Category Archives: book review

The LEGEND of Rock, Paper, Scissors

rps“Drop that underwear and battle me, you ridiculous wooden clip-man!”

Really, this entire book is one ridiculous name-calling incident after another.  Is Rock kind of a bully?  Is Paper a master of printer jams and angry outbursts?  Is Scissors a little too snippy?  Maybe.  Do I care?  I do not.

Perhaps I would use this book as a teachable moment.  You could winkle a message out of the book about how bullying behavior doesn’t make anyone (Rock, Paper & Scissors included) very happy.  You could talk about balances of power or appropriate behavior.

Or you could just read it over and over on your own, also with your spouse and your adult friends, and then laugh some more with the kids. Honor the legend, my friends.  Honor the legend.

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex

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For library nerds and all the Goody Two-Shoes sorts out there…

balderdashHow have I lived this long without knowing the story of the “real” Little Goody Two-Shoes?  Apparently, she was a raggedy little girl who always bettered herself despite misfortunes.  And of course, she ended up with a rich husband who had a coach and six.  Holy cats!  Why didn’t anyone tell me this?

Calling someone a goody two-shoes was still quite a popular way to taunt nerdy girls in my youth, although it was directed less at the smarts of the girl in question and more at being a rule-follower of any kind.  All kinds of things stay hidden in the back of your brain for years, and I never thought to look into where that particular taunt came from.

Then, today, I was zipping through an awesome new picture book about John Newbery, and there she was!  John Newbery published some of the first books specifically written for children, including The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes.  No one’s sure who wrote the book, but it was a hit, and Newbery went on to publish many other children’s books.  Some 150 years later, his name was the one attached to the American Library Association’s Newbery Medal — to recognize the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children each year.  And while this book, despite excellent illustrations and a fun story, might not seem like the first thing a kid would pick out, it’s got a lot of discussion starters and eye candy for slightly older kids, especially those who love learning about history and books.  And now I can think about that childhood teasing in a whole new way, too.  Nicely done.

 


 

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Prequel? Do I care?

pearl thief cover USA_0Well, it depends.  This one, a prequel to Elizabeth Wein’s excellent Code Name Verity, was one I waited for, wondering if it would really match up with what I remembered of a character, her situation, and a time period.  Then, about five chapters in, I realized I didn’t really care if it was a prequel or not.  It’s just a good story.

Why?  The mystery involved in a missing man, a body, the Water Bailiff, and a family of aristocrats reminds me of great English mysteries where thin layers are peeled back, one after another, to reveal all kinds of ugliness, bitterness, secrets, and even good.  Julia Beaufort-Stuart is bold and afraid, cautious and confident, aware of her privilege but limited by its demands, too.

This book may explain a lot about the character she becomes in Code Name Verity, but while the connection is wonderful, it’s not necessary.  Julia and the story are enough.   Wonderfully enough.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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Epistolary joy

Yours-Sincerely-Giraffe-cover-LRGiraffe, Penguin, Seal and Pelican are all kind of bored.  Pelican’s sign sets things in motion, and before you know it, animals from very different parts of the world are communicating and becoming friends.  It’s a little silly, very sweet, and pretty short – just long enough to create a perfect picture of the characters and carry them to their predictable yet wonderful conclusion.

Letter-writing is something of a lost art these days.  Taking the time to sit down with paper and a pen or maybe at a typewriter – who takes the time to do that now?  There are not even that many emails; we seem to live by text and emoji.

I miss those days – the six page letters from a boyfriend about nothing important, the cards from my grandmother about the weather and her flowers, the musings my much-loved college friend wrote about her writing and her life, although I rarely knew what she was actually doing with her time. Because of this, I think, dipping into an epistolary novel is a delightful escape, especially if there are penguins and pelicans involved.  I would have loved it for its form, but the characters are a joy, too.  It’s perfect as a bedtime story read over a few nights or as a read-aloud for younger kids.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake

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Three who persisted

What do Jackie O, an astronomer, and a balloon pilot have in common?  It sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?  Maybe one of those jokes told by that uncle you see mainly at family funerals or awkward reunions.  He’s not funny, but somehow he’s gotten the idea that being the comic is his “thing” and god knows, people could use an inappropriate joke right about now, right?

But no, it’s not a joke! They’re just all women who didn’t give up on things they loved.  Jacqueline Kennedy had Grand Central Station in New York City to save from developers.  Caroline Herschel had astronomy.  Sophie Armant Blanchard had her balloons.

As sometimes happens, these books landed (serendipitously, I think) on my desk at work on the same day.  So, when I read them, I read them together.  And they fit together in really wonderful ways.  Each woman had struggles.  Each woman kept at it, working for their goals and the things they loved.  They persisted.  And we should, too.  Some of these jokes are just for me.

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith and Matt Tavares

Caroline’s Comets: A True Story by Emily Arnold McCully

When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon by Natasha Wing and Alexandra Boiger

Anger. Grief. Bitterness. Oh, and some fun.

optimists“This group…it’s like a twisted version of The Breakfast Club.

Hmmm.  I was just thinking the exact same thing.  And the author has now taken care of my whole intro to the book.  Whew!  That was hard work.

Petula’s art therapy group is an emotionally bruised group of kids which she would rather not be a part of.  If only she hadn’t thrown that cup at the other counselor…  They snipe at each other and make rude remarks, yet are somehow  exactly the kind of people she needs.  It’s only with Jacob’s arrival that they really begin to pull together and trust each other, however.

Adults are often making life miserable for Petula, but even the principal, her parents, and the goofy and well-meaning art therapist have their moments.  I loved the way the author took these wounded and struggling people and made them real, bringing their joys and sorrows into the light.  There is sadness galore, but there is also hope.   And it is funny, at least in the way that people joke after death or screwing up their lives or alienating their families.  Oh, and there are Canadians in it.  That’s a bonus, too.

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

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A voice in the wilderness. Or Wisconsin.

aminas-voice-9781481492065_lg

Once in a while I find myself reading along, thinking “oh, this is nice realistic middle grade… problems to be solved, problems solved… everyone learns something… and we’re good.” I’m waiting for predictable things to happen, and then when they happen, they’re somehow not quite as predictable as they seemed in my head.

Amina and her friends and family are so well and lightly drawn – little details scattered here and there which highlight who they really are—that an otherwise predictable story floats along for a while.  Then you realize there is more to all of this than making new friends and keeping the old.  Hena Khan managed to sprinkle in things about Amina and her friends’ families and cultures which further the story instead of falling like heavy look! here’s the diversity part bricks.

And it’s genius, because the differences within all of our families are about who we are in all parts of our life – school, friendships, home – and life is complicated.  I liked the book while I was reading it, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how special it is.   Listen to this voice.

Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan

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Sculptures and graffiti and murals, oh my!

keith-haringThere’s a Keith Haring piece in the sculpture garden up the road from me.  Red, yellow and blue dancing figures are intertwined and turning around each other.  People like to take pictures there – I’ve done it, too—mimicking the actions of the figures.  There’s something bright and joyful about it, even on very gloomy and gray days.

This book is a little like that, twisting and turning through Keith Haring’s life.  What was it like for him growing up?  How did he end up doing murals and making graffiti and becoming a successful artist?  Examples of his work are scattered throughout the illustrations, and it’s a bright and joyful journey.  Take a look.

Keith Haring: the boy who just kept drawing by Kay Haring and Robert Neubecker

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Clayton, Cool Papa, and Wah-Wah Nita

I cclayton-birdan relate to Clayton Bird.  I may be a middle-aged white woman living in Iowa, but I understand his pain.  I might not have grown up with a blues-playing grandpa–mine was known to ride a banana seat bike now and then, but wouldn’t have known what to do with a guitar—but I know how important people other than parents can be when you’re growing up.  I remember being angry about injustice when I was a kid, or at least what I saw as injustice in my own life.  And I know grief, really crushing grief that hides out in unexpected places and hits you at all the wrong times.

Clayton is the kind of character everyone can relate to on some level, although he might not look like many of the kids I knew growing up.  That’s what’s so wonderful about Rita Williams-Garcia’s work.  Her characters are simultaneously universal and completely unique.  The small details make you think of your Uncle Rich or that kid you went to school with who had a goofy nickname or your best friend’s mom or whoever.   His story, like many of Williams-Garcia’s, celebrates an ordinary life with extraordinary moments—moments which reveal quite a bit about our society as a whole and how kids navigate it. Her characters’ experiences reach out to you, whoever you are, wherever you live.  It’s a gift we are so, so lucky to be able to witness and enjoy.

And if all that weren’t enough, Ms. Williams-Garcia mentions Kathi Appelt in her note at the end of the book.  We all know (or maybe we don’t) just how crazy I am about Kathi Appelt.  I’ve practically thrown her books at the 5th graders I visit if I find out they have somehow managed to miss them.  And  I don’t stop at once a year – she comes up repeatedly.  Actually, I’ve kind of done the same with Rita Williams-Garcia’s books (One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven, Gone Crazy in Alabama) because they are a different and wonderful brand of fabulous.   Clearly, I’m just going to get worse.  Prepare.  Beware.

Clayton Bird Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

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Sometimes one trick is all you need

nathan hale one trick ponyStrata is not a rule follower.  She and her buddies have gotten away from their Mad Max-ish caravan and are looking for treasures.  Probably they shouldn’t be doing this, because the Pipers (evil, energy-seeking aliens) are close enough that—oops!–Strata and her friends might uncover something that would attract them.

But there’s a pony!  And Kleidi (the pony) is a neat twist on the cliché of girls and ponies, because Kleidi is a robot, a fast and clever robot. Kleidi can also stop really fast and hard.

Along the way, we learn about the dystopian homeland that the Earth has become, and how humans have adapted and yet are still losing against aliens who see them and their planet simply as food and minerals.  It’s nothing like Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales about moments in U.S. history, and yet the storytelling and art are equally perfect for the topic.

Pick up Zita the Spacegirl  (Ben Hatke) and you’ve got an excellent double feature for a rainy afternoon of reading.

one Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

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