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Results 1 - 25 of 77,189
1. Full of Beans, by Jennifer L. Holm -- (ages 9-12)

Does building resilience in kids mean they have to be able to handle everything by themselves? Or that they can weather the hard times, with their sense of self intact? I adore Jennifer Holm's newest novel Full of Beans precisely for the way that Beans struggles through hard times, learning about the consequences of his decisions, yet never losing his sense of humor or his loyalty to his family and friends. It is both delightful to read and wonderful to reflect upon.

Full of Beans
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2016
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
*best new book*
Beans Curry knows life is hard with the Great Depression--his dad is out of work, leaving home to look for work up north, and his mom takes in laundry, raising the family in their Key West home. Beans tries to help, sifting through the garbage looking for cans because a local con man has promised him twenty cents a can.

Life keeps throwing bum deals his way--the con man refuses to pay Beans what he promised--but Beans won't give up. He helps his mother babysit his crabby baby brother; he leads his gang of friends, challenging other kids to marbles; and he keeps his eye out new opportunities. So when a rumrunner makes him a proposition, it seems like things are finally turning up. Beans just doesn't predict how his actions might put others in harm's way. As the starred Horn Book review wrote,
Beans’s earnest voice shows a young boy trying so hard to help out and to do the right thing, but getting caught up in dubious circumstances over which he has no control.
Readers may remember Beans from Jennifer Holm's popular Turtle in Paradise (my review here), but this new story stands on its own. I think that the setting Depression-era Key West becomes even more fully realized in Full of Beans, as Holm seamlessly weaves historical details into the story. I especially like what librarian Tasha Saecker wrote over at Waking Braincells:
Holm writes with a natural ease that is deceptively easy to read. Her writing allows readers to explore Key West in a time just as it is becoming a tourist destination due to the New Deal and its workers. Beans’ personal story is clearly tied to the story of Key West with his own despair and lack of money mirroring the city’s. His own journey through to honesty and truth follows that of the city as well. It’s a clever dynamic that makes both roads to change all the easier to relate to and believe.
This would make a terrific read-aloud, either as a family or in the classroom. Terrific sayings from the 30s infuse the dialog, and short chapters keep the pace moving quickly. Readers will root for Beans, whether it's as he's playing marbles against a rival gang or as he's struggling with hard decisions that will affect his neighbors and friends.

I'm especially looking forward to talking with my students in our Mock Newbery Book Club about how Beans responds to hard situations and how he changes. I wonder how they'll envision the setting of Key West, and themes they'll identify in the story.

Join me on Wednesday -- I'm looking forward to sharing an interview with Jenni Holm. I'm especially looking forward to sharing a slideshow of images of 1930s Key West. The review copies were kindly sent by the publisher, Random House Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler's Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb


While WW II was waging furiously in Europe, some countries didn't see as much action. But it didn't mean that pivotal moments didn't occur in those countries.  Switzerland declared itself neutral, but Norway didn't.  And there was one place in Norway that became very VERY interesting to the Nazis.  It was a place so obscure and rare, they would do anything to make sure they could control it. 

An interesting fact - the science behind the nuclear bomb was being explored before and during World War II.  Everyone knew that whomever developed it first would win the war.  And the race was on.  Different physicists and scientists came up with various ways to create one and there were many elements that had to be used.  One of them was called heavy water.  Hydrogen has been replaced by deuterium, which made it essential for bomb making. The unfortunate thing was that heavy water was difficult to produce and there wasn't much of it.

But there was one place in Europe where heavy water was produced.  The Vemork Hydroelectric Plant in Norway.  Difficult to access, it was the perfect Nazi situation, making it hard to infiltrate.  It was to be a huge Nazi secret that gave them the extra incentive to win the nuclear race. 

One thing they didn't count on was the patriotism of the Norwegians.  There were underground resistance groups that sprung up and when the Nazis found them out, they used scare and death tactics to contain them.  It only bolstered them to fight back even more.  Several Norwegians went to England to train with the secret intelligence service to become infiltrators, spies and saboteurs.  They were to go back to Norway and create new resistance groups and sabotage any Nazi effort.

The top priority was to destroy Vemork....but could they without getting caught or putting the small town of Rjukan in jeopardy for their lives? Even worse, their mission was to take place in winter across a vast frozen area where survival would be severely tested.

Young adult non-fiction is fascinating for one very simple reason - these are the events that aren't usually written about in history books. Neal Bascomb hit it out of the park with his newest book. Narrative in nature, Bascomb tells a riveting story as well as providing images and photographs of the main players and sites.  In hindsight, readers will see how one mistake could have changed the outcome of the war. This is the invisible part of WWII teens will find fascinating.

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3. Writing Through the Hard Parts

How can we teach our students to trust the writing process?

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4. They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel


In early 2014 I reviewed the picture book Some Bugs, written by Angela Di Terlizzi and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. A fantastic, rhyming book, Wenzel's illustrations were unforgettable, calling to mind Eric Carle with a goofy undercurrent. I have been following Wenzel's career since then and am so excited to be reviewing the first picture book written an illustrated, They All Saw a Cat.



They All Saw a Cat is a story of observation and perspective, the idea for the book coming to Wenzel several years ago when he was teaching art classes in Nepal, noting that, "if every kid in the classroom draws the exact same thing - say, a cat - they will come up with a unique image, depending on their perspectives on and experiences with cats, that puts the animal in a different, new light." They All Saw a Cat follows a cat as it walks through the world, each person and creature who sees the cat viewing it differently. They All Saw a Cat is simple and brilliant, living up to all the praise that has been heaped upon it (see the end of the review for details of the heaps of praise.) 


Wenzel's text in They All Saw a Cat is sleekly repetitive - read it out loud and you will probably find yourself instinctively singing the words. The book begins, "The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears and paws . . ." To the child, the cat is all sweet, big eyes and happiness. To the dog, the cat is skinny and suspicious, slinking past. And to the fox? The cat is a puffy, mouthwatering, marshmallow of a morsel.




They All Saw a Cat twist and turns, just like the titular cat. How the cat looks to prey and predators, how the cat looks to a bee and to a worm, a flea and a bat, are just a few of the perspectives we are treated to as the cat walks through the world. The climax of the book finds the cat, a patchwork of all the perspectives. In the final pages, the cat approaches a pond, glimpsing his reflection, the text asking, "imagine what it saw?"



As the article in Publisher's Weekly from 2014 revealed, They All Saw a Cat was part of an eight publisher bidding war that was won by Chronicle Books, earning Wenzel a two-book deal and a six-figure deal. As the press material that came with They All Saw a Cat revealed, an editor from one of the losing houses proclaimed, "You guy have the next freakin' Eric Carle." My time working as an assistant to an agent was coming to an end just as Brendan Wenzel was introduced to him by Angela Di Terlizzi. Having witnessed a few bidding wars for manuscripts, I can only imagine what it was like in the office on the day that Chronicle prevailed. It's not often that a talent - and book - like Wenzel's comes along, and, as Ginee Seo, children's publishing director at Chronicle said, "I feel a bit embarrassed using a cliché, but as soon as I saw the proposal , I felt I was looking at an instant classic. . . the book is so intelligent and well thought-out that form the very first words and images you know you're in the hands of someone who is confident and knows what he is doing. Brendan's writing is spare and has a rhythm and pacing that is unusual for an artist to achieve. And his art has a sense of movement that is just beautiful. As an editor, I knew immediately that this was really rare." 

Source: Review Copy

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5. A Game Plan for Writing Workshop Transitions

Have you ever visited a colleague’s classroom or watched a video of a lesson and wondered, “How are those kids so perfect? How do they seem to know exactly what to do, the… Continue reading

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6. Video Sunday: And Stuff Like That

Good morning! We’ve not done a Video Sunday here on Fuse8 in a while, so let’s start with the ritualized boiling of the blood. Which is to say, can picture books be written in an hour? No. But Slate decided to go on and and prove as much. The results:

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 10.32.41 PM

More interesting, in a way, is the accompanying written piece in which real editors like Alvina Ling and Cheryl Klein critique what the folks here have come up with. Kindly. Very very kindly.


 

Looks like that Curious George documentary got the Kickstarter backing it was seeking!  Love the promo video they created for it.  Some killer original footage here that I’ve just never seen before.  Check it out:

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 10.43.12 PM

Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link.


 

A pretty advanced PSA, I must say.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the song it’s parodying, I think you’ll get a kick out of it.  The book cameos are particularly keen.


 

My father-in-law wrote me a week or two ago to tell me that, “CBS Morning news had a lovely piece on the research librarians at the main library (5th and 42nd). I think you would enjoy the segment and probably know some of the featured librarians. Hopefully, the website has the video from this morning’s show.”

They did.  It does.  Here is the result.

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 10.17.47 PM

I used to work a floor about the ASK NYPL team. There wasn’t any partition between the floors so you could hear them talk pretty clearly. It was a fascinating process.


 

Finally, this is sorta off-topic.  It’s certainly older.  I’m not one for the Cute Kids Saying Cute Things genre, but cute kids with Australian/New Zealand accents?  That’s different.  Particularly when it’s all part of an effort to raise money for sick kids.  And this isn’t entirely off-topic.  After all, there are some very interesting children’s books in the backgrounds here.  Stick around for the song.  It’s not the earnest tripe you fear at first.

Good cause.  Good folks.

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7. Fast Forward to Today: 7 Things I Want the Writers in my Classroom to Know

A year ago, I wrote a post titled, 7 Things I Want the Writers in my Classroom to Know. In this post, I wrote about what I knew about being a writer and what I thought the writers sharing our classroom should know about being a writer. Today, I offer an update after an another year of writing.

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8. Picture Books in Secondary Classrooms

Picture books are short, visual, and engaging, which makes them perfect for using as mentor texts with elementary AND secondary students.

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9. Monopolists

The Monopolists. Mary Pilon. 2015. Bloomsbury. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: One day during the depths of the Great Depression, an unemployed salesman named Charles Darrow retreated to his basement.

Premise/plot: Love Monopoly? Hate Monopoly? Mary Pilon's The Monopolists is a fascinating read to be sure. Who invented Monopoly? Who did NOT invent Monopoly? Why does it matter?

The Monopolist tells the story of the woman who invented the game, a game with two very different sets of rules. She didn't call her game 'monopoly' but 'The Landlord's Game.' The general game board concept and rules of play were hers. This was in 1904. In her community, it became quite popular, even an obsession of sorts. So much so that it spread across the nation as one person--or one couple--would teach another and another and another and another. People would create their own homemade game boards. The rules were taught but not written down. For decades, people were playing this game, loving this game. It wasn't a game you could buy at the store, though. 'The Landlord's Game' wasn't the only real-estate game that predates Parker Brothers' Monopoly. The game Finance also did. It also being offspring of Lizzie Magie's original game. Though I think perhaps by that time, it had just one set of rules. Charles Darrow, the man whose name would be associated with the game MONOPOLY, was taught the game by friends. He later claimed he invented the game. The couple who taught Darrow spent a lot of time in Atlantic City with the Quakers who LOVED the game and changed their own game boards to reflect their lives. These place names would stay with the game and be the names that we come to associate with Monopoly. The rules, the layout of the game board, the place names, all were essentially handed to Darrow ready-made.

Most of this book focuses on a lawsuit in the 1970s and early 1980s. Parker Brothers was trying to stop one man--Ralph Anspach--from selling his own game, a game called ANTI-MONOPOLY. Anspach was an economics professor, I believe. It would take a lot of time, effort, stamina, and courage to stay in the fight.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. I don't love playing Monopoly, but, I found the game-playing culture of the twentieth century to be FASCINATING. There is something to be said for people spending time together around a table and actually talking and having fun doing the same thing. This was written in an engaging way. I'd definitely recommend it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. The Crate Train

The Crate Train. Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1966. 25 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Dot and Pat played train. They played in the basement. They had some old crates. They made the train out of crates.

Premise/plot: Dot, Pat, and Baby Sam play together in the basement. Are they playing well together? Well, that's debatable. Perhaps because they are in the basement instead of upstairs, they have the freedom to argue more with each other? Each kid wants to boss the others around and dictate HOW they play train. Except for Baby Sam, I think I would get tired of Pat and Dot pretty quickly in real life.

My thoughts: This is a very, very simple book. I think the activity itself would be great fun--playing train using empty crates. Do I think reading about it is as fun as doing it? Not really.

The Crate Train is one of the books in the Early-Start Preschool Reader series. I much prefer Ann Likes Red and Ballerina Bess.

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 6 out of 10
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. My NZ Poetry Adventure

I just spent an amazing week in New Zealand for the IBBY Congress and enjoyed sharing my poetry poster, meeting New Zealand poets, soaking up a panel dedicated to poetry, chatting with a Latvian publisher of poetry, checking out poetry at the downtown library and area museums, and seeing the country's plans for their National Poetry Day (TODAY!). So fun! Here are a few highlights. So gratifying to learn we are part of a global poetry community!

I had my poster printed on a scarf and then WORE my poster-scarf for the rest of the conference! Check out Mailpix.com (but get a Groupon first and it only cost $20 plus $10 for shipping!).


I met these poets at the conference and was excited to point out to Jenny and Paula that their work was featured on my poster. Bought Paula's massive book (pictured in blue) and got her to autograph it too! Don't miss this excellent website: nzpoetryshelf.com


She is publishing 100 individual Latvian poems as little cardboard books with art by various well-known Latvian illustrators-- to reach pre-school children and their families in particular! Check out FB.com/bikibuks


This panel featured poetry exclusively and here Helen O'Carroll talked about verse novels including works by Holly Thompson, Allan Wolf, Kwame Alexander, Ann E. Burg, and Karen Hesse, as well as Australian and New Zealand novels in verse.

Here's an example of the reader response to THE WATCH THAT ENDS THE NIGHT by Allan Wolf from a NZ teen.


American professor and author Chris Crowe shared the fascinating process that emerged as he created his novel in verse, DEATH COMING UP THE HILL about a teen struggling with war in the world and in his family, written entirely in haiku and containing one syllable for each soldier who died in the Vietnam War.


Check out this shelf of poetry books at the downtown public library (including UNBEELIEVABLES, ECHO ECHO, WATER SINGS BLUE), plus the first issue of the NZ School Journal, THE source of literature provided to ALL NZ children for years and years-- including now.

A participatory magnetic poetry wall at the main cultural museum (Te Papa) in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand.

Yes, National Poetry Day is held on the last Friday of August every year in New Zealand (since 1997) and there are tons of activities planned for all ages. Wish I could stay for it!


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12. Ballerina Bess

Ballerina Bess. Dorothy Jane Mills and Dorothy Z. Seymour. 1965. 25 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: This is Bess. Bess wants to dance. Bess wants to be a ballerina.

Premise/plot: Young readers meet Bess who wants to be a ballerina. Ballerina Bess is from the Early-Start Preschool Reader series. It has a 25 word vocabulary.

My thoughts: I had this one and Ann Likes Red growing up. While I think I prefer Ann Likes Red a little better, this one is still a lot of fun if you like vintage children's books. (It was published in 1965.)

Simple can be a great thing when you are learning to read. Words need to be either sight words (common frequency like is, was, the, this, etc.), or easy to sound out. To read a whole book on your own can be a great confidence booster.

One thing that I just noticed now as an adult is that there are a few pages where LEGS are missing. On one page readers clearly see Bess dancing ON HER TOES. And on the very next page, Bess is missing BOTH LEGS as she's shopping at a store. The sales clerk has legs, but Bess and her mother DO NOT. And on the next page. Bess, her mom, and the sales clerk are all missing legs. But fortunately Bess' legs return for the next page when she's dancing once more.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Sing Along Saturday (Cook Me Up Something)

Today's prompt: Song You Listen To While You Cook

This meme is hosted by Bookish Things & More.

I actually really LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the album Tuscany -- A Romantic Journey. I bought it for $1 at my local charity shop that benefits Habitat for Humanity.


And now just because I can, and because it's funny...Sing Verdi Very Loud (Live)



© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Title: Burn Baby Burn
Author: Meg Medina
Published: 2016
Source: NetGalley

Summary: In the muggy summer of 1977, 17-year-old Nora struggles with family drama and her own choices about what to do with the rest of her life. Meanwhile, New York City is terrorized by the serial killer Son of Sam, overwhelming heat, and power outages.

First Impressions: I normally hate near-past stories but this one had a reason to happen where it did. Compelling.

Later On: One of the reasons I don't like near-past stories is because they seem like the author just wanted to write about their own teenage years without bothering to research the Youth of Today. This one is different because Medina draws on a specific time and place, and the events that go along with it, to underpin her story of a confusing, terrifying time of changes for her protagonist.

Nora is scared of becoming another of Son of Sam's victims, but she's equally frightened of her brother's violent outbursts. When the massive 1977 power outage hits New York, it affects her job and her relationships. She feels oppressed by the social mores of the day, but she also feels oppressed by her mother's specific translating needs and the pressure to be a good Latina daughter who ignores her brother's violence. The personal blends with the cultural blends with the social until everything is indistinguishable - they're all equal pressures that impact Nora's life.

I also really appreciated the way the author touched on social issues and movements of the day and didn't idealize them. She discusses feminism and the rush that Nora gets from it, but makes sure to mention that it's mostly white middle class feminism, that doesn't do much for working class Latinas and black women - a problem that still persists today.

More: Bookshelves of Doom for Kirkus

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15. Ten Year Blogoversary

Becky's Book Reviews turns ten today! Can you believe it?! In some ways, 2006 feels like yesterday, and, in other ways it feels like it's ages ago.

I'd love to hear from you. Are you new to the site? How long have you been coming around? I'd also really, really, really love to hear if you've picked up a book to read because of one of my reviews. I'd always love to know your opinions on books!!!

Your guess is as good as mine in terms of HOW many books I've reviewed over the past ten years. But definitely in the thousands. I wonder how many of them were rereads? Probably a third of them!!! I can't help myself when it comes to rereading favorites!!!

First book reviewed on the blog: New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Last book reviewed on the blog: The Crate Train by Dorothy Z. Seymour
The year I was out of control with posts: 2008! (1144 posts in a single year?!?!)
Favorite author ten years ago: Orson Scott Card
Favorite author now: Could never pick. Really. I've discovered at least fifty favorite authors since 2006. Georgette Heyer. Anthony Trollope. Wilkie Collins. Anne Perry. Connie Willis. Ray Bradbury. Rex Stout. Agatha Christie. Josephine Tey. Dorothy Sayers. E. Nesbit. I mean I could go on and on all day.
Best thing to come out of blogging: My dear, dear, dear, dear bestest friend who introduced herself to me as "Anonymous L."

Favorite author that I've connected with online? ROBIN BRANDE is all kinds of WONDERFUL!!!!! And I still can't believe that Candice F. Ransom knows who I am. The Sunfire Romances from the 80s were my LIFE. I really got quite bonded with Winchester, her cat.

One thing I didn't realize when I started blogging was how quickly books go out of print. Some of my 'favorite, favorite' books I read in my early years are no longer available, and, the library has discarded some as well. I do have a tendency to take books for granted and book availability for granted and I shouldn't! (Another thing I have a tendency to do is--in the quickness of my typing--misspell library as LIBARY. I have to fix this often!!!)

A handful of publishers have been really, really good to me through the years:

Scholastic
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Candlewick

Other publishers have been nice as well:

Penguin Random House (I get RANDOM surprises but don't have an email contact)
Harry N. Abrams (got reconnected this past year!!!!)
Simon & Schuster (sadly lost touch)
Bloomsbury USA

One publisher that I sadly lost touch with years ago was Kane/Miller. I miss my Travel the World Wednesday posts.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. The Picture Book in 2016: Social Themes and Lessons

I recently received a very interesting, if puzzling, question.  A friend of mine needed to know, for professional reasons, what I would consider the top themes in picture books these days.  By “themes” I don’t mean trends but rather emotional or social lessons for young readers.  You might even go so far as to call them the morals we’re trying to impart upon our 21st century offspring.

This is not as easy a question. While I attempt to take meticulous notes on every picture book I read, it’s far easier to keep track of, say, movie cameos in 2016 books than overarching societal anxieties.  Still, I managed to whip up a list and then thought, why not share it widely?

Here then are the top themes I’m detecting in picture books this year.


 

  • It’s Okay to Make Mistakes – Particularly as it applies to girls in science or math, but also to how kids do their own art.  I’ve seen a lot of books where a kid is making art, messes it up in some way, and then learns how to turn it into something new.  By the same token, a lot of books are about how you have to make mistakes to get better at something.  And it’s not about failing once or twice but a LOT.  Not mention asking as many questions as possible!  Hopefully those books where someone tries something three times and gets it done perfectly on the third will be a thing of the past soon.

A Good Example Would Be:

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, ill. David Roberts

adatwistscientist

Though you might just as easily apply this to Ada’s predecessor Rosie Revere, Engineer.


 

  • Gender Roles – Most notably when it comes to boys in dresses (though no girls identifying as boys) as well as just how kids interact with one another.  Kids learn gender roles VERY early and enforce those roles with one another.  There’s a great book call NutureShock for adults that talks a lot about this.  Picture books have always liked this theme (William’s Doll came out in the 1970s, after all) but now it’s ramping up again.

A Good Example Would Be:

I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail

ImGirl

I was initially going to go with the new James Howe picture book Big Bob, Little Bob, but I already mentioned that one in an earlier post.  There are remarkably few books where gender stereotypes for girls are as thoroughly knocked to the floor and trampled upon than what you’ll find here.  It even saves space to kick to the curb some male gender stereotypes as well at the end.  I’m a fan.


 

  • Economic Disparity – We’re finally seeing some books that acknowledge that not all kids have the same resources at home.  Some kids have parents who lose their jobs.  Others have single family homes.  And not every kid you know has parents who can afford to buy them a bike.

A Good Example Would Be:

A Bike Like Sergio’s by Maribeth Boelts, ill. Noa Z. Jones

BikeLikeSergios

I think what I love so much about this is the easy breezy ignorance of Sergio.  He simply cannot conceive of a world where a boy’s parents wouldn’t be able to buy their son a bike if they wanted to.  Meanwhile the character of Ruben is placed in the awkward position of having to hide his family’s economic situation from his best friend.  And this is a picture book!  We’re finally seeing this topic handled in something other than a Charlie Bucket kind of way.  I’m very pleased.


 

  • Unplug – Possibly the MOST popular theme in the past three to four years.  Very Willy Wonka in the moralizing sometimes (imagine what Mike TeeVee could have done with a personal device), but important to adults. Many is the picture book where someone turns off all their devices and discovers the wide and wonderful world.

A Good Example Would Be:

Tek, the Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell

Tek

What I like about this book is that since you’ve got a caveperson with a cell phone, adding dinos to the mix really isn’t going to upset anyone.  You’ve already gone beyond the pale.


 

  • Try to See It Their Way (or, Everyone’s a Person – Even Mean People) – Picture books where you have to see it from another person’s point of view are becoming very sophisticated these days.  Some of them will also show that bullies sometimes have problems at home or at school that cause them to act out.  Though, if we’re going to get technical about it, even The Berenstain Bears and the Bully discussed this decades ago.

A Good Example Would Be:

Eddie the Bully by Henry Cole

EddieBully

Bully books aren’t going away anytime soon.  Nuanced bully books?  That might mark the second wave of titles.


 

  • Apologize When You’re Wrong – Oddly popular as a theme.  Owning up to your own mistakes is hard.  Books are making that infinitely clear, but also show the right way to do it.

A Good Example Would Be:

What’s Up, Chuck? by Leo Landry

WhatUpChuck

I think this might fall more into the “early reader” category vs. “picture books” but I care not.  The interesting thing about this storyline is that when our main character has acted like a spoiled brat for not winning a contest’s first prize medal for the first time in three years, the person who does win gives Chuck (our hero) an out.  But Chuck doesn’t take it, and apologizes like a pro.  It’s really well executed in a book this simple.  Check it out sometime.


 

  • Try Something New – Whether it’s food or school or new friends or whatever, trying something new is a big time theme.

A Good Example Would Be:

School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, ill. Christian Robinson

SchoolFirstDay

So my daughter started Kindergarten this week and I figured this book might make a good gift to her Kindergarten teacher.  Turns out, it’s been a HUGE hit in the school, with other teacher vying to borrow it.  What I like about it, though, is that it takes time to acknowledge that when you try something new it isn’t instantaneously fantastic.  Things go wrong.  It takes time to enjoy something you’ve never done before.

And yes, you could argue that these are themes every year, but I feel like they’re particularly prevalent in 2016.  What are you seeing that I’ve missed?

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17. Fusenews: Dem-o-gorgon or Dem-a-gorgon?

Morning, poppins!

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I submitted a Video Sunday for your approval.  Trouble is, I may have failed to mention one of the most fascinating videos out there with a tie-in to books for kids, so I’d like to rectify the situation today.

kidpresidentThe title of the article read, ‘Last Week Tonight’: John Oliver Turned a 20-Year-Old Kids’ Book with ‘Startling Parallels’ to Trump into a Bestseller.  Naturally I tried figuring out what book they were talking about but I was coming up short.  Turns out it’s good old The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman.  That’s a title that is consistently on New York City public school reading lists every single year.  Wouldn’t be surprised a jot if that’s how Last Week Tonight‘s writing staff heard about it (some of them must have kids).  Glad to see it getting a bit of attention here and there. I won’t give away which candidate the “startling parallels” refer to (kidding!).  Thanks to PW Children’s Bookshelf for the link.


A Gene Luen Yang comic piece for the New York Times simply called Glare of Disdain?  Don’t mind if I do!


Horn Book came out with their 2015-2016 Yearbook Superlatives post once more.  Fun bit.  I wonder if they collect them throughout the year as they do their reading.


Tis the battle of the smarty-pants!  Who did it better?  Adam Rex and Christian Robinson at Horn Book or Jory John and Bob Shea at Kirkus?  The choice is yours (though Christian Robinson probably sweeps the deck with his magnificent “Black people are magic” line).


See how I’m going from a Horn Book post to a Horn Book / Kirkus post to a Kirkus review?  That’s why they pay me the big bucks, folks.  In any case, usually when I post a review on this blog I like to link the books mentioned in the review to Kirkus.  Why?  Because they’re the review journal that has the most free archived older children’s book reviews online.  Generally this is a good plan but once in a while it throws me for a loop.  For example, a reviewer of the original Nate the Great back in 1972 had serious problems with the title.  Your homework for the day is to read the review and then figure out what precisely the “stereotype” the book was faulty of conveying really was.  I’ve read this review about ten times and I’m still baffled.  Any ideas?


winniepooh01-768x512So I worked at NYPL for a number of years (11 in total).  Of those, I spent about five or six of them working in close proximity to the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys.  And in all that time I never knew them to look as good as they do right now.  Oo la la!  Goggle at that restored Kanga!  And a Piglet where his skin ISN’T falling off his body?  I don’t even know the guy now.  No word on whether or not the restoration yielded more information on the music box in Pooh’s tummy (or if it’s even still there).  Still, they look great (and appear to have a whole new display area too!).  Thanks to Sharyn November for the link.


Did you know that Cricket Media (which runs Cricket Magazine as well as other periodicals) has a blog?  I tell you this partly because I’m trying to contact someone at their Chicago location and so far my efforts have been for naught.  A little help?


Did you know there was a children’s book award for science fiction?  Yup. “The Golden Duck Awards, which are designed to encourage science fiction literature for children, have been given annually since 1992.”  And as far as I can tell, they may still be going on.  Check out their site here to see for yourself.  You can suggest books from the previous year too, so have at it, peoples.


So I give up.  Slate?  You win.  You do good posts on children’s books.  I was wrong to doubt you.  That post about how your son loves “bad guys” so you read him Tomi Ungerer’s The Three RobbersThat’s good stuff.  And the piece on how terrible the U.S. is at translating children’s books?  Also excellent.  To say nothing of all the other excellent posts you’ve come up with and researched well.  I doff my cap.  Your pop-up blog is a rousing success.  Well done you.


Question: How often has a documentary been made about a nonfiction children’s picture book about a true subject?  Once at least.


Saw this next one on the old listservs and figured it might be of use to someone:

I just wanted to pass along an opportunity that I’m hoping that you’ll hope promote for ALSC. Every year, we give away four $600 stipends for ALSC members to attend Annual for the first time. Applications are open now and are being accepted up to October 1, 2016. For 2017, Penguin Random House is including one ticket for each winner to the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet. Here is some more information.


Daily Image:

Because I just cannot stop with the Stranger Things.  This one came via my friend Marci.  Look closely enough and you’ll see Will hiding in the Upside Down.

http://charamath.tumblr.com/post/148762797238/i-know-the-internet-is-full-of-stranger-things-fan

Thanks to Marci Morimoto for the link.

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18. Review of the Day: Who Broke the Teapot?! by Bill Slavin

WhoBrokeTeapotWho Broke the Teapot?!
By Bill Slavin
Tundra Books
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-77049-833-4
Ages 3-5
On shelves now

In the average life of a child, whodunits are the stuff of life itself. Who took the last cookie? Who used up all the milk and then didn’t put it on the shopping list? Who removed ALL the rolls of toilet paper that I SPECIFICALLY remember buying at the store on Sunday and now seem to have vanished into some toilet paper eating inter-dimension? The larger the family, the great the number of suspects. But picture books that could be called whodunits run a risk of actually going out and teaching something. A lesson about honesty or owning up to your own mistakes. Blech. I’ll have none of it. Hand me that copy of Bill Slavin’s Who Broke the Teapot?! instead, please. Instead of morals and sanctity I’ll take madcap romps, flashbacks, and the occasional livid cat. Loads of fun to read aloud, surprisingly beautiful to the eye, and with a twist that no one will see coming, Who Broke the Teapot?! has it all, baby. Intact teapot not included.

The scene of the crime: The kitchen. The family? Oblivious. As the mother enters the room it’s just your average morning. There’s a baby in a high chair, a brother attached to a ceiling fan by his suspenders, a dad still in his underwear reading the paper, a daughter eating pastries, a dog aiding her in this endeavor, and a cat so tangled up in wool that it’s a wonder you can still make out its paws. And yet in the doorway, far from the madding crowd, sits a lone, broken, teapot. Everyone proclaims innocence. Everyone seems trustworthy in that respect. Indeed, the only person to claim responsibility is the baby (to whom the mother tosses a dismissive, “I doubt it”). Now take a trip back in time just five minutes and all is revealed. The true culprit? You’ll have to read the book yourself. You final parting shot is the mother accepting a teapot stuck together with scotch tape and love from her affectionate offspring.

WhoBroke2Generally when I write a picture book review I have a pretty standard format that I adhere to. I start with an opening paragraph (done), move on to a description of the plot in the next paragraph (so far, so good), and in the third paragraph I talk about some aspect of the writing. It could be the overall theme or the writing or the plotting. After that I talk about the art. This pattern is almost never mucked with . . . until today!! Because ladies and gents, you have just GOT to take a gander at what Mr. Slavin’s doing here with his acrylics. Glancing at the art isn’t going to do it. You have to pick this book up and really inspect the art. For the bulk of it the human characters are your usual cartoony folks. Very smooth paints. But even the most cursory glance at the backgrounds yields rewards. The walls are textured with thick, luscious paints adhering to different patterns. There’s even a touch of mixed media to the old affair, what with cat’s yarn being real thread and all (note too how Slavin seamlessly makes it look as if the yarn is wrapped around the legs of the high chair). Then the typography starts to get involved. The second time the mom says “Who broke the teapot?!” the words look like the disparate letters of a rushed ransom note. As emotions heat up (really just the emotions of the mom, to be honest) the thick paints crunch when she says “CRUNCHED”, acquire zigzags as her temper unfurls, and eventually belie the smoothness of the characters’ skin when the texture invades the inside of the two-page spread of the now screaming mother’s mouth.

So, good textures. But let us not forget in all this just how important the colors of those thick paints are as well. Watching them shift from one mood to another is akin to standing beneath the Northern Lights. You could be forgiven for not noticing the first, second, third, or even fourth time you read the book. Yet these color changes are imperative to the storytelling. As emotions heat up or the action on the page ramps up, the cool blues and greens ignite into hot reds, yellows, and oranges. Taken as a whole the book is a rainbow of different backgrounds, until at long last everything subsides a little and becomes a chipper cool blue.

WhoBroke1Now kids love a good mystery, and I’m not talking just the 9 and 10-year-olds. Virtually every single age of childhood has a weakness for books that set up mysterious circumstances and then reveal all with a flourish. Heck, why do you think babies like the game of peekaboo? Think of it as the ultimate example of mystery and payoff. Picture book mysteries are, however, far more difficult to write than, say, an episode of Nate the Great. You have to center the book squarely in the child’s universe, give them all the clues, and then make clear to the reader what actually happened. To do this you can show the perpetrator of the crime committing the foul deed at the start of the book or you can spot clues throughout the story pointing clearly to the miscreant. In the case of Who Broke the Teapot, Slavin teaches (in his own way) that old Sherlock Holmes phrase, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

I love it when a book turns everything around at the end and asks the reader to think long and hard about what they’ve just seen. Remember the end of The Cat in the Hat when everything’s been cleaned up just in time and the mother comes in asking the kids what they got up to while she was gone? The book ends with a canny, “Well, what would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?” Who Broke the Teapot?! does something similar at its end as well. The facts have been laid before the readers. The baby has claimed responsibility and maybe he is to blame after all. But wasn’t the mother just as responsible? It would be very interesting indeed to poll a classroom of Kindergartners to see where they ascribe the bulk of the blame. It may even say something about a kid if they side with the baby more or the mommy more.

WhoBroke3I also love that the flashback does far more than explain who broke the teapot. It explains why exactly most of the members of this family are dwelling in a kind of generally accepted chaotic stew. You take it for granted when you first start reading. A kid’s hanging from a ceiling fan? Sure. Yeah. That happens. But the explanation, when it comes, belies that initial response. The parents don’t question his position so you don’t question it. That is your first mistake. Never take your lead from parents. And speaking of the flashback, let’s just stand aside for a moment and remember just how sophisticated it is to portray this concept in a picture book at all. You’re asking a child audience to accept that there is a “before” to every book they read. Few titles go back in time to explain how we got to where we are now. Slavin’s does so easily, and it will be the rare reader that can’t follow him on this trip back into the past.

I think the only real mystery here is why this book isn’t better known. And its only crime is that it’s Canadian, and therefore can’t win any of the big American awards here in the States. It’s also too amusing for awards. Until we get ourselves an official humor award for children’s books, titles like Who Broke the Teapot?! are doomed to fly under the radar. That’s okay. This is going to be the kind of book that children remember for decades. They’re going to be the ones walking into their public libraries asking the children’s librarians on the desks to bring to them an obscure picture book from their youth. “There was a thing that was broken . . . like a china plate or something . . . and there was this cat tied up in string?” You have my sympathies, children’s librarians of the future. In the meantime, better enjoy the book now. Whether it’s read to a large group or one-on-one, this puppy packs a powerful punch.

On shelves now

Source: Publisher sent final copy for review.

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19. Changes.

Tomorrow, the little girl starts kindergarten.  This will reduce our little girl time to 2 or 3 hours a day.  Am I happy?  Actually, um, no.  She has a lot of playing left.  And I am not all that enamored of our public education system.  

Still, she is ready.  But who will play with me during those extra hours? 

Everybody else keeps growing up!!!

In The Secret of Goldenrod, Trina is almost 11 and entering fifth grade and her father is so embarrassing.  They are off to refurbish Goldenrod, a stately home in the middle of nowhere, that has been empty for almost a century.  Unlike their other jobs that kept them busy for a month or two, Goldenrod will take a whole year and Trina will have finally time to make friends.  She hopes her mother will stop gallivanting around the world and finally return to the family. 

Then she sees the old house in a field of yellow weeds, and the house doesn't want them there.

A hidden room, a forgotten dollhouse and its tiny doll, a nasty schoolmate and a small town with secrets add up to a great story.

Author Jane O'Reilly sets this up as a convincing haunted house story, but with the discovery of the dollhouse things begin to change.   The last few chapters are the best as they pull everything together and give a happy ending that is also unexpected.


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20. The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud


The premise of David Cali and Benjamin Chaud's trilogy is simple, circular and deeply satisfying. Beginning in 2014 with I Didn't Do My Homework Because . . ., Cali and Chaud have taken readers on one detail packed adventure after another, starring our young hero in his pinstriped suit, red necktie and red socks, and his faithful, bug-eyed dachshund and his bespectacled, clever teacher. 



The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer begins with the inevitable question upon returning to school, "So, what did you do this summer?" Our hero responds, "Well, you may not believe this, but . . . " On a visit to the beach, he finds a message in a bottle and inside it is a treasure map! But, a magpie swoops in and pecks it out of his hands and the adventure begins. There are pirates, submarines and time travel that finds our hero floating down the Seine in his submarine as a bucket of slop is tossed on his head as he passes under the bridge in front of Notre Dame. Turns out he didn't time travel - he just happened onto a movie set.


There are libraries, hot air balloons, the Taj Mahal, mummies, pyramids and the Great Wall. And Yetis. But I don't want to give the whole story away. The final page ends, circling back to the start of the story, with a nice little reveal that brings the teacher back into the story. Three is a nice number, but I wouldn't mind one or two more books featuring our imaginative, well dressed hero and his dog . . . 




The first two books in the trilogy and .  . .



A Doodle Book of Excuses!! How cool is that?




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21. My Cat Copies Me

My Cat Copies Me. Yoon-duck Kwon. 2007. Kane/Miller. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: My cat copies me. We tunnel under newspapers, and crouch behind doors. If I hide under the desk, or in the closet, she hides with me.

Premise/plot: A young girl loves, loves, loves her cat. The book shows the two interacting with each other--copying each other. It's a sweet, must-have for cat-lovers.

My thoughts: I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this one. It's one of my favorite picture books that I've discovered since I began blogging ten years ago. I love the writing. I love the illustrations. I love that the first half shows the cat copying the girl, and that the second half shows the girl copying the cat.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Going Digital #BeBrave

Follow me this year as I try for the fifth time to go digital. Some say, "third time's the charm." It wasn't for me. Maybe the fifth time, with some extra determination, will do the trick!

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23. Wonder Women

Sam Maggs has written a fun collected biography (as we call them in the library trade) about women in science, medicine, innovation, espionage and adventure titled - wait for it - Wonder Women.

Maggs writing style is up-to-the minute and whip smart.  I'm only one third through this book and my mind is totally boggled.  Without flipping another page, I would give this book 5 stars.  Maggs searched long and hard and found women heroes from Asia, Europe and the Americas, of all colors and persuasions.  Her mini-bios between segments - Maggs arranges the books by the various disciplines cited above - give peeks into the lives of other accomplished women.  Maggs also includes interviews with women professionals who work in those disciplines.

Anyway, I am so excited by this book's content and writing style that I couldn't wait to tell you all about it.  Thanks to Sam and to Quirk Books for offering this title.  Not out til October!  You can pre-order it here  (This is not an affiliate link.  I just don't like Amazon all that much.), or order from your favorite bookseller.  Don't let ME tell you what to do.

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24. Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi

To be honest, I was first drawn to this book because of the gorgeous cover. Who wouldn't fall for the jeweled toned rich hues suggesting autumn evenings wrapped up in cashmere? Then I noticed the girl, front and center oddley white except for a hint of a blush on her cheeks and gold toned eyes. I was curious.

Furthermore joined me on my journey upstate to my summertime reading retreat.  It's August pub date meant it wasn't the first book that I read, but I kept eyeing it as I pulled others from the shelf.  Clocking in at 393 pages, this is not a slight read, but once I started it, I put it down only to sleep.

Alice, almost twelve, is filled with anticipation for Ferenwood's annual Surrender. She is anxious for life to change, because frankly Alice's life hasn't been so easy lately.  Not only is Alice considered odd, even by Ferenwood's magical standards, her father is still missing.  Alice's father is the one who really cared for her and understood her despite her differences from everyone else in Ferenwood. He indulged her and listened to her. And now it was only Alice, her three little brothers and her mother.

 "Alice was beginning to realize that while she didn't much like Mother, Mother didn't much like her, either. Mother didn't care for the oddness of Alice; she wasn't a parent who was predisposed to liking her children." (p.10)

Because of her situation, the Surrender is more important to Alice than she can really say.  Ferenwood is a magical place, and everyone who resides there has magical gifts. The Surrender is the time when all the 12 year olds share their gifts upon the stage.  At the end of the surrender, only one child would be celebrated and given a task. The task is always an adventure of some sort and is rather secretive as well. This year there are 86 twelve-year-olds. Alice meeds to win the task in order to leave her home.

But Alice is odd, and she believes that in this magical world, her love of dance is her gift. After all her father always encouraged her to listen to the earth and to dance when she feels it.

Alas.

Alice's failure on the stage, however, is not the death knell for adventure. An acquaintance of hers named Oliver approaches her with a request. One that will bring her on the adventure of her life if she chooses to accompany him.

What follows is an adventure reminiscent of the Phantom Tollbooth, with a dash of Through the Looking Glass and a coming of age bent.  Furthermore is a place like no other. The orderly magic of Ferenwood is wild here, and the rules seem to change from town to town.  Will Oliver and Alice be able to find her father and bring him home?

This is a fantasy adventure that will keep readers on the edge of the page. Interestingly both Alice and Oliver are unlikeable at times for very different reasons which get slowly revealed as their adventure moves along. At first I was worried about the idea of Alice being white in the sea of color that is Ferenwood.  What did it mean? But it works in that it others Alice in a way but helps explain her own magic as the story unfurls. 

I enjoyed the voicey nature of Furthermore. Alice, though exasperating, is endearing as well. I was charmed by the chapter sections' headings as well as the fox! There is a cinematic aspect to Furthermore and I would *love* to see it on the big screen.

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25. Testament of Youth

Testament of Youth. Vera Brittain. 1933. 688 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When the Great War broke out, it came to me not as a superlative tragedy, but as an interruption of the most exasperating kind to my personal plans.

Premise/plot: In 1933, Vera Brittain published her autobiography, Testament of Youth, which covers the years 1900 to 1925. Much of the book focuses directly on the Great War (aka World War I) and its immediate aftermath. During the war, Vera Brittain left her university studies (Somerville College, Oxford) and became a nurse (V.A.D.). She worked as a nurse in England and abroad. (I believe she nursed in France and Malta.) Many of her friends actively served during the war. And those closest to her--including a brother and a fiance--were killed. She wrote honestly and openly about how brutal and devastating the war was, about how the war changed her and there was no going back after peace was declared.

When the book is not discussing the war, it often turns to education, politics, and social issues. Vera Brittain definitely was a feminist. She had VERY strong opinions on women's rights. But she didn't just speak out and speak up about women. She also was a voice for the poor and working class. She saw a lot of injustice and wanted to change the world.

Vera Brittain loved to be a lecturer or guest-lecturer. She had a LOT to say, and wanted to be HEARD wherever she went. This wasn't always the case. She was unhappy with certain groups--or clubs--that didn't value women's opinions and treat women as intellectual equals.

Also of interest perhaps, Brittain shares her experiences as a writer--her journey to publication and her thoughts on the literary world.

The very last chapter is a relief--after spending so many chapters distancing herself from humanity by focusing on POLITICS and WORLD AFFAIRS--focuses instead on her deep friendships and ultimate marriage. She struggled a lot with the idea of marriage. Can she marry and still be a feminist? Can she marry even though she has every intention of staying a career woman? Can she marry even though children are the very last thing (almost) on her mind? She spent so long speaking out against marriage and traditional roles for women, that she is almost ashamed and embarrassed that she fell in love.

My thoughts: It was REALLY long. Overall, I thought it was slightly uneven. It was at times quite fascinating and compelling, but, then at times it was also quite sluggish and boring. There would be pages that definitely kept me reading and kept me caring. I will say that the movie did a great job condensing the book and capturing the spirit of it. Not that the movie is 100% faithful to the book. (No movie is).

Quotes:
There is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think--which is fundamentally a moral problem--but be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process; it brings to the individual far more suffering than happiness in a semi-civilized world which still goes to war, still encourages the production of unwanted C3 children by exhausted mothers, and still compels married partners who hate one another to live together in the name of morality. (40)
I am inclined to believe that provincial dances are responsible for more misery than any other commonplace experience. (51)
Most of us have to be self-righteous before we can be righteous. (56)
How curious it seems that letters are so much less vulnerable than their writers! (124)
Even my work-driven uncle at the bank wrote a long letter, enclosing a fragment of philosophy which had recently come to England from the French trenches: "When you are a soldier you are one of two things, either at the front or behind the lines. If you are behind the lines you need not worry. If you are at the front you are one of two things. You are either in a danger zone or in a zone which is not dangerous. If you are in a zone which is not dangerous you need not worry. If you are in a danger zone, you are one of two things; either you are wounded or you are not. If you are not wounded you need not worry. If you are wounded you are one of two things, either seriously wounded or slightly wounded. If you are slightly wounded you need not worry. If you are seriously wounded one of two things is certain--either you get well or you die. If you get well you needn't worry. If you die you cannot worry, so there is no need to worry about anything at all." (306)
It seems to me that the War will make a big division of 'before' and 'after' in the history of the world. (317)


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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