what they do, and Little Owl is questioning and learning and figuring things out.  Nice.

Little Owl’s Snow by Divya Srinivasan

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So magnifique

FMwraparound_v03This is not the book I was looking for.

Often I’m working on something – well, let’s be honest, working on anything – at the library, and I come across something that sparks my interest, or maybe one of my coworkers leaves a book on my desk, and all I can do is wonder, “How did I miss this before?”

But I do.  I miss all kinds of great books – some intentionally, some by forgetting to write a title down, some by just not looking in the right direction.  There is much joy for me in the library – so many reasons to be curious, to laugh, to cry, to think about something that usually doesn’t cross my path.

Anyway, this is a must-read if you like history, especially feminist history, or nonfiction graphic novels. That might make it sound a little off-putting, but this is the opposite of off-putting.  It’s inspiring, really.  Like many other books that have come out in the past few years, it highlights both well-known and not-so-well-known women who did incredible things with their lives.

Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed the World – a comic book anthology edited by Shelly Bond

And for more great books about women’s history, including some for kids, see these previous posts:

Trailblazers, thinkers, smart girls

What to read while planning your personal resistance

Girl power –  now with comics!

Girl power – rebels and visionaries

When 63 pages = powerful

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Gender is a shell game

powerWell, that was kind of disturbing.  Maybe also kind of funny at times, but mostly disturbing.

And the pièce de résistance?

An author/mentor telling the actual “author” that maybe he should try to publish it under a woman’s name.

Margaret Atwood has said of The Handmaid’s Tale that she didn’t include anything in her story that hadn’t already been done by human beings to other human beings, and once you start thinking, the same is true here, although the results are wildly different.

It’s another look at power and pain– what we have the capacity to do to each other, how anything can be justified by those who want to maintain control, and the unsettling influence of charismatic figures.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

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Pies for equal rights

pies from nowhereBaked goods and resistance?  Well, yes.  If you’re Georgia Gilmore and you’re trying to find a way to help out, yes, you just might bake some pies.  And then bake more pies.  And then make some other food.  And then organize others to help out.

Over time, things that seem small at first contribute to big, big change.

Pies from Nowhere:  How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito and Laura Freeman

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Blinding me with science

Doesn’t everyone love science, at least once they’re past having to dissect things and classify things and pass some unnecessarily difficult final chemistry exam?  I do.  I love reading kids’ books about all kinds of science and scientists.  I’ve been known to dip into adult books, too, about birds and trees and labs and even geology.  Who knew this could all be this amazing?

There is something beautiful about the rhythm and patterns of the earth and those who live on it, and these three are perfect illustrations of how wonderful it all is – especially because their art grabs you and drags you in, whether it’s the Big Bang, a jaunt through the solar system, or some super-detailed plants and insects.

Ah, nature.  Ah, science.


Tiny Little Rocket by Richard Collingridge

Once Upon a Star by James Carter and Mar Hernández

A Web by Isabelle Simler

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And now just one more alternative history

The+Incredible+True+Story+of+the+Making+of+the+Eve+of+Destruction+picI’m not sure what’s lighting the escapist fire in me these days, but it’s not all bad.  Books that have been on my to-be-read list for a while are bubbling up to fill the empty spaces, and while I maybe could read a bit less of the doom and gloom, there is one potential mushroom cloud I’m not sorry I stuck around for.

Laura Ratliff is living in Griffin Flat, Arkansas in 1984.  The Cold War is on. People still talk about thermonuclear destruction.  There is lots of eighties music and stupid crap in high school.  This is a scene I recognize, having grown up in the middle of the country in the eighties, down the road from a major military installation known to be on the to-be-nuked list of the Soviets, a place where we were told than if the war began, we should all drive north – as if driving anywhere at that point would make a difference – in the same direction as the nearest ICBM base.  Oh, the gut-busting fun of the Cold War!

And it’s exactly this kind of snarky humor that carries Laura through what may or may not be the Eve of Destruction, a film that may or may not show the world what will really happen in a war of atom bombs and retaliation.  Also the footnotes are a kind of awesome that even the older folks like me will love.

The Incredible True Story of the Making of the Eve of Destruction by Amy Brashear

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amazing iowaI have a certain fondness for books that tell sometimes-forgotten stories of women who overcame or did something incredible or just didn’t give up in the face of a society that wanted them to be something else other than what they were.

This is whole alphabet and more of Iowans who did amazing things while also being women.  It’s a beautiful book to look at, and it’s got so many interesting stories and lives that you want to find out more about these people who did incredible things.  It also acknowledges the problematic legacies of some, a much-appreciated addition, since people in the past were just as imperfect as we are.

So grab a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in for an enlightening afternoon.

Amazing Iowa Women by Katy Swalwell, published by RAYGUN

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