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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 5,154
26. Review: 750 Years In Paris offers details within the broad stroke of history

Given the recent tragic events in Paris, Vincent Mahé’s absolutely stunning 750 Years In Paris is a sprawling reminder that this is not the first time darkness has been cast over that city, and it’s likely not the last. Paris has been home to bloodshed and destruction, as well as a site of rebuilding and […]

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27. Review of The Red Hat

teague_red hatThe Red Hat
by David Teague; 
illus. by Antoinette Portis
Primary   Disney-Hyperion   40 pp.
12/15   978-1-4231-3411-4   $16.99

With a nod to Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloon, and with much of its tenderness, this fable-like story tells of Billy Hightower, whose isolated life atop “the world’s tallest building” changes when another skyscraper is built alongside it and Billy catches a glimpse of “the girl in the red hat.” Billy longs to communicate with the girl, but his various attempts fail, repeatedly foiled by the wind. First the wind snatches away Billy’s words, then it derails his paper-airplane missive. Finally it pulls Billy himself (wrapped in a parachute-like red blanket) off his building and into the sky, and deposits the boy on a noisy, gritty, confusing city street. Undaunted, he finds his way to the girl’s tower and is united with her. The ever-present antagonist here is the wind, pictured as a glossy, lightly embossed, swirling pattern on each page, a turquoise line against the restrained palette of black, white, taupe, sky-blue, and crimson. Teague’s rhythmical and unadorned text is fleshed out by Portis’s graphically arresting compositions. The color red, for example, has its own character and plot: the temporary roadblock of a red light, the welcoming red carpet, the subtly recurring shape of a red heart. When this love story ends with the words “The Beginning,” we believe it.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of The Red Hat appeared first on The Horn Book.

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28. Review of the Day: The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

AirportBook1The Airport Book
By Lisa Brown
A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook, an imprint of Macmillan
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-091-6
Ages 4-7
On shelves May 10th.

Look, I don’t wanna brag but I’m what you might call a going-to-the-airport picture book connoisseur. I’ve seen them all. From out-of-date fare like Byron Barton’s Airport to the uniquely clever Flight 1-2-3 by Maria Van Lieshout to the odd but helpful Everything Goes: In the Air by Brian Biggs. Heck, I’ve even examined at length books about the vehicles that drive on the airport tarmac (see: Brian Floca’s Five Trucks). If it helps to give kids a better sense of what flying is like, I’ve seen it, baby. And I will tell you right here and now that not a single one of these books is quite as good at explaining every step of the journey as well as Lisa Brown’s brand new The Airport Book. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s more than just an instructional how-to. Packed with tiny details that make each rereading worthwhile, a plot that sweeps you along, and downright great information, this one here’s a keeper to its core.

“When you go to the airport, you can take a car, a van, a bus, or even a train. Sometimes we take a taxicab.” A family of four prepares for a big trip. Bags are packed with the haste that anyone with small children will recognize. Speed is of the essence. As they arrive at the airport we meet other people and families taking the same flight. There’s airport security to get through (the book mentions the many lines you sometimes have to stand in to get where you’re going), the awesome size of the airport itself, the gate, and then the plane. As we watch the younger sister in the family is having various mild freakouts over her missing (or is it?) stuffed monkey. The monkey in question is always in our view, packed in a suitcase, discovered by a dog during the flight, and finally reuniting with its owner on the luggage carousel. The family meets up with the grandparents and at last the vacation can begin. That is, until they all have to go home again.

AirportBook2The problem with most airport-related picture books is something I like to call the Fly Away Home conundrum. Originally penned by Eve Bunting, Fly Away Home is one of those rare picture books out there that deal with homelessness in a realistic way. The story features a father and son living out of an airport. Since it touches on such an important, and too little covered, topic, the book continues to appear on required reading lists, in spite of the fact that the very premise is now woefully out-of-date. There are few areas of everyday American life that have changed quite so dramatically over such a short amount of time as the average airport experience. That’s why so many things about The Airport Book rang true for me. When Brown covers the facts surrounding departures and goodbyes to family and friends, she doesn’t set the scene inside the building but rather on the sidewalk outside of ticketing, as people are dropped off. Later you see people at their gate plugging in their cell phones willy-nilly (something I’ve never seen in a picture book before). It lends the book a kind of air of authenticity.

The story’s good and the art’s great but what I liked about the book was the language. Brown never tells you precisely what is going to happen, but she does mention the likelihoods. “Sometimes the plane is bouncy, but most of the time it is smooth.” “Sometimes the sidewalks and staircases move by themselves.” “Sometimes there are small beeping cars driving through . . .” As you read, you realize that in a way the narration of the book is being created for us from the perspective of the big brother. He’ll occasionally insert little notes that are probably of more use to him than us. Example: “You have to hold your little sister’s hands tight, or she could get lost.” Mind you, some of the sections have the ring of poetry to them, while staying squarely within a believable child’s voice. I was particularly fond the of the section that says, “Outside there are clouds and clouds and clouds.”

AirportBook3With all the calls for more diverse picture books to be published, it would be noticeable if Ms. Brown’s book didn’t have a variety of families, races, ages, genders, etc. What’s notable to me is that she isn’t just checking boxes here. Her diversity far surpasses those books where they’ll throw in the occasional non-white character in a group shot. Instead, the main family has a dark-skinned father and light-skinned, blond mother. Travels through the airport show adults in wheelchairs, twins, women in headscarves, Sikhs, pregnant ladies, and more. In other words, what you’d actually see in an airport these days.

And then the little details come up. Brown throws into the book a surprising array of tiny look-and-discover elements, suggesting that perhaps this book would be just as much fun in its way as a Where’s Waldo? game for older siblings as it is their younger brethren. Ask them if they can find The Wright Brothers, Hatchet (don’t think too hard about what happens to the plane in that book), the mom’s copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, or the person looking for Amelia Earhart (who may not be as difficult to find as you think). There’s also a cast of characters that command your attention like the businesswoman who’s always on her cell phone and the short artist with the mysteriously shaped package.

There’s nothing to say that in five years airports will be just as different to us today as pre-9/11 airports are now. Yet even if our airports start requiring us to hula hoop and dance the Hurly Burly, Brown’s book is still going to end up being the go-to text desperate parents turn to when they need a book that explains to their children what an average airplane flight looks like. It pretty much gets everything right, exceeding expectations. Generally speaking, books that tell kids about what something is like (be it a trip to the dentist or a new babysitter) are pedantic, didactic, dull as dishwater fare. Brown’s book, in contrast, has flare. Has pep. Has a beat and you can dance to it. Like I said, this may be the best dang going-to-the-airport book I can name (though you should certainly check out the others I’m mentioned at the beginning of this review). A treat, it really is. A treat.

On shelves May 10th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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29. Pope Francis and Matt de la Peña Debut on the Indie Bestseller List

Market Street (GalleyCat)We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Jan. 17, 2016–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #1 in Children’s Illustrated) Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear written by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall: “Before Winnie-the-Pooh, there was a real bear named Winnie. And she was a girl! In 1914, Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian on his way to tend horses in World War I, followed his heart and rescued a baby bear. He named her Winnie, after his hometown of Winnipeg, and he took the bear to war.” (Oct. 2015)

(Debuted at #2 in Children’s Illustrated) Last Stop on Market Street written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson: “Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town?” (Jan. 2015)

(Debuted at #7 in Hardcover Nonfiction) The Name of God Is Mercy by Pope Francis: “In this conversation with Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli, Francis explains—through memories from his youth and moving anecdotes from his experiences as a pastor—why ‘mercy is the first attribute of God.'” (Jan. 2016)

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30. Review: Baltic anthology š! #23 offers big art in a small package

š!23coverThe Balkan comics anthology š! from kuš! is one of the more challenging delights of the comics world, grafting the sensibility of a contemporary art gallery onto the comics page. It regularly presents challenging and edgy work, often abstract, but with enough show of personality that you can see these are the works of real humans, and it comes in a striking mini-digest format that evokes Little Big Books, adding to its appeal as an object to display.

3 Comments on Review: Baltic anthology š! #23 offers big art in a small package, last added: 1/24/2016
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31. Review of Amazing Places

hopkins_amazing placesAmazing Places
selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illus. by Chris Soentpiet and 
Christy Hale
Primary, Intermediate   Lee & Low   40 pp.
10/15   978-1-60060-653-3   $18.95

The amazing places mentioned in the title of this poetry collection are all in the United States, with their locations marked on a map on the endpapers. The specificity of the places is a real strength of this compilation, with each of the fourteen poems centering on one particular location and the experience of being there. The focus is as much on people as on scenery, with many of the poems written in the first person, as with Janet Wong’s “Campfire,” set in Denali National Park: “Just think— / when Mother was my age, / she could build a fire / with sparks from rocks.” The art shows the mountain range in sunset colors, with firelight creating a cozy spot for mother and daughter to connect. While some poems are set in nature (Prince Redcloud’s “Niagara”; Nikki Grimes’s “Tree Speaks,” about Grand Canyon National Park), others are about historical sites, like Joseph Bruchac’s poem set in a longhouse at the Oneida Nation Museum in Wisconsin. Soentpiet and Hale combine their talents to showcase the special elements of a place (size or majesty or vibrancy) as well as the response of people to it, conveying powerful emotion and interactions through facial expressions and body language. Hopkins has gathered together an impressively diverse and talented group of poets for this polished and inspiring collection, which concludes with additional information about the places in the poems and source notes.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Amazing Places appeared first on The Horn Book.

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32. Review: Out of Darkness

Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez. Carolrhoda LAB. 2015. Printz Honor Book. Library copy.

Out of DarknessThe Plot: March 1938. Wash Fuller is working, thinking of his girl, of their plans of a life together. Then the earth shakes and everything changes: the New London school has blown up, and he runs to where she may be.

The book then flashes back to 1937, when Naomi moves with her two half siblings to New London in East Texas to live with her stepfather and to use his last name, Smith, discarding her own name of "Vargas" to pass (or pretend to pass) as white, not Mexican.

And she meets Wash, an African American teenager who offers friendship and love. He's not acceptable to her stepfather, because of his color -- and because her stepfather Henry looks at Naomi and sees her dead mother, Estella. And wants her, like he wanted her mother.

Race, abuse, sex, lust, love, all come crashing together, against the backdrop of the worst school disaster in US history. And that time of tragedy and loss is used by some as justification to inflict even more horror.

The Good: This is an excellent book. Out of Darkness had been on my short list of books I wanted to read, and the Printz Honor nod pushed it to the top of the pile. Which, of course, is the value of awards like the Printz. Well, that, and Bookshelves of Doom's in-person booktalk that began with "school disaster" and had me going "sold!". (Her longer review is at Kirkus.) (Also, I had thought the biggest school disaster was the Our Lady of Angels fire, so I was intrigued to find out more about the New London school explosion.)

Out of Darkness is about Naomi, who is faced with impossible choices. She and her siblings have lived with her grandparents, but they are getting older, they have suffered losses because of the depression, and they also know that their grandchildren will have a better educational future with their white father. Naomi refuses to leave her siblings, wanting to protect them and take care of them, in part because of her own memories of what her stepfather, Henry, did to her. Henry may say he's found religion and God and been baptized and born again, and given up alcohol and women, but Naomi doesn't believe it -- in part because what he did to her remains and is real. Saying "I'm saved!" doesn't change that.

Unlike her younger siblings, who are pale like their father, Naomi is dark like her mother and her own father. Her white classmates realize it; the local store keeper refuses to allow her into the store; and Wash assumes at first that she is African American, like he is. Prejudices and racism run through the book, and that is part of the heartbreak of reading the book. Wash's parents are both college educated, and push their own children to want education, yet at the same time teach their son the safe ways to act and speak to whites. Wash doesn't like it, pushes against it, and the tragedy of the book, the times, of Wash and Naomi is that there is no safe way to act to stop another's hatred and violence. Such "safety" is an illusion, at best.

I'll be honest: the ending of the book gutted me. You think it's the explosion and all those dead children, and the bits of those dead children. And yes, that is terrible. (And not to be flippant, but disasters like this and the Our Lady of Angels fire is just proof that yes, building codes and government regulations are necessary.) But the explosion is the result of lack of regulations because people don't accept that yes, disaster can happen without safety rules. The tragedy at the end of the book -- that is the result of hate, of hate that society encourages, and allows. Safety rules about gas lines and fire escapes may have lessened school disasters; but hatred and prejudice and racism, that is unchecked and even encouraged, are still here.






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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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33. Review of Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather

lin_ling and ting together in all weatherstar2 Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather
by Grace Lin; illus. by the author
Primary   Little, Brown   44 pp.
11/15   978-0-316-33549-2   $16.00

In this fourth book in the sweet and funny easy-reader series (Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same, rev. 7/10, and sequels), six brief chapters take the twins through the 
seasons, together. In the first story, a thunderstorm finds them hiding under a blanket: they are not scared, just 
“surprised.” On a hot summer day they sell all their 
lemonade — to each other. Raking leaves has to be done all over again, since first Ting’s red hat and then Ling’s might be at the bottom of the pile (later in the book, Ling’s hat turns up, at first mistaken for an unusual spring flower). In the winter, Ting claims to be sick so she can avoid shoveling snow; Ling’s recipe for some “old Chinese medicine” (a smelly simmering of onions, ginger, dirt, an old sock, etc.) drives a suddenly recovered Ting out of bed, snow shovel in hand. The final story finds the twins looking for a rainbow and finding two. “They are twin rainbows!” says Ting. “Just like us!…We are so lucky to be together!” As always, the girls’ personalities shine through in both text and illustrations (and Ting is still differentiated by her jagged bangs). Each chapter employs a different-color border around the bold gouache illustrations, giving the book a predictable and unifying visual structure. An artist’s note says, “The color palette was inspired by the sudden appearance of a bright rainbow on a gray, glum day.” That’s how the whole book feels.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

The post Review of Ling & Ting: Together in All Weather appeared first on The Horn Book.

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34. Review of the Day: Jazz Day by Roxane Orgill

jazzday1Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
By Roxane Orgill
Illustrated by Francis Vallejo
Candlewick Press
$18.99
ISBN: 9780763669546
Ages 9-12
On shelves March 8th

Some books for kids have a hard road ahead of them. Here’s a secret. If you want a book to sell just oodles and oodles of copies to the general public, all you have to do is avoid writing in one of two specific genres: poetry and nonfiction. Even the best and brightest nonfiction books have a nasty tendency to fade from public memory too soon, and poetry only ever gets any notice during April a.k.a National Poetry Month. I say that, and yet there are some brave souls out there who will sometimes not just write poetry. Not just write nonfiction. They’ll write nonfiction-inspired poetry. It’s crazy! It’s like they care about the quality of the content more than make a bazillion dollars or something. The latest book to fall into this category is Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxane Orgill. Melding topics like jazz musicians and photography with history, poetry, and some truly keen art, this isn’t really like any other book on your shelves. I’m betting that that’s a good thing too.

It was sort of a crazy idea for a graphic designer / jazz buff to come up with. By 1958 jazz was a well-established, deeply American, musical genre. So why not try to get all the jazz greats, and maybe some up-and-comers, into a single photograph all together? The call went out but Art Kane (who really wasn’t a photographer himself) had no idea who would turn up. After all, they were going to take the picture at ten in the morning. That’s a time most jazz performers are fast asleep. Yet almost miraculously they came. Count Basie and Thelonious Monk. Maxine Sullivan and Dizzy Gillespie. Some of them were tired. Some were having a great time catching up with old friends. And after much cajoling on Kane’s part a photo was made. Fifty-seven musicians (fifty-eight if you count Willie “Lion” Smith just out of frame). Orgill tells the tale in poetry, with artist Francis Vallejo providing the art and life. Extensive backmatter consists of an Author’s Note, Biographies, a page on the photo and homages to it, Source Notes, and a Bibliography that includes Books, Articles, Audiovisual Material, and Websites.

Jazz is often compared to poetry. So giving this book too rigid a structure wouldn’t offer the right feel at all. I’m no poet. I wish I had a better appreciation for the art than I do. Yet even with my limited understanding of the style I found myself stopping when I read the poem “This Moment” written from the point of view of Eddie Locke, a drummer. It’s the kind of poem where it’s composed as a series of quatrains. The second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. It was fortunate for me that Orgill mentions in the back of the book that the poem is a pantoum. I’d never have come up with that term myself (I thought it was a sestina). Most of the poetry in the book isn’t really that formal. In fact, Orgill confesses that, “I write prose, not poetry. But this story demanded a sense of freedom, an intensity, and a conciseness that prose could not provide.” The result is that most of the poems are free verse, which I much preferred.

jazzday2Did you know that when publishing a book for kids you’re not supposed to turn in your manuscript with an illustrator already attached? True fact. Editors like having the power to pair authors and artists together. To be honest, they have experience in this area and sometimes their intervention is sublime (sometimes it fails miserably too, but that’s a tale for another day). I’m afraid I don’t know what Candlewick editor saw Orgill’s manuscript and thought of Francis Vallejo as a potential illustrator. If I knew I’d kiss them. Detroit born Vallejo is making his debut with this book and you’d never know in a million years that he wasn’t a born and bred Harlemite. His style is perfect for this tale. As adept at comic style panels as he is acrylic and pastel jazz scenes, there’s life in this man’s art. It was born to accompany jazz. It’s also particularly interesting watching what he does with light. The very beginning of the book shows a sunrise coming up on a hot August day. As it rises, shadows make way. This play between light and shadow, between the heat of the photo shoot and the cool jazz clubs that occasionally make an appearance in the text, gives the book its heart. It’s playful and serious all at once so that when you lift the page that reveals the real photograph, that action produces a very real moment of awe.

There’s been a lot of talk in the world of children’s literature lately about the research done on both works of fiction and nonfiction. Anytime you set your book in the past you have a responsibility to get the facts right. Part of what I love so much about Jazz Day is the extent of the research here. Orgill could easily have found a couple articles and books about the day of the photograph and stopped there. Instead, she writes that “Kane was by all accounts a wonderful storyteller, but one who did not always adhere to the facts. With the help of his son Jonathan Kane, I tried to set the story of the photograph straight.” Instructors who are teaching about primary sources in the schools could use this anecdote to show how reaching out to primary sources is something you need to do all the time. The rest of the backmatter (and it really is some of the most extensive I’ve ever seen) would be well worth showing to kids as well.

The question then becomes, whom is this book for? The complexity of the subject matter suggests that it’s meant for older kids. Those kids that might have a sense of some of the history (they might have heard what jazz is or who Duke Ellington was at some point in their travels). But would they read it for pleasure or as a kind of assigned reading? I don’t know. I certainly found it amusing enough, but I’m a 37-year-old woman. Not the target age range exactly. Yet I want to believe that there’s a fair amount of kid-friendly material here. Poems like “So Glad” and “quartet” may be about adults talking from an adult perspective, but Orgill cleverly livens the book up with the perspective of kids every step of the way. From the children sitting bored on the curb to a girl peering down from her window wishing the jazz men and photographer would just go away, kids get to give their two cents constantly. Read it more than once and you’ll begin to recognize some of them. Brothers Alfred and Nelson crop up more than a couple times too. Their mischief is just what the doctor ordered. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to have kids read different poems at different times. Save the more esoteric ones for later.

Jazz is hard to teach to kids. They know it’s important but it’s hard to make it human. There are always exceptions, though. For example, my 20-month-old is so obsessed with the book This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt that he’ll have me read it to him a hundred times over. To my mind, that’s what this book is capable of, if at a much older level. It humanizes the players and can serve as a starting point for discussions, teaching units, you name it. These men and women are hot and tired and laughing and alive, if only at this moment in time. It’s a snapshot in both the literal and figurative sense. It’ll take some work to get it into the right hands, I suspect, but in the end it’s worth it. Jazz isn’t some weird otherworldly language. It’s people. These people. Now the kids in the book, and the kids reading this book, have a chance to get to know them.

On shelves March 8th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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35. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

cover artLooking for an off the beaten path superhero comic? The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume One just might be the ticket. Squirrel Girl is in the Marvel Universe of comics and was actually first introduced back in 1991. Back then she was fourteen, in high school and crushing on Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), kind of scrawny and looked so 1990s. Thank goodness she has gotten an update! Current Squirrel Girl even comments on her past poor fashion choices.

Now heading off to college Squirrel Girl, also known as Doreen Green, is a full-bodied young woman. Her

Original Squirrel Girl - scary!

Original Squirrel Girl – scary!(credit)

tail is much fluffier and squirrelier, she has a much better outfit and she no longer has black diamonds around her eyes that make her look like an evil clown. She wears a squirrel ears headband, acorn earrings, has a bit of a buck-toothed smile and her squirrel friend Tippy-Toe wears a pink bow around her neck. When Squirrel Girl is incognito as Doreen, she tucks her tail into her pants which gives her a rather round and pronounced booty, much to her delight.

Technically, Squirrel Girl falls into the mutant class of superheroes but doesn’t want to have anything to do with the X-Men. She is half squirrel, half girl which means she has the proportional speed and strength or a squirrel. She also speaks squirrel and she and Tippy-Toe are frequently helped by their squirrel friends when fighting evil.

Doreen is majoring in computer science at college and her first day there doesn’t quite go as planned. her roommate is ok but when they go to orientation Doreen doesn’t get a chance to sign up for a single club because she has to rush out in order to save the earth from being destroyed by Galacticus, Devourer of Worlds.

Squirrel Girl is confident, smart, sassy, and fun. Being part squirrel she kind of acts like one, zipping here and there, never staying still for more than a minute or two and constantly chattering about something. She is strong but she is not the kind of superhero who solves things by throwing punches. She is tricksy and in fact manages to defeat Galacticus by turning him into a friend.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is not a thinker. There are no lessons to be learned. It is nothing but pure frenetic squirrel entertainment. I enjoyed the comic so much that my antipathy for real-life squirrels may have slipped a little. I’m not about to run out to the garden and try to make friends with them, only, perhaps, I can appreciate their daredevil antics a little more than I did before.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Iron Man, squirrels, Tony Stark, X-Men

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36. Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Sunny (real name: Sunshine) is spending the summer in Florida with her grandfather. It's the first time she's been away from her family for such a stretch of time, and hanging out with retired folks in Snoozeville is not exactly how she envisioned her summer. Luckily, her lively grandpa has lots of activities planned for them - like going to the grocery store! hanging out with the neighbors! eating dinner super early! His sunny disposition gives his granddaughter a newfound appreciation for the simple joys in life. Sunny also makes a friend in Buzz, a boy her age who introduces her to the wonderful world of comic books. Together they dream up fun and easy ways to help others and earn some pocket money.

Throughout the story, flashbacks to the previous year reveal important things about Sunny's home life with her parents and two brothers. It's easy to keep track of the then and the now thanks to simple text tags with the month and year as well as a different haircut for Sunny - longer hair last year, shorter hair this year. The dialogue is simple and straightforward, allowing this to be a quick read for kids who naturally fly through books or a more contemplative journey for kids who really sink into the story and/or pay attention to the details in the illustrations. When Sunny discovers her grandfather is "trying" to quit smoking, it brings up a problem with another one of Sunny's relatives, forcing her to confront a family secret that's been bothering her for a while.

Some books shy away from tackling issues like substance abuse and smoking in an effort to 'protect' young readers, but the truth is, kids are aware of these issues, especially if someone in their immediate family is battling addiction or similiar problems, and this book can potentially help kids deal with those in-house secrets and perhaps make them confident enough to broach the subject with their parents, teachers, or other trusted adults. Sometimes, it is easier to deal with something you're going through when you see it presented in a fictional setting, be it a book, a film, or a TV show. Those stories can encourage readers and viewers to ask for help or get closure (if possible) on something that's been hurting or haunting them. This is just as true for adults as it is for kids.

This full-color graphic novel written by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm, and colored by Lark Pien is a great fit for Scholastic's Graphix line. The bright colors in the Florida pictures really pop, while the panels and pages that feature comics are lovely tributes to both the superheroes and their enthusiastic fans.

I recommend Jennifer L. Holm's novels as well as her collaborative efforts with her brother Matthew. Click the links below for my reviews of other Holm works!

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37. Review of Murphy in the City

provensen_murphy in the cityMurphy in the City
by Alice Provensen; 
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary   Simon   32 pp.
11/15   978-1-4424-1971-1   $17.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4814-1832-4   $10.99

The small, busy, curious, noisy farm terrier from A Day in the Life of Murphy (rev. 7/03) is on his way to the big city with his family for a day of adventures (visits to a dog park and a doggie boutique) and misadventures (wandering off and a resultant brief stay at the animal shelter). Murphy’s unbounded energy is reflected in bustling city scenes that often include multiple images of Murphy; one particularly effective 
double-page spread contains three stacked horizontal panels in which a progression of Murphys explores a crowded and fascinating sidewalk — humans seen only from the knees down — after his accidental escape out the back door of the doggie boutique. This sense of motion and energy is 
reinforced in the all-caps typeface and in the endpapers — a riot of paw prints going every which way — not to mention Murphy’s own spiky fur, hyper-alert gazes, and many BARK BARK BARKs. The arc of the story, from early-morning enthusiasm to late-night exhaustion, will be both satisfying and familiar to children, who often follow that same arc in their own lives. After such a hectic and exciting day full of new sights, sounds, and experiences, everyone will be happy that Murphy ends up back home, curled up in the hay in the barn with his familiar toys: “Dear sock, good old bone, good old stick. / Sigh. / Good night.”

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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38. Chris Grabenstein and Marie Kondo Debuts on the Indie Bestseller List

Spark Joy Cover (GalleyCat)We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Jan. 10, 2016–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at # 2 in Early & Middle Grade Readers) Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein: “Welcome, boys and girls, readers of all ages, to the first-ever Library Olympiad! Kyle and his teammates are back, and the world-famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, is at it again!” (Jan. 2016)

(Debuted at #3 in Hardcover Nonfiction) Spark Joy by Marie Kondo: “Marie Kondo presents an illustrated guide to her acclaimed KonMari Method, with step-by-step folding illustrations for everything from shirts to socks, plus drawings of perfectly organized drawers and closets. She also provides advice on frequently asked questions, such as whether to keep “necessary” items that may not bring you joy. With guidance on specific categories including kitchen tools, cleaning supplies, hobby goods, and digital photos, this comprehensive companion is sure to spark joy in anyone who wants to simplify their life.” (Jan. 2016)

(Debuted at #10 in Hardcover Fiction) The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian: “When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.” (Jan. 2016)

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39. The Small Heart of Things

cover artWhat a quiet, lovely book is The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World by Julian Hoffman. In 2000, Hoffman and his partner, Julia, moved to the Prespa Lakes region in northern Greece. The main lake, Lake Prespa is situated in such a way that the borders of Greece, Albania and the Republic of Macedonia all meet somewhere in the middle of it. The area has seen more than its share of conflict from Albanians feeling communist rule to the Greek Civil War to the break up of Yugoslavia and Macedonia becoming its own country. Hoffman discusses pieces of this history in the context of what it has done to the people who live there , their traditional ways, and the unique ecology of the place.

When Hoffman and Julia first moved to the area they made part of their living as market gardeners. Now, the pair monitor bird populations in the upland areas where wind farms are being built. As a bird expert, the book is filled with bird observations as you might expect. But it is also filled with observations of geology and how people live in and with the nature. It is a book that is deeply imbued with a sense of place and what it means to belong to that place.

More a series of essays than a start to finish memoir, each piece focuses on something different. “Homing” is about our need for finding a place we can belong and call home. “Among Reeds” is about walking through a reed bed and discovering bitterns live there. While “Time in Karst Country” is about karst, how it was created, how deceptive and seemingly barren it is. But it is more than that,

There is a distinctiveness brought about by weathering and ageing, both limestone and ourselves the inconstant ones, enduring the elements, overcoming the flaws of our inheritance. Dissolution is more than a lessening; it’s a reminder of time worn well.

Another essay, “The Distance Between Us” is a wonderful story about when Hoffman was walking on the hills above Morecambe Bay in Cumbria and noticed a man walking far ahead of him. He gradually began to catch up and then the path went down into a small, narrow valley, the man disappeared over the edge of it and a few minutes later when Hoffman arrived the man was nowhere to be seen. He was worried there had been an accident and searched around but the man was gone. This happened years and years ago but he still thinks about the man especially when he is out walking and spies a solitary person walking ahead of him. The essay then turns into a meditation on the impact strangers can have on our lives without even knowing it. And, conversely, the impact we also must make on other people’s lives that we are unaware of.

One of my favorite essays is the titular essay, “The Small Heart of Things.” It is about the successful reintroduction of the beaver to Transylvania. The animal had been absent from the country for two hundred years, trapped and hunted to extinction for their fur. The beaver was so important to the country at one time there are cities and villages, common words and surnames based on the word for beaver. The reintroduction has been a smashing success. The beavers are thriving and spreading out among the country’s waterways. And, even though there is a fund to which farmers and others can apply to be reimbursed for damage a beaver may do, hardly anyone has used it, not because there has not been damage, but because people are so happy to have the beavers back in their lives again that they accept the damage as part of the relationship.

Hoffman asks,

Extinction and preservation ask of us essentially the same thing: what is the meaning and measure of loss?

And he goes on to observe:

While we may adapt to the absence of things, either easily or over time, each extinction diminishes our lives as well; each fragment as essential as the next when attempting to understand our place on the planet. Loss lessens our shared inheritance, and the world is made inescapably smaller.

The Small Heart of Things is a slim book but it is packed with such clear-eyed observations and thoughtful meditations that it feels much bigger than it is. It is a book about being part of a place, being part of something bigger than you. It tells us how to do this too, by slow, careful attention, by being present in the world and by forming relationships to the things of the world both common and rare. Hoffman reveals time and again, it is those relationships that matter most.


Filed under: Books, Essays, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: nature, Prespa Lakes

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40. Oh Nimona, How I Love You!

cover artWell I’ve seen Nimona by Noelle Stevenson making its rave review way around the book blog world and it was finally my turn to have a go at it. I expected I would like it very much but there was a little voice niggling just behind my left ear causing me a bit of worry. What if I am that person? The one that hates the book everyone else loves? I didn’t want it to be me.

Well, it turns out there was no cause for concern. From the first page to the last I loved this book. Briefly, it is a graphic novel. Nimona is a teenage girl and a shapeshifter. She shows up at the villain Ballister Blackheart’s lair to become his sidekick. Blackheart is not looking for a sidekick but Nimona gives herself the job anyway, and pretty soon Blackheart couldn’t get rid of her even if he tried so it’s a good thing he takes a liking to her. Blackheart is the nemesis of Goldenloin who works for The Institution. The two used to be best friends but past events changed that and now they are always fighting each other but there are rules and it is obvious the hatred doesn’t run all the way to their cores. Nimona’s arrival upsets the balance because she refuses to play by the rules. She wants to be evil but it turns out the bad guys are the good guys in this story.

The book is funny and fast-paced, the art is fantastic. Nimona is not a little twig-girl, has a mostly shaved head and the hair she does have is pink and then later purple. She makes no apologies for who she is. Sometimes she tells the truth, sometimes not, but she is always trustworthy. She is eager to do and please like a puppy, but don’t cross her or she will turn into a dragon and burn you to a crisp without regret.

The world the story takes place in is a recognizable fantasy world with knights in armor and jousts and swords. But then shake in a liberal dose of rule-breaking and you also get taser guns and electric whips, a science expo, video chat screens, and a zombie horror movie night with popcorn. You’d think such a mash-up would create chaos but Stevenson makes it work without question.

Nimona is a great rollicking good time but there are also some good lessons lurking under it all. But lessons is the wrong word because that makes it seem like the book is didactic and moralistic and it is not. Themes maybe? Friendship most definitely. And what friendship means, like support and encouragement but also accepting someone for who they are no matter what and not trying to turn them into someone else. Also, forgiveness.

The story in itself is complete but it is left open at the end just enough to suggest we might see Nimona again sometime. I sure hope we do!


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Noelle Stevenson

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41. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Twelve-year-old Astrid is often dragged to "enriching" events by her mom, who calls them "evenings of cultural enlightenment," aka ECEs. Thankfully, Astrid's best friend Nicole is usually by her side, making it possible for her to endure the opera or poetry reading or whatnot. One night, Astrid's mom brings them to the roller derby. Astrid is immediately taken by it; Nicole is less enthused. When the girls learn about a roller derby summer camp, Astrid can't wait to sign up, while Nicole, who has been taking ballet for years, would prefer to stick with dance camp. There, she hangs out with Rachel, a former classmate that Astrid cannot stand. For the first time in years, the girls are separated, and the distance between them grows wider as the summer goes on.

The first week at roller derby camp, Astrid falls down - a lot. She is frustrated and bruised and she wishes she was as skilled at the sport as the other girls. She starts writing anonymous notes to Rainbow Bite, an adult derby player she admires who shares the same practice space. Bite responds to the notes with advice and support, keeping Astrid's spirits up with the going gets tough.

And Astrid toughens up: she makes an effort to get better, to get stronger; she puts in extra practice time; she learns more about the sport and about the skills necessary to be a good player and a good teammate. Even though she's not the best one on the team, she's having fun, and that's what's important. Along the way, she makes a new friend in her teammate Zoey and makes some changes in her own life.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson is a realistic and refreshing read. If this graphic novel was a person, I would give it a high-five. Bonus points for the diverse cast, characters of all different colors and shapes brought to life by lively full-color illustrations that show both action and emotion. Many characters have strong spirits, including Astrid's mother, a Puerto Rican single mom who works hard to put a roof over her daughter's head and food on the table. She works as a librarian at a college so that her daughter can attend that school in the future. Astrid has hand-me-down clothes and rents some of the required sports equipment rather than buying it outright, and these things are never regarded as shameful; I deeply appreciated that. I also loved the roller derby names (Rainbow Bite was my favorite, because the original Rainbow Brite rocks!), Astrid's determination and focus, and Zoey's love for musical theatre.

I recommend Roller Girl to all ages, especially for tweens who are making the transition from elementary school to middle school. If you liked Raina Telgemeier's graphic novels like Sisters, Smile, and Drama, you will definitely like Roller Girl.

Related booklists:
Hey There, Sports Fan!
Set in School and Transition Times

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42. Yellow, the Noble Color, is for Emperors and Empresses

This is a review of two books with different target audiences that have one mission: to share some of the treasures and history of the Forbidden City in China with the world. They are voices from the other side of the globe. Can you hear them? Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden […]

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43. Hanya Yanagihara and Claudia Gray Debuts on the Indie Bestseller List

Sheepover Cover (GalleyCat)We’ve collected the books debuting on Indiebound’s Indie Bestseller List for the week ending Jan. 3, 2016–a sneak peek at the books everybody will be talking about next month.

(Debuted at #9 in Hardcover Fiction) A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: “When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.” (Mar. 2015)

(Debuted at #11 in Children’s Illustrated) Sweet Pea & Friends: The Sheepover written by John Churchman & Jennifer Churchman: “One cold winter night, Sweet Pea the orphan lamb becomes very sick. Everyone in the farmyard is worried about her! Under the watchful care of Farmer John, Laddie the sheepdog, and Dr. Alison the mobile veterinarian, she slowly recovers. Dr. Alison tells Sweet Pea she can have a sleepover to celebrate as soon as she is well again. When the day finally comes, her closest friends Sunny, Prem, and Violet join her in the greenhouse for a fun and imaginative ‘SheepOver’ celebration.” (Dec. 2015)

(Debuted at #13 in Young Adult) Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens Lost Stars written by Claudia Gray & illustrated by Phil Nolo: “Readers will experience these major moments through the eyes of two childhood friends–Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell–who have grown up to become an Imperial officer and a Rebel pilot. Now on opposite sides of the war, will these two star-crossed lovers reunite, or will duty tear them–and the galaxy–apart?” (Sept. 2015)

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44. A Few Good Gardening Books And Vacation’s End

cover artAh friends, my two-week vacation is slowly coming to an end. It has been really nice. I am so completely unwound that I feel like I am ready for a vacation. Isn’t that the way of things? I managed to get through all but one gardening book I had piled up for my time off. The one I am still reading is called Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener. It is really good and I am eager to try my hand at it in my own garden. Perhaps I will manage to create a tomato that ripens early and is less prone to blossom end-rot. Wouldn’t that be something? Also radishes. I grow a mild pink variety and last year I also grew a spicier purple variety, wouldn’t it be fun to have a radish that is purple but a little less spicy to slice and eat raw on sandwiches? There aren’t any flowers in particular I’d like to try this with, but you never know.

The New American Landscape: Leading Voices on the cover artFuture of Sustainable Gardening is also quite good. This book is composed of essays by various names in the sustainable gardening field on a number of different topics from managing the home landscape to waterwise gardening to soil health. In case you are wondering what sustainable gardening is, the definition used in the book is,

using methods, technologies, and materials that don’t deplete natural resources or cause lasting harm to native systems.

Simple enough, right? Yet in the general world of gardening as conducted and encouraged by big box stores, sustainable is not encouraged.

One of the essays, “Flipping the Paradigm: Landscapes That Welcome Wildlife” by Douglas W. Tallamy, made me laugh because he talks extensively about the importance of insects in the garden, and not just pollinators. I thought you all might be interested given my post about insects not that long ago. Tallamy notes, and he has the citations to back it up, that ninety-six percent of the terrestrial birds in North America rear their young on insects, not seeds or berries. Insects are high-quality protein that growing birds need. No insects, no baby birds.

cover artOne other book that is excellent, Planting in a Post-Wild World by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. At first I thought I would not like this book because they began by disparaging people who advocate planting native plants. But, but, but I spluttered. And then a lightbulb moment. Native plants are definitely good and Rainer and West advocate for them too. The problem is the people who say native plants and only native plants and if you plant something from Asia in your midwest garden you are some kind of heretic.

These garden designers encourage creating gardens based on landscape archetypes like grasslands, woodlands, shrublands, etc. Pick your archetype and go from there. It is about matching plants to the site and creating plant communities whether that plant is native to a midwest prairie of the Russian steppes.

They do a fantastic job in explaining their design process and how to do it at home. I took extensive notes and find myself full of ideas. My soil is extremely sandy and I have always thought I need to work at improving it. When it comes to vegetables, that is the case, but when it comes to the grassland plants I enjoy, Rainer and West tell me to forget about it. I shouldn’t be wasting my time doing this, instead I should be busy searching out plants that like the kind of soil I have, and there are plenty.

I can’t say enough what a good book this is. I have been trying for years to create a grasslands-type garden in my front yard and have succeeded in creating a wild, weedy mess. Now I feel like I know what I can do to correct it. It will still be pretty wild but if it goes well it will be a more contained and more varied wild with a lot fewer weeds and a lot less maintenance. I have quite a bit of planning work to do to make it happen and not being a person of great wealth, it will take years to plant it all up because I can’t afford to buy all the plants in one go. But ideas and a plan make a good beginning and will go a long way to correcting the helter-skelter way I’ve been going about things.

Hooray!

On a side note. I have some catching up to do on replying to comments and visiting blogs. Bear with me as I get back up to speed after vacation. All too soon it will be like these last two weeks never happened.


Filed under: Books, gardening, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: garden design, plant breeding, sustainable gardening

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45. Review of I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, 
and Taste It, Too!)

isadora_i hear a pickle2I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!)
by Rachel Isadora; illus. by the author
Preschool   Paulsen/Penguin   32 pp.
1/16   978-0-399-16049-3   $16.99   g

Starting with a clever, attention-grabbing title, Isadora’s book about the five senses is aimed perfectly at another sense — kids’ sense of humor. Separate sections, beginning with sound and ending with taste, visit each sense in double-page spreads that contain small vignettes of children exploring their world, both indoors and out. Brief sentences describe what each child hears, smells, sees, touches, or tastes. Frequent statements about what the child doesn’t sense add levity: “I see the turtle’s shell but I don’t see the turtle”; “I don’t smell. I have a cold.” Interjections throughout, printed in italics, add read-aloud pleasure: “I touch my brother’s foot. Hee-hee. / I don’t touch my boo-boo. Ouch! / I don’t touch the plug. No-no!” Certain items are revisited in different sections: “I don’t hear the snow falling…I see the snow. I don’t see my mitten.” Delicate ink and watercolor illustrations on white backgrounds nicely elicit a young child’s point of view, such as when a girl peering over a counter can just barely see the pizza she smells. The final page wraps things up by going back to the titular pickle in all its sensory glory: “I taste the pickle. / It’s sour,” and so on until “I hear the pickle…CRUNCH!” Be sure to have a jar of baby dills on hand for this one.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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and Taste It, Too!) appeared first on The Horn Book.

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46. Review of Carry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow

rowell_carry onCarry On: The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow
by Rainbow Rowell
High School   St. Martin’s Griffin   522 pp.
10/15   978-1-250-04955-1   $19.99
e-book ed. 978-1-4668-5054-5   $9.99

In Fangirl (rev. 11/13), protagonist Cath wrote fanfiction for the fictitious “Simon Snow” fantasy series. Now Rowell has written a novel set in Simon Snow’s universe and using many conventions of fanfiction, most notably “slash” (in this case non-graphic), usually defined as a wish-fulfilling relationship between two characters of the same sex who, in the original work, are not a romantic couple. Simon, the most powerful mage in centuries, uncovers secrets during his final year at Watford School of Magicks that call into question his long-held beliefs about sharp lines between good and evil. He also begins to realize that his obsession with his probably-a-vampire roommate Baz may not be purely antagonistic. The novel is longer than it needs to be — just kiss already, Simon and Baz — and the many alternating narrators are a little dense when it comes to solving several related mysteries. But there’s plenty to enjoy along the way, including clever names for spells (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” makes oddities like dragon parts on a human unnoticeable) and plenty of wit. Reading Fangirl first isn’t strictly necessary — the brief author’s note covers the basics — and the metatextual concept is somewhere on the spectrum between confusing and fascinating, depending on one’s perspective. A working knowledge of the Harry Potter books and other popular fandoms isn’t absolutely essential either, but it makes this send-up a lot more fun.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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47. Iphigenia in Tauris

Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides was first performed in 414 BCE. Euripides and the Greeks considered it a tragedy even though these days literary folk like to argue otherwise. But no one dies! There is no blood and keening, no eye gouging! It kind of has a happy ending! What ancient Greeks considered a tragedy is quite different from our modern day definition and it seems completely pointless and silly to waste ink arguing over how to classify this play. But I guess scholars need something to do and it is harmless in the scheme of things.

If you recall your Greek stories, Iphigenia is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Agamemnon sacrificed her in order bring the winds that would get the Greek fleet to Troy where the dastardly Paris had absconded with Helen, his brother’s wife. That’s Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus, not Paris’s brother, Hector. Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon on his victorious return from Troy ten years later in part as revenge for him murdering her daughter. Orestes, Cly and Agie’s son, eventually shows up and kills his mother and her new husband in revenge for his father’s murder. As punishment for the matricide, the Furies are set loose on Orestes. Well and so.

Iphigenia, however, according to some, was not actually sacrificed. At the last moment Artemis saved her by substituting a pig/lamb/calf (take your pick) and whisked Iphigenia away to her Temple among the Taurians somewhere on the Black Sea (there was never an actual country called Tauris yet the people were called Taurians but I can’t for the life of me find out what their country was called, if it was even real so if you know, please enlighten me). Euripides chooses to go with this version of the story. Obvs.

So for all these years Iphigenia has been the High Priestess in the Temple of Artemis among the Taurians who think that human sacrifice is a pretty awesome thing. They especially like to capture strangers who are driven to shore by the freak tides and dangerous waters around their country and offer them up to Artemis. In spite of the excitement sacrificing humans must be, especially when you yourself were at one time supposed to be a human sacrifice, Iphigenia seems rather bored. She spends quite a lot of time missing Greece and wishing she could go home (she has apparently forgiven her father for his attempted sacrifice of her). If she knew all that had been going on, she might change her mind, but she doesn’t because no one from Greece has set foot on Taurian shores in all the years Iphigenia has been there.

Until now.

Two young Greeks land their boat on the shore and then hide it and themselves because they don’t know how friendly these barbarians are. On a side note, when you come across anything in ancient Greek stories that talk about barbarians, it usually isn’t referring to specific barbarians (like Conan for instance or even Cohen and Nijel the Destroyer for that matter), but to anyone who is not Greek. The Greeks thought very highly of themselves and if you were not Greek, you were a barbarian which goes a long way towards explaining quite a lot of ancient Greek history.

Anywho, these stealthy Greeks had been sent by Artemis to “recover” something from the Temple, an icon made of wood. They are none other than Orestes and his best bud Pylades. Even though he is on this mission for Artemis he is still also being chased by the Furies. Since Artemis knows that Iphigenia is at this temple and she and Orestes are siblings, one can’t help but think this an elaborate ruse to get them to meet. The pair of icon thieves are captured by Taurian guards even before they get to reconnoiter because Orestes has a crazy Furies moment and starts yelling and waving his arms about on the beach in front of everyone. So much for stealthy.

The Taurians are delighted to have prime Greek humans to sacrifice. They are brought before Iphigenia. No, she does not recognize Orestes because he was just a boy when he was fostered out elsewhere for his own protection. Before getting to the sacrificing bit, Iphigenia starts pumping them for information about what’s been going on in Greece all these years. She realizes pretty soon that these two are actually from her hometown and the more questions she asks, the more evasive Orestes gets. He has no idea he’s talking to his sister. Round and round they go.

Finally in desperation, Iphigenia strikes a deal. She’ll only sacrifice one of them if the other one will carry a message back home for her, letting the family know she is actually alive and hoping that maybe someone will come for her. This bargaining is all carried out without once mentioning family names. But the men agree and then the pair proceed to argue over who is going to be the one sacrificed. Orestes thinks being killed would be pretty okay, it would, after all, rid him of the Furies. Pylades, says no, I love you too much, let me be killed so I can die happy knowing you are still alive even if the Furies are chasing you. After many declarations of love and bickering over whose life is worthier, Orestes gives in and Pylades is thrilled that he gets to die for him.

Since Iphigenia doesn’t know how to read or write, she has to tell Orestes the message for her family at which point Orestes and Pylades gawp at her because they realize who she is. Orestes reveals himself as her brother but Iphigenia makes him prove it which he does by telling her something only a family member would know. Happy reunion scene ensues followed by a what-do-we-do-now conference since Iphigenia is supposed to kill them.

But they work it out as only the children of Agamemnon can. All three escape from Tauris and Orestes and Pylades even get the icon they came for. The king is about to send his navy after the three but Athena appears and tells him that it wouldn’t be prudent. The king knows which side his bread is buttered on, calls off his men, and places a help wanted ad in the local paper for a new High Priestess for the Temple. Meanwhile, Orestes, Pylades and Iphigenia sail off into the sunset.

You can see why scholars are into arguing how to classify this play. It’s also not the most exciting or interesting Euripides play ever. There is lots of longing for home from both Iphigenia and Orestes, and how that homesickness can really drag on a person. The play sets up a scenario where you could really dig into the psychology of longing and exile and the meaning of home, but this being a Greek tragedy, it only flits around the edges, psychology not having been invented yet.

One more thing, it’s really hard to type “Pylades” over and over and not “Pilates.” I’ve never done Pilates but I am sure there are plenty of people in the world who have and wouldn’t mind seeing Pilates sacrificed in the Temple of Artemis. But then that would be an entirely different story.


Filed under: Ancient Greece, Books, Plays, Reviews Tagged: Euripides, Greek tragedy, Where is Tauris anyway?, You say Pilates I say Pylades

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48. Review of A Year Without Mom

tolstikova_year without momstar2 A Year Without Mom
by Dasha Tolstikova; 
illus. by the author
Middle School   Groundwood   168 pp.
10/15   978-1-55498-692-7   $19.95
e-book ed. 978-155498-693-4   $16.95

Tolstikova’s illustrated memoir recounts the time when her mother relocated to America for graduate school and she, twelve years old, was left in the care of her grandparents in Moscow. Through present-tense narration, readers follow Dasha’s experiences chronologically as she navigates both specific and universal rites of passage, including uncertainty during the 1991 coup d’état attempt and distress when she learns that her crush, older boy Petya, has a girlfriend (who smokes cigarettes, no less!). Pencil and ink illustrations, in mostly whites and grays, emphasize the chilly setting. Color is used sparsely but to great emotional effect: bright reds on cheeks represent characters’ embarrassment; dark, smudgy grays dominate in moments of heartache. Most of the dialogue is in the same type as the main narrative but separated from it through thin speech bubbles drawn around characters’ statements. Hand-lettered text (sometimes incorporating Cyrillic) evokes mood as well, as seen when Dasha listens to her mother’s words (a letter left for her as a cassette recording) and they surround her, reflecting her longing. The author includes authentic details (including how the Russian grading system works) and, with personality and sincerity, 
creates an accessible, truthful, and relatable record for readers of a different generation.

From the January/February 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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49. Newbery / Caldecott 2016: Final Prediction Edition

See this money?  It’s time to put it where my mouth is.  OPEN UP, MOUTH!

So if you’re playing along at home you might have noticed that I’m a bit . . . ah . . . last minute-ish with my final predictions this year.  Considering that today is Thursday and the Newbery/Caldecott Awards (amongst other Youth Media Awards) will be announced this Monday at 8 a.m. EST (and viewable here), I’m positively late.

Ah well.  Life, it has a way of interrupting your best laid plans.  In any case, I’m ready now.  And before I forget, I should mention that if you’ve any interest in killing time before the ALA Awards on Monday, why not tune in for my Pre-Game Show beforehand?  I’ll be livestreaming my thoughts on the possible winners.  Then you can come back for the Post-Game Show where I kvetch, cheer, and generally make a fool of myself while my 19-month-old son wails outside my office door, wondering why his mommy isn’t sticking to her usual routine that morning.  Or I may pull him into the room to meet you.  I’m not above bribing you to watch.  Alas, my delightful co-host Lori will not be joining me this year, so it’s just l’il ole me. And maybe a baby.

And for those of you interested in what other people around the country are interested in winning, be sure to check out ALSC’s collection of Mock Elections here.

All right.  Enough of that.  Here are my final predictions.  As ever, I’d like to point out that with the possible exception of 2008, I almost never get these predictions right.  I go with my gut but my guts are fickle and can be bribed with donuts.

Onward.

Caldecott Award

Winner:

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson

LastStopMarket

If there’s any theme behind my choices this year, it’s that they’re not very original.  Every other Mock Caldecott in the country has been talking about this book, and well that they should.  To my mind, this book has a very good chance if only because the time is right for it.  Look at the Caldecott Award winners of the past.  Books that speak to the times in which we live win the awards.  Whether intentional or not, the Caldecott committee is going to say something with their choice about what “distinguished” means.  In my recent article about the trends of 2015 and 2016 I mentioned that you cannot look at the debates sweeping the children’s literature landscape without considering the greater picture.  And the greater picture, as I see it, dictates that we need more diversity not just in the racial make-up of our authors, illustrators, and subject matter, but also in economic realities.  This book is beautiful, well-written, and does something I haven’t seen since Ezra Jack Keats: It makes the urban landscape beautiful.  The time for this book is now.  It’s my pick as winner.

Honors: In a Village By the Sea by Muon Van. Illustrated by April Chu

InaVillage1

The Beach Boys song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is playing in my head right now.  Because it would be nice if this book got an Honor.  Nice for the author and illustrator.  Nice for the small publisher from which it hails.  Nice to see a wordless book get some love.  It’s a dark horse contender, I think, but I wouldn’t count it out.

Honors: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

DrumDreamGirl

Rafael Lopez is long overdue for a Caldecott in some kind of form.  This isn’t to say that he’ll necessarily get the Honor he deserves (and heck, he might get an Award proper!) but it makes me think that there’s a chance that someone on the committee will harbor affections for this book in the secret recesses of their heart.

Newbery Award

Since last year the Caldecott had a ton of Honors, I’d like to think that with the strong contenders of written works in 2016, there might be room for a plethora of these instead.

Winner:

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

hiredgirl

Though it was considered contentious earlier this year, one cannot help but notice that things are different for The Hired Girl these days.  People came to it in the midst of the debate and discovered that it was beautifully written.  Other folks who might not have picked it up did so and found that they loved it.  Support swelled, it appeared on the New York Times YA bestseller list a week or two ago, and everything culminated in yesterday’s Scott O’Dell Award announcement.  I’ve been watching all of this, and just as I feel that Last Stop on Market Street speaks to our current time and place, so too does The Hired Girl, only it represents a novel’s ability to become a focal point for a debate that extends far beyond itself.  At its heart, The Hired Girl is distinguished.  It could easily take away the award by itself.

Honors:

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

WarThatSavedMyLife

The year’s most surprising popular favorite.  Not that I was particularly surprised myself.  I’d been plugging away for Jefferson’s Sons, Ms. Bradley’s previous book, to take away the prize years ago.  This may get bupkiss too (popularity by no means assures success in the award field) but at least a LOT of people read it that might not have otherwise.

Honors: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin

MostDangerousCover1

Surprise!!  First time this one has made any of my prediction lists.  Why the switcheroo?  Um . . . well, I actually sat down and read it.  Boy howdy, is it good.  Tackling, in some ways, a subject far more complex than BOMB (his previous award winner) I could easily see this carrying a bunch of different awards from a bunch of different categories.  And, as with many books mentioned today, it’s hugely timely.

Honors: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

echo

I’ve gone back and forth on this one for a while.  On the one hand, there’s something about this book that sears into your brain and takes up residency in your frontal lobe.  On the other hand, the connecting fantasy element is entirely superfluous.  At the end of the day, I think the distinguished merit (which it exudes from every pore) outweighs any concerns I might have.  It’s not a given, but it’s a strong contender.

Honors: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia

GoneCrazy

As I mentioned in a previous prediction post, this book took a while to percolate in my brain.  It was only after I talked it over with folks and thought long and hard about it that I realized it had a very strong shot at an award of some sort.  It could easily take home the gold medal proper, by the way.  We shall see what we shall see.

Phew!  That’s all from me.  Now go and catch your flights to Boston and tell me how everything is while you’re there.

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50. Review of the Day: Gordon and Tapir by Sebastian Meschenmoser

GordonTapirGordon and Tapir
By Sebastian Meschenmoser
North/South Books
$18.95
ISBN: 9780735842199
Ages 3-6
On shelves April 1, 2016

There is a perception here in America about the Germans. It is a firm belief that, as a nation, they are devoid of a sense of humor. Americans love to bring this up. I’m not sure what they’re trying to prove necessarily when they say it, but the idea has been repeated so often that few would bother to contest it. Can you name any German stand-up comics? How about funny imported German films? What about funny German picture books? AH HA! There I’ve got you. Because while I cannot pull out of a hat any comics or movies, what I can do is show you without a sliver of a doubt that thanks to picture books like those of Sebastian Meschenmoser, we have absolute proof that Germans have a distinct and ribald sense of humor. With the release of his latest book in the States, Gordon and Tapir, Meschenmoser plumbs the Odd Couple concept with some distinctive twists of his very own. This is some primo German goofball stuff.

The book opens wordlessly. A penguin goes to his restroom with a newspaper. He reaches for the toilet paper. But what is this? Someone’s used it all up. And not just anyone. The penguin, who goes by the name of Gordon, stamps down the hall to his roommate Tapir’s room. Inside he finds the animal reclining in a toilet paper constructed hammock, an elaborate fruit cup in hand and a headdress that would wow Carmen Miranda on his noggin. Immediately Gordon launches into a litany of transgressions Tapir has engaged in. The floor’s sticky with fruit, the dishes are never done, and why exactly has there been a hippo living in the bathtub for the past few days? Tapir isn’t taking this lying down. He has his own complaints, like why does EVERYTHING have to be so neat and tidy? Why does the garbage have to stink of fish all the time? And why can’t Tapir join Gordon’s all-penguin club? Eventually, Gordon moves out and once Tapir discovers this he gives the bird a call. Turns out, it is a fantastic solution. Now Tapir can be dirty, Gordon can be neat, but they can visit each other and be friends again far better than if they lived together. Happy endings for all.

I’ve always carried the torch for Meschenmoser’s art. From his sleepless animals in Waiting for Winter to his previous penguin dip into surrealism in Learning to Fly the man has a strange kinship with the furry and feathery. So much of the character development in these tales comes from their body language. For example, there’s a spread in this book where Gordon lies in bed on his back staring at the ceiling at 3 a.m. while Tapir does much the same thing, albeit blearily, in his own room. This is followed by a silent film of sorts where Gordon finds a new place to stay in the paper and takes off as Tapir hears the door open and looks up with just the saddest expression in his eyes. Any picture book that dares to go silent for an extended amount of time in the center of the story is being gutsy. It’s not easy to pull off, and Meschenmoser ups the ante (as it were) by rendering everything during those wee hours of the morning in black and white graphite sketches.

GordonTapir2Then there are the little visual details and gags. The humor is sublime here. Meschenmoser is just as comfortable with silent gags (remember, this is coming from the man who made Charlie Chaplin references in the images of Mr. Squirrel and the Moon) as he is with words. Some of the jokes are there for the parents doing the reading. Did you notice the tapir in a bathing suit that bedecks the inside bathroom door? Or the fact that when Gordon stomps from the bathroom to Tapir’s room the wallpaper goes from a pristine fish pattern to paper that’s torn and peeling in large chunks? Did you see that the little cactus that Tapir gives to Gordon as a housewarming present is sitting on his dresser earlier in the book? And did you know that every single one of Gordon’s penguin friends is based on a famous author? I’ve good money riding on the fact that one of them resembles Sigmund Freud. I loved that Gordon has a goldfish swimming in his party drink (a tasty treat for later?). And so tiny you’d probably miss them but worth it every time I notice them is this: mongooses in teeny tiny colorful party hats. Life is sweeter because they are there.

But for all that, the real reason I loved this book as much as I did was that the lesson I took away from it wasn’t American in the slightest. Imagine if a Yank tried writing the same book. Gordon and Tapir would have their differences. They’d have their fight. They’d both spend a sleepless night. Then the next morning Gordon would make a concession, Tapir would make a concession, and they’d work out their differences. And there is nothing wrong with a book about meeting someone halfway. Yet what I loved so much about this book was the fact that it eschewed every rote picture book plot I’d come to expect and went in an entirely new direction. Because honestly, let’s face it, sometimes friends are NOT meant to live together. Couples grow apart, people change, and there are times when you are much closer to someone if they don’t share the same space that you do 24/7. Meschenmoser makes it crystal clear that Gordon and Tapir’s friendship is stronger when Gordon leaves. Now I’m sure some folks will read this as a “stick with your own kind” narrative (after all, tapirs and penguins don’t even occupy the same temperate zones) but I’d argue that their friendship belies that. It isn’t that they don’t vastly enjoy each other’s company. They just need their own personal space at the end of the day, and that is absolutely 100% a-okay.

GordonTapir1As crazy as it sounds, this actually wouldn’t be the worst picture book to hand to a small child with parents going through a divorce. I think it’s pretty clear from the book that sometimes you have nothing in common with the person you’re living with and that it’s best for all parties if a split is made. I don’t think the book was written with that intention in mind, and that is probably why it would work particularly well. There isn’t any didacticism to plow through. Just good storytelling

There’s a long history of funny German children’s literature that leads directly to Mr. Meschenmoser. Remember that this is the country where Der Struwwelpeter came to light (though its humor is a bit of an acquired taste). And alongside fellow contemporary funny German picture book artists like Torben Kuhlmann and Ole Konnecke he’s in good standing. With any luck we’ll be seeing more of their books coming to U.S. shores in the coming years. So who knows? Maybe if we get enough Gordon and Tapir types of books the humorless perception of the German people will undergo a change. At the very least, we’ll get some magnificent stories out of the deal. This one’s a keeper.

On shelves April 1st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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