Book Review: Quick Thoughts on Blue Lily, Lily Blue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reading levels.

This book… I struggled through a little bit. And I don’t know why. I don’t know what caused it. But I suspect the fault is somehow mine and not the book’s. It took me more than a month. I started it sometime around January 9 and didn’t finish till February 16, and you see how long it’s taken me to even begin the review. I love Maggie Steifvater’s writing no less. I love Henrietta and its surrounding settlements and wilds no less. I love these characters no less, and I may have found new favorites in this book. (“She drifted toward the bedroom, on her way to have a bath or take a nap or start a war.” That’s the moment I decided I would love this character despite her very glaring faults. And then of course “I AM JESSE DITTLEY. DID YOU NEVER EAT YOUR GREENS?” Maybe not as many of them as I should have done, Jesse, and I’m sorry, Jesse.) I still sent a flurry of photographs of fantastic quotes that spoke to me to my friend Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master (or at least took the pictures. Did I send them to you, Gwen?).

I don’t know why it took me so long.

This book does not so narrowly focus on a single one of the quintet the way that Dream Thieves did. We are given glimpses into each character’s psyche, though perhaps Blue’s and Adam’s most vividly as each has a more personal quest (or two) here that intersects with the search for Glendower.

This story is about madness and sanity. This is about magic and mundane, past and present and future. It is about the line and the crossover between these “divisions.”

This is about friendship and family and love: the different expressions of each, the irrevocability of each, the growth and loss of each.

Like in the last book, the prologue is creatively laid out. There are three parts and three perspectives to the prologue: Above, Between, Below. This pattern was not repeated in the epilogue, and I was a little surprised and upset that it did not—but not really, because the epilogue. Three has always been and is explicitly an important number for this story. Which makes me wonder and worry about the five in our quintet. One of whom, I suppose, is already dead, so four. That’s still one too many, but I suppose if the prophecy of book one cannot be outrun or outmaneuvered: three. Oh gosh! Is this a series about winnowing down to three, about the sacrifices necessary to make three?

As I’m sitting down to write this review, and skimming back through the book, and thinking about all that I read, I’m falling more in love with this book. I really can’t wait to finish this series so that I can reread this series (one more book to go!).  It didn’t hurt me as much as the previous book did do, but the quest moves forward, and the players advance, coming out of the shadows.  This might be a set-up book, but I expect the final moves of the game will be bone-chilling in the best way.

Update: I stumbled back into The Raven Boys after writing this review, and that book at least is every bit as magical and wonderful and relaxing and awe-inspiring to re-read as I hoped it would be.

****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue. New York: Scholastic, 2015. First published 2014.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: Silencing Half of the World to See Who Is Still Heard

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The inspiration for today’s blog post has come from Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, OH, who for part of the month of March, Women’s History Month, turned around the books in their store written by male authors so that their spines, where are the names of the authors and the titles, were hidden.  The pictures from their store are stunning.

Before I even begin to discuss this display and my attempt to recreate it, I want to acknowledge that this social experiment is flawed in one glaring way:  This experiment relies on a binary gender system, erasing transgender, genderqueer, or nonbinary identities.

When I was uncertain of an author’s gender I relied first on the names and decided not to dig deeper if the name sounded stereotypically masculine or feminine (that’s laziness on my part, which I acknowledge too, but there are a lot of books and lot of authors in our house).  If I was still uncertain I went to the author’s bio and looked for gendered pronouns–a better clue to an author’s gender; I hope that most author’s bios use their preferred pronoun, but I cannot guarantee it, not in this day and age.

Recreating their experiment on the shelves in my home is not as stunning.

All of these pictures I’ve cropped quite fiercely because I really wanted to highlight the books, the spines and not the photograph itself.

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With picture books, I decided that if a book was authored by a man but illustrated by a woman–or vice versa–it could remain spine-out, which means that all of the books that you see turned around at the right of the bottom-most shelf in this image are written and illustrated by men and that some of those that have their spines facing out still make room for men’s words–or for men’s illustrations.

The bookcases in my home are curated.  They consist only of books on which I or my roommate have spent money or one of us has deemed worthy to adopt–and only those that we deemed worthy of keeping.  We are both cisgendered women.  We both graduated from a women’s university.  We both consider ourselves feminists.  And we’re both writers.  That means some voices won’t be represented on our shelves.  Our collection ranges from Gilgamesh to books released just days ago, but I would guess that the majority of our books were all published within the last 30-40 years, a time when being an author was not an unacceptable choice for a woman of any means, though a time during which publishers still worried and possibly worry that a woman’s book about a boy won’t be read as widely as a man’s book about a boy (as in J. K. Rowling’s case.  She uses a gender neutral pen name rather than any combination of the feminine sounding Joanne Kathleen, and that’s the reason I’ve heard given for that choice).  I know that I have a penchant for books with “strong” (three-dimensional) women–which is not to say that one-dimensional women are absent from my shelves; that’s not the case, and I know it–I’m looking at you, Mr. Bradbury–and not to say that my shelves are devoid of books where women are a mere prize, a sidequest if you will (though admittedly, I’m having a harder time thinking of any book that might be on my shelves where that is the case at the moment).  I think it might be fair to say that one-dimensional female characters are less likely in women’s writing.

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This is the most fiercely curated of my shelves.  It’s the only one that lives in my bedroom and consists only of favorite books of mine or (but mostly and) the ones I’m mostly likely to want to reach for at any given time to visit the characters, the world, a scene, a line.  That bookcase in particular features really only a few authors.  10 authors got turned around.  10 remained spine-out (myself excluded; the bottom right are photo albums)–Olivia Berrier, Cressida Cowell, Diane Duane, Eva Ibbotson, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jennifer Nielsen, J. K. Rowling, Sharon Shinn, Jo Walton, and Patricia C. Wrede.

Our shelves are not organized (particularly) by genre (the picture and board books are all shelved together, and nonfiction and poetry each have their own sections, not shown here).  I think performing this experiment on shelves divided by genre would be an interesting and probably enlightening twist.  As Cassandra Claire in her Draco Trilogy once pointed out, men aren’t expected to write those mass market romances, and I expect there is some discrimination against men who try to break into that market–or that there may be men writing romances under feminine pen names.  Science fiction and fantasy were for a long time a genre written primarily by and for men, and I think some of that prejudice against female writers still lingers–at least in epics and fantasy and science fiction written for adults.  I would be interested to see how children’s literature breaks up.  More picture books than I would have expected got turned around on my shelves, even allowing for women’s illustrations to counter the male authors.  Books shelved by the age of the intended audience would be another interesting twist.

It was very interesting to me see what did and didn’t get turned.

I was surprised that all of the manga my roommate owns (three series surveyed here) are written by women.  I was surprised that the American graphic novels (two series, one of which is a graphic novel series for the TV show Charmed, and a stand-alone) all got turned around, save one–and that is an older series that started in the late 70s, Elfquest, created by the husband and wife pair, Wendy and Richard Pini.

I noticed a lot of the swaths of white in our shelves were created by series–or by multiple books by the same author.  I think that’s true too of the swaths of color.  It seems once we find someone or something we like, we stick it out.  I know it’s true of the bookcase in my room, where 13 of the turned books belong to one author, and 11 of the spine-out books belong to J. K. Rowling.  It happened again in the case that has only two shelves.  One male author accounts for nine of those books, one accounts for five books, and another two have four books each turned around.  Meanwhile Diana Gabaldon accounts for six of the spine-out books.

I also just got a good laugh–a somewhat sad laugh–realizing that if J. K. Rowling was left out of the these pictures–or if she was only allowed to be represented with each book only once (13 individual titles), the shelves would look a lot whiter.  I know she’s the voice of our generation but between the two of us we own 29 of her books (most of that onus is admittedly on me.  Oops).  But then she is not the only writer from whom we own together more than one copy of a title, and I don’t know that that phenomenon disproportionately effected women.  In fact, it happened with 17 male authors but with only 14 female authors: Louisa May Alcott, Olivia Berrier, Suzanne Collins, Susan Cooper, Diane Duane, Cornelia Funke, Ellen Kushner, Madeleine L’Engle, Anne McCaffrey, Robin McKinley, Stephenie Meyer, Tamora Pierce, J. K. Rowling, and Patricia C. Wrede.  Though Rowling is the only author from whom we own four copies of one title.

These photos don’t represent all of our bookcases, just a sampling really (excluded are the ones for which getting a clear shot of the shelves in their entirety meant moving furniture and one the top of which was just too cluttered and messy for me to want to show the Internet).

All photos are my own.  Click to embiggen.

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Book Reviews: February 2017 Picture Book Rounds: Lessons Abound

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Sharing, showing mercy, being a friend, compromise, teamwork, hard work, trying new things, resisting oppression and tyranny, admiring nature truly, and accepting yourself–lessons abound in picture books this month.

Click to visit the author's page for links to purchase, sample page, reviews, and awards list.

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 3-5, PreK-K.

I was a bit… shocked by this book, mostly because a coworker had recommended it, so I didn’t screen it for story time. The bullying, greedy pug, Pig, in a very Disney-villain type of accident falls from his perch and out the window. He is next seen all wrapped in bandages while the Dachshund dog, the hero, “good” or “poor” Trevor, finally plays with a toy and with Pig. This was a hit with my story time audience though. A little boy, maybe… four? I saw that family again and was told that he told all his family and friends about it. The ending is a bit grim, but no more grim than most fairytales.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and description.

Hotel Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I loved this book more than the first in the series. Somehow this one seemed to better understand its audience, to play less to the parents, leaving more space for the kids (though there is still plenty for parents to laugh at, never fear). It begins with a quick recap and yet another migration South for the winter. The geese and Bruce return to Bruce’s cave to find that a group of mice have turned it into a hotel for all types of woodland creatures, with whom Bruce now has to share a bed and his kitchen, while the geese are pressed into service as bellhops. The grumpy bear as before finds he has a surprisingly soft heart, making him a laudable protagonist for children’s literature.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Dinosaurs Don’t Have Bedtimes by Timothy Knapman and illustrated by Nikki Dyson. Candlewick, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7, Grades PreK-2.

The redheaded protagonist, Mo, dressed in a dinosaur costume, imagines a dinosaur’s life is one of no rules, doing whatever he wants. To his mother’s argument that dinosaurs must get hungry with no dinnertime, he says they eat whenever they want. Dinosaurs of course are always messy.  In his imagination, Mo is a dinosaur, shown as such every few pages before flashing back to himself and his mother as they are.  Mo is a contrary child, but his mother obviously loves him. There don’t seem to be any real consequences to Mo’s contrariness, but he also seems to do all that his mom asks or tells him directly—at least eventually. The colorful illustrations—and particularly the creativity that allows the reader to see Mo and his Mom in their dinosaur-forms—are the biggest draw here.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.

Play with Me! by Michelle Lee. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Pip is eager to play with Nico, but Nico is focused on his own playing—of the cello. Pip offers activity after activity to do with Nico, and Nico just keeps saying he’s uninterested and keeps playing his instrument. Finally, Pip shouts, “I MEANT PLAY WITH ME!” and Nico realizes that he’s excluded his friend with his solo playing. So he finds a way to include her without giving up on his own activity. It’s a story of compromise, and it’s a story of listening and paying attention to the desires of others. Nico and Pip are primarily illustrated on a white background with little distraction from their characters and actions.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, trailer, educator's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios. Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, educator's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 1-6.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. Chronicle, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

It took six years for this team to write a sequel to the popular Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and it took a required story time to get me to read either of the books. Let me preface by saying I have never much been fascinated at any age as some are with construction vehicles. I learned loads (pun intended) from this book—at least, I learned names of vehicles it had never occurred to me to wonder over. Or I learned that I have a fun resource available when someone asks me what that vehicle is called—it would take more than one or even two readings for me to memorize those names.

Both are bedtime stories in the end; each ends with the vehicles tucking themselves in for the night. In Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site that is the whole drive of the plot. Each vehicle gets a few pages, its actions humanized and its bedtime regimen tailored to reflect its daytime activities and function. Each vehicle’s section ends with “Shhh… goodnight, [vehicle], goodnight.”

Both texts emphasize the importance and fun of hard work, but the second underscores teamwork. A job too big for the team of the first book has arisen, so they call in a backup team. Here female vehicles are added to the cast, which I appreciate. And these female vehicles aren’t feminized; they are not pink or purple, are not given long lashes, and are just as eager to work hard as the male vehicles. This second book seems almost a prequel story. The first book has about two pages of daytime activity then the vehicles go to bed. This second book focuses on the daytime work, but ends with the vehicles going to bed—with a shorter bedtime routine than in the first. Both texts are told in rhyme.

Lichtenheld uses bright colors, cartoonish faces that use primarily the windshields and front ends of the vehicles, and some creative layouts. Little details like teddy bears and nightlights make the pages extra fun. Some of the illustrations from the first book are reflected in the second.

****      ****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, awards list, and author's bio.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Penguin Random, 1988. First published 1960. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I read first One Fish, Two Fish and then I tried Mr. Brown Can Moo. This book I read by popular request. I’d grabbed this too as a possibility, but it was a favorite of one family who told me they had been collecting the book in different languages, and a favorite with a few of the other members of my audience too. It’s a lot of fun to read aloud not only for the rhyming text but also for the emphatic tone that the protagonist uses in refusing to try green eggs and ham.  And of course, he does end up liking the new food after he tries it and ends up enthusiastic about eating it anytime, anywhere.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. Penguin Random, 1988. First published 1960. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This story was so much longer than I remembered it being, and so much less of a story. It’s more like… snatches of poetry, some of it loosely connected, but most of it independent. Several of my favorite snatches of Seuss are in this collection, though: “One fish, two fish” of course but also “My hat is old, my tooth is gold.” Many of these poems are rhyming tongue twisters that would be good for helping kids laugh along while they learn to sound out words.

***

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

“Yertle the Turtle.”  Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.  Penguin Random, 1958.  Intended audience: Ages 5-9.

I remembered “Yertle the Turtle” as one of my favorites of Seuss’.  It must have left a profound impression on me.  I did not realize till I was partway through the story at a story time this past month just how relevant it is to today’s politics.  Because of that, this story twisted my stomach more than I had thought that it would, the king’s boasts and poor Mack’s complaints and protests sounding both all too familiar.  It was not the distant fable that I remembered.  It is lived reality.  It is now.  It is protest fiction.  But it was, I think, a fable.  “I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”  Oppression, a kingship built on the backs and forced labor of others cannot last forever.  Protest will be rewarded.  One lowly turtle on the very bottom can have an impact and a voice.  That voice, that rebellious act, that existence may topple a king.  When I’d finished, I sort of took a deep breath, and the mother of the child who’d requested one last story (she was about seven; I don’t know if she saw the real-world parallels as clearly as her mother and I did) and I shared a look, and sort of danced for a moment around saying how relevant the story seemed to today.  I did not read either of the other stories in this collection.  Just “Yertle.”  The other two stories in this collection are “Gertrude McFuzz” and “The Big Brag.”  “Yertle” is in other collections as well, including Six by Seuss.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Round by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Joyce Sidman wowed me before with her book Before Morning illustrated by Beth Krommes. She has a unique way of seeing and describing the world. She is one of those writers that you can just tell pays attention to every word and every meaning and emotion of every word.  This book focuses on all things round: seeds, the sun, the moon, eggs, mushrooms tops, oranges, raindrops, ripples…. As it was with Krommes’ cover, it was Yoo’s cover illustration that drew me to this book, and it was only later that I realized I’d read and enjoyed another of Sidman’s works. Yoo uses a small child and her dog and a goose and a parent or other adult to interact with the round things that the narrator—an “I”—describes. Yoo’s human characters seem to be Asian, but I wouldn’t swear to it (though Kirkus Reviews agrees with me), and they are never given names or described themselves within the text.  She adds extra circles into the illustrations. The two artists together make a game of the book and a game of the world. Once you start seeing round as they see round its hard to un-see. Definitely the focus here is on nature. The final pages of the book describe some of the reasons so many things in nature are round in fairly simple terms—these pages are definitely more for the older picture book audience though, maybe 7-8 with an adult to explain some of her more difficult words in these explanations.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is going to be one of my new favorite books, I’m fairly sure. Kelp is born and lives under the sea, but he isn’t like the narwhals—his horn isn’t as long, and he’s not as good a swimmer—but the other narwhals don’t seem to mind, so he tries not to mind either. But a current pulls him above the surface and far away he sees a creature that looks like himself. He learns how to walk, walks through a “strange and beautiful” land, and discovers unicorns—and that he himself is a unicorn. He learns all about being a unicorn, and loves it, but he misses his friends. He returns to them and in a conversation very much (it seemed to me) couched in the cultural script we have for “coming out” explains to his friends that he is not a narwhal but a unicorn. They all “t[ake] it very well” and knew he was not a narwhal but a unicorn all along. So Kelp begins to live as a unicorn who knows he’s a unicorn with the narwhals.  But Kelp soon begins to fret over whether he wants to be “a land narwhal with the unicorns or a sea unicorn with narwhals,” and finally finds a way to not have to choose between the two.

Perhaps because of the national dialogue right now, I saw this as very much about either gender or sexual identity; I couldn’t quite ever decide which metaphor worked better (the rainbows made me wonder if the unicorns represented gay culture, but the question over whether he was a land narwhal or sea unicorn or both/neither made me think more about trans identity).

Beyond all of that, the pictures are adorable! They are colorful and they are playful and creative.  This book is just wonderful.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Shelfie 1: December 9, 2012: Shared Shelves: a Holiday Card

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I think my photoblogging days might be coming to a close.  For a year I posted a photo or happy thought almost every day at Nine Pages Every Day.  I haven’t yet decided whether I will continue that blog or save my pictures for myself and my Facebook friends and my records of something beautiful everyday to a Word document I’ve been adding to since January 31 (and using since then to generate posts for Nine Pages Every Day).

That being said, I like photography, and I like sharing my photography, however mediocre it might be, because photographs are a captured instant, a captured space, a condensed memory.

But you’re here for books and storytelling.

Today, I can’t provide you any fresh book reviews; I haven’t any I could get done before midnight.  There are–you know–many weeks like this.  More than I care for there to be.

So I’m proposing this:  When I can’t provide you with new bookish text, let me provide you with bookish photography.  I’ve combed back through my photos, a set in this library ranging back to early October 2012, and found all the shelfies I’ve taken (before I knew the word shelfie).

Let me share with you these snapshots of my life, this story of my life as captured by books.

I’m guessing if you’re here, you probably like looking at books and photographs of books too.  And you probably understand the insight that a shelfie can offer.

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Book Reviews: January 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Almost a Red Carpet Affair

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Click to visit B&N for links to order and summary.

Begin Smart TM: What Does Baby Say? Sterling, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 9 months-2.

An action prompts the question, “What does baby say?” A lifted flap reveals the one word answer. It’s a sturdy-seeming book, and reviews corroborate my guess. The colors are bright. The pictures are simple. This book was originally published in 2008, and I’ve seen complaints about a baby in that book drinking juice from a bottle, which reviewers seem to find confusing and some claim is dangerous. “Juice” was my first word, so I wonder if the writer had such an experience in mind. The version of the book that I read, put out by Sterling in April 2016, has revised the text to say milk instead of juice. Babies of color were included in the illustrations.

***

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary,

Clifford the Big Red Dog: Vintage Hardcover Edition by Norman Bridwell. Scholastic, 2016.  First published 1963.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

This vintage edition of the book uses only a few colors: black, red, pink, and the off-white of the pages themselves. In many ways, Clifford is an average dog: He plays fetch. He chases cats and cars. He likes shoes. He eats and drinks a lot. But Clifford’s problems are unique because of his size. Emily Elizabeth can’t take him to the zoo anymore because he chases the lions. Sometimes he catches a car and brings it back to her. He mistakes the policeman’s baton for the stick Emily Elizabeth throws and brings the policeman to her. His bathtub is a pool and his brush is a rake. Clifford’s size may be problematic, but Emily Elizabeth would never trade him for any dog.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Clifford the Small Red Puppy by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 1985. First published 1972. Intended audience: Ages 4-6, Grades PreK-1.

Clifford began as the tiniest of puppies, a puppy as small as our four-six week old kitten—or smaller. Love and the prayer of a little girl make him grow larger than the largest dog in two days. I love the sass of Emily Elizabeth at the end: “Tell me again how you got your dog.”

I have vague memories of enjoying the books about Clifford the puppy more than the books about Clifford the dog but only I think at the time because he was a puppy and cuter by default. Plus, he was small like me.

Reading this and the original Clifford story back-to-back, I realize that there is much more story and much more personality here than there was in that first book. Whether that’s true of all of the books in the puppy series, I don’t now feel qualified to say.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

I’m Going to Give You a Bear Hug! by Caroline B. Cooney and illustrated by Tim Warnes. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2016.

I am very pleased with this book. It is sweet without being cloying and poetic, creative, and clever without indulging in florid vocabulary. In the rhyming text, the narrator (or mother) insists that she is going to give the listener (or child) the hug of an animal and then describes the hug using phrases that are associated with that animal, making the incomprehensible hug suddenly vivid: example: “I’m going to give you a dog hug. A knock over chairs, Chase up the stairs, And sleep like a log hug.” The illustrations are fairly simple, but small details enliven the story. Each animal sports in some small way the yellow, red polka-dotted pattern of the mother’s dress. (I say mother, but it could be any older woman.) The child’s teddy bear is also in each illustration, alive and independently active.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and a behind-the-scenes video.

Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Willems loses points here for portraying as frogs his characters with French names on a quest for a baguette. That was unnecessary and not very nice, Mo. This book could otherwise have been perhaps a five-star book for me. I enjoyed the story of the young girl given a responsibility by her mother, but falling into temptation, fearing her mother’s wrath, that fear proving unfounded because her mother is understanding, and then her mother falling into the same temptation when she goes with the girl to complete the task. I like the tongue-twister nature of the text, which got kids and parents laughing. I liked the bright colors and creative layout.

****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios.

How Do Dinosaurs Choose Their Pets? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

As always, I love that this team always includes male and female dinosaurs without attributing male and female characteristics to the dinosaurs and also always appreciate the inclusion of people of color. This is a fun animal primer too. The beginning of the book questions whether a dinosaur goes and picks out outlandish pets—tigers, elephants, dragons, sharks—but concludes that the dinosaur of course chooses something small and harmless and tractable from a shelter, store, or farm—a dog, kitten, bunny, hamster…. This would be a fun book to share for sure when a family is trying to decide whom or what to adopt. Pair this with Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get? The two are similar enough, but one includes dinosaurs, and one focuses on the difficulty of the decision. Both celebrate the wealth of good choices to be made. Teague’s illustrations are more colorful for sure, and more detailed.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Cat-Proof Your Toilet Paper

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Sometimes invention is born of necessity, thriftiness, spatial reasoning, sympathy (in Rothfuss’ sense), and a little out-of-the-box thinking. Our cat found the toilet paper roll and started shredding it. I did some searching around the Internet and found some clever solutions but most required me to buy something and many would involve more permanent damage to the cabinet on which the toilet paper holder hangs—which is troublesome since we rent and the cabinet is not ours to damage. Originally, I’d decided to try to use a 2-liter soda bottle to make a cover for the roll… but I couldn’t easily cut into the plastic, and I gave up before I hurt myself.

An empty tissue box became the savior of our toilet paper. And I mean that quite sincerely because our cat hasn’t found the toilet paper to tear up since.

Admittedly, I didn’t try to fit the tissue box unaltered over the toilet paper roll, and less work might be required than I did, but what I did was not strenuous or lengthy:

I widened the hole at the box’s top a bit, just using an ordinary, unexceptional pair of scissors. Essentially, I mirrored the cut of the preexisting opening on the box’s backside to let the roll sit nicely centered inside the box, where the tissues had been. Once I’d done that, I added two cuts, extending upwards from the farthest point of the opening to catch the roller of the toilet paper holder.

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This same cover has been in use for a month and a half now, and while the cardboard is a bit more pliable from being handled than it once was, it is still intact and still performing its role well.

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The slit at the top has been widened. We found that offered more flexibility—the cover being able to catch more easily with less finesse, and doing so allowed the cover to accommodated fuller rolls better.

Has anyone done anything similar to cat-proof their toilet paper?  Has anyone got any improvements?  Does anyone have other genius DIY solutions to this common problem?

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Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2016

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It’s awards season again, and I’ve read next to none of the winners or honorees this year. The only book that won any medal that I have yet found postings for is Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat, one of this year’s Caldecott award honorees, which I gave four stars.

But I always believe in honoring the books that I’ve read and have awarded five stars.

Only the bolded books on this last were eligible for this year’s awards… and there are only five of them, all of them picture books.

Of the books that I rated five stars that were published in 2016, really, only Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet? had any chance at any of the awards–I would have thought that a possible competitor for a Caldecott.

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

MIDDLE GRADE-YOUNG READERS (AGES 8-12)

TEENS (AGES 13-19)

ADULTS (AGES 20+)

POC in My Books from 2016

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After last year’s jarring realization, this year I started a list of books with POC (people of color) and another list of books with a person explicitly not white in the role of a main protagonist in order to track my own reading and hopefully improve upon the lack of diversity of characters in 2015’s list of books.  This year I read 44 out of 168 books (26%) where any person of color is included, either as a protagonist or a background character, a sort of abysmal quarter but more than 2015’s 23% if only barely.  Only 16 of those 44 (36% of all books with any POC or 9% of the all the books I read) have a person of color in a starring role, less than half.  In some cases, as in Mike Cuarto’s Little Elliot books, the protagonist’s role is taken by an animal or usually inanimate object, but in most cases the POC play background characters to a white character’s story or share a stage where no one is given a spotlight within the pages (for the most part, the covers of such books feature white characters).

A coworker and I both realized recently that the majority of toddler books feature exclusively animal characters–or characters that are usually inanimate objects, like peas.  64 of 168 books (38%) that I read this year are in this category of books with no human or humanoid characters.  That means that in 2016 I read more books with completely non-human casts than ones that include even one POC.

Excluding these books that exclude humans and humanoid characters, the total percentage of books with POC rises to 42% but still does not hit even the half mark.

I have this year more actively sought out books with POC as protagonists, but I have not held–I’m sorry to say–to my November resolution to read books only about POC, women, or other marginalized groups.  (There’s a good new year’s resolution for me.)

This is the list of this year’s books that included POC.  Books where a POC is a protagonist are bolded.  Books where a POC is a secondary character, one with a speaking role, and more than a background character but still not a protagonist are underlined.  Books which arguably have no protagonist, where for example, a different character is featured on each page have a + sign beside them.  Books first published this year have an asterisk, because those are the ones that could be considered for the most recent round of awards, and because those are the books that were probably in some way effected by the current cultural climate.

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

Teen (Ages 13-19)

Riordan as always has done a great deal to bring up the number of books that I’ve read with POC protagonists and characters.  The surprise aid has come this year from Disney, which not only set a story in Polynesia with an entirely POC cast of characters, but also even in their story about fish in the Pacific, where few human characters were at all present, they were sure to include POC, and in the books mentioned above, I think POC accounted for at least half but maybe 100% of the human characters present.  Santat, Curato, and Beaty should get honorable mentions for always including POC among their casts, and Beaty a shout-out for having this year’s picture book feature an African American girl.  Bildner and Parsley both deserve shout-outs as well for multiple books with POC protagonists.  I want to give a shout-out to Gassman too for having an African American on the cover of a book with a quite diverse cast where it would have been possible, as several others chose to do, to feature the white characters on the cover.

I also want to give a mention to Maggie Stiefvater.  I’ve begun to suspect that in her Raven Cycle many if not all of the people in Blue’s house are African American, but I can’t yet swear to it.

I want to give another shout out here to Elizabeth Bird, who recently published a list of picture, easy, and early chapter books published in 2016 with diverse casts and diverse main characters on The School Library Journal‘s blog.  This is a fabulous list, and fabulously organized.  Check it out.

Have I misrepresented any books?  Feel free to discuss below.  Sometimes–particularly in picture books–it can be difficult to determine a character’s race (sometimes probably intentionally so, and I appreciate that too), and sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a character’s role is large enough to merit a place as a secondary character rather than a supporting or background character.

Book Review: Dream Thieves: I Couldn’t Wait, and I Didn’t Wait (Long) Afterward

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Click to visit the publisher's teachers' page for links to order and summary.Note: I try not to do so, but this time, I just couldn’t resist: I started reading the next book in this series before finishing my review of this book, so there may be some bleed from book three into my review of book two. But I can definitely tell you that I loved book two.

I started this second book in The Raven Cycle pretty immediately after finishing the first, which is usually for me an accolade for the previous book, but The Dream Thieves I loved even more than The Raven Boys. The only reason I think that I didn’t continue on to book three straightaway after putting The Dream Thieves down is because a few books that I had been waiting for were released (ironically, I have not started the one that I paused this series to read, because I fell into a deep well of favorite rereads while waiting for that book to actually arrive—thinking of course that I’d be able to put those rereads down in the middle).

I was a bit surprised that I loved The Dream Thieves so because Ronan, arguably the primary protagonist here, is spikier than I usually like my characters, though in this story we got to see past some of that caustic, tattooed armor to the mushy, homesick, heartsick center—the Ronan that Gansey knew before and which the books reference rather frequently.

The story begins, “A secret is a strange thing. There are three kinds of secrets,” and the epilogue begins that way too. I would have been all over that if I hadn’t been hearing so forcefully the echoes of “The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.” I remember my burbling excitement when I first realized the circular echo that Rothfuss was employing in The Name of the Wind and then used again in The Wise Man’s Fear. Rothfuss definitely did it first (The Name of the Wind was published in 2008), but I want to believe—and do believe—that I’d have been as excited to see Stiefvater use language this way and employ this particular device as I was to see Rothfuss do so if I had seen Stiefvater’s first. It is a beautiful technique and a wonderful way to frame a story and a trick that requires a great deal of finesse and mastery.

Without dropping lots of quotes into this review, I really can’t explain to you why I have come to so love Stiefvater’s prose, her poignant observations and vivid, succinct images. While reading book three, I have taken so many pictures of wonderful lines that I wanted to remember. For this book, I took just one for this line: “His mind was a box he tipped out at the end of his shifts.” That line. I get that line. It captures a feeling that I never would have thought to describe so, but it describes that feeling with such cutting accuracy that I immediately conjure the feeling, the aches and pains and exhaustion.

The Dream Thieves introduces us to more magic. Such wonderful, awesome, terrifying magic. Magic that’s difficult to control, that comes at a terrible price.

While The Raven Boys, I’d be comfortable handing off to a mature 13 year old, this book introduces some darker and more mature topics: homosexuality, drugs, explosive, uncontrollable anger, suicide, murder, more of a romantic subplot, redemption, identity, love in its many forms…. This is a book for an older teen: maybe 14. Maybe. I asked Gwen whose opinion on such matters I trust, and she guessed maybe better to introduce the book to 15 or 16 year olds. As she said, there’s a lot of violence in this book, and an appreciation of the “shades of violence” is important to an understanding of this book’s plot and themes.

*****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 2: The Dream Thieves. New York: Scholastic, 2014. First published 2013.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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