Tag Archives: book review

So much there there

there thereIf you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive not to find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger.  (p. 138-139)

I’m not a big one for direct quoting from books, mostly because it means I have to hunt down the quote.  This time I wisely bookmarked it right after I read it.  I kept going back to it and re-reading it as I finished the book.

Earlier on, Tommy Orange’s prologue points out the many ways American history has been revised to fit a benign image white people want to look back on fondly.  And while there is more history and more commentary on the state of American society, this book is also a fascinating human story about a group of urban Native Americans gathering for a powwow.

If you are white, it might make you rethink a few of your easy privileges, which is never a bad thing.  I could hope that people in power would read it, but given the state of our political world these days, I suspect the people who need to read it most would never read it – both because they seem to not be readers at all and because they are unlikely to seek out any criticism of a world where they are on top and feel like they deserve to be there.

But don’t miss it if you have a chance to pick it up.  The writing is beautiful, powerful, intense, and challenging, and the time you’ll spend on it will make you think differently about the world we live in and your place in it.

There There by Tommy Orange

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Beyond words

drawn togetherSome years ago, I took my then infant son with me to visit a friend and her mother for coffee.  They were both from Bosnia, and my friend’s mom spoke some English, but did not get much of a chance to practice it.  We all chatted for a while, and then my son woke up, happy and ready for attention.  My friend’s mom picked him up and toured him around the house, happily describing everything to him in Bosnian.  Did he care?  No.  Was he suddenly in love with my friend’s mom?  Yes.  She tickled his belly.  She made faces.  She was a dream.  Little ones really don’t care what language you speak as long as you are speaking to them.  Being the center of attention works in any language.

Once you’re a little older, having a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same language can be a little more challenging until you find the ways you can communicate beyond words.  And that’s pretty much this book.

It is a perfect and wonderful book.  The words are perfect; the art is perfect.  And there is so much love in it.  What a joyful reminder of the special relationships grandparents can have with their grandchildren, no matter what lives they’ve left behind.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

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Striped pants not required

almaAlma has one of those names that goes on and on.  Or maybe some of the names are not her favorites.  In any case, she is bopping around in awesome striped pants, not feeling like her name fits her.

Daddy can bring to life all the people whose names she shares, though, including a woman in really awesome striped pants.  (Nice touch.  Where can I get these pants?) There is more to us than our names, but it’s sure interesting to know how they came about, isn’t it?

The illustrations are light and sweet, and it’s perfect for any kid questioning their Edith or Jaquarian or Huong in a Jennifer and Sophie world.  Perfect for a quiet moment with a special little one who likes their name, too.  Maybe even the perfect way to talk about naming and how it works in different cultures.  Keep looking!  There might be more.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

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Future Batgirl wins the day

library on wheelsMary Lemist Titcomb – Miss Titcomb – was a fierce advocate of libraries, pushing aside those people who said working people and children weren’t interested in reading, charging forward to provide more varied library services to people who didn’t live close to physical libraries.  AND she thought up a plan which she put into action to get the first bookmobiles out into parts of the community that did not have access.  What a gem!

The pictures and documents are fascinating, and though Miss Titcomb is not a well-known figure today, learning about her is sure a treat.

Library on Wheels:  Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile by Sharlee Glenn


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Where’s my cowboy bus?

bus stop

Who knew that catching a bus was this complicated?  You miss your bus, but then the buses that follow include options for cowboys riding horses, bouncing clowns, sailors, and balloon fans?  Man, what neighborhood does this guy live in?

A seriously silly flight of fancy and a lot of fantastic fun.

Bus!  Stop! by James Yang

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This book is all over the place

theysayblue.jpgAnd that’s ok.

It all hangs together, the thoughts about colors and where you see them and how you see them and what you might do if you could float on a color or become a tree.  It doesn’t really even make sense if you’re looking for traditional story progression, but it’s beautiful, anyway — full of movement, full of imagination.  It stretches your brain a little and makes you wonder, “What else could I see or hear or touch or feel if I were looking closely?”

Roll with it.  You’ll be glad you did.

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

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Hello, it’s hot dog I’m waiting for

hello hot dogAgain with the dated song lyrics?  I imagine that’s what all of my five or six readers are thinking right about now, since I’ve lately been wandering deep into my sketchy pop music past.   Are you tired of it?  Well, join the club, people.  I’m blaming it on this ridiculous weather.

I’m telling you, if this freakish spring doesn’t give us at least a few days of decent weather and soon, you’re probably going to find me in the garden singing A Flock of Seagulls and Haircut One Hundred tunes while I’m planting the carrots and cucumbers.

However, while I’m scaring the rabbits away with I Ran or Love Plus One, you will have done your work and found this book and maybe paired it with The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog to read to some fun little one you like.  I can’t wait to get it in front of some kindergartners, but that’s just how I roll.  Like a hot dog.  (You’ll get that joke after you read the book.)

Hello, Hot Dog by Lily Murray and Jarvis

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See what’s become of me

forever or a dayIt’s not often that a picture book makes me think of a Bangles song and a guided meditation on the life of a prophet, but when you are talking about time, time, time, all bets are off.  Let’s all take a moment to be grateful for the mysterious and wonderful connections our brains make.

Sarah Jacoby’s Forever or a Day is a meditation on time and its passing.  It is perhaps not a book for the hyperaware and deep-thinking kid who gets stressed out by the days passing, but it’s otherwise a great read for kids, parents, and grandparents.  And its last page sums the joys of life up simply and perfectly: “I love the time I have with you.”  So true in so many situations.

Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby

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A memory of a life left behind

islandbornHow do we remember the places we leave behind?  How do we create our history when we can’t remember it?

Lola has a class assignment to draw the place she (and her family) came from.  In a class of immigrants, there are all kinds of places to draw and imagine – pyramids, jungles, cities, canals.  Lola can’t remember much about her own Island, but by talking to her community, she collects images and ideas she can combine into something she can understand and share.

Islandborn’s art and text illustrate both the good and the bad of the past, which is the most powerful part of this amazing whole.  It’s easy to think that children won’t understand the destruction of a hurricane or something like political corruption, but they see bad things every day on some level, just as adults do.  Being honest about the beauty and the horror – without dwelling on particulars – creates a more complete picture of who we are and where we’ve come from.  Superb.

Islandborn by Junot Díaz and Leo Espinoza

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War. What is it good for? Again.

Groundwood Logo TextIt seems like days, but I know it was actually weeks ago that I posted about another middle grade book about war—Playing Atari With Saddam Hussein.  This one is a graphic novel, based on Deborah Ellis’s classic, The Breadwinner.

Adapted from the film version directed by Nora Twomey, the story is a familiar one.  Power struggles, militarized conflict, outcomes no one particularly likes – in this case, only the strict Taliban and their thugs like the idea of limiting women so much.  People who just want to live their daily lives struggle while those in power find ways to exploit their standing.  No surprise there.

Parvana has to disguise herself as a boy in order to be able to provide for her family, and while the disguise allows her some freedoms she doesn’t have otherwise, it also brings complications – fear of bullies with guns, for one thing.  With her father jailed for having forbidden books, her life and that of the rest of her family is trapped in survival mode.

Having this in graphic novel form will appeal to a lot of young readers, especially those who are interested in social justice issues.  It’s a view into another world, and that’s an especially good thing for those of us with the advantages of technology and development and education and relatively safe daily lives.

The Breadwinner: a graphic novel – based on the book by Deborah Ellis and adapted from the film by Nora Twomey

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