Author Archives: Kathryn

About Kathryn

My love of books has been carefully cultivated by the adults who raised me and also by the friends who love to share. My life has led me down long library shelves, to online forums, fanfiction sites, the front of a lecture hall, and into the desks of college classrooms. With an English degree and a couple master’s classes in Children’s Literature, I am now a bookseller for Barnes & Noble. I have been an editor for Wizarding Life Networks (the people who brought you Wizarding Life, Panem October, and MyHogwarts now HogwartsIsHere).

December 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Big Names and Series Continuations

Standard

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

Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by A. G. Ford. Chronicle, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The characters from previous Construction Site books return. Each is gifted new equipment from an anonymous donor that I presume to be the company who thanks them for their work throughout the year. My anti-capitalist self found a great deal to be cynical about in this set up. The company provides their workers with something that they need to perform for the company but frames that equipment as a gift to make the company seem kinder? Hmmm….  I am almost certain that I am seeing an unintentional parallel between today’s corporate structures and those of this book; I don’t think that Rinker intentionally set out to write a pro- or anti-capitalist book, one that lauds the company’s gesture or reveals the manipulative behavior of the company in the mask of Christmas—especially, as I have said, since the company is never definitively named as the gift-giver. And certainly her intended audience isn’t going to consciously wonder or even consider the ethics of the company’s behavior.

The pattern to this book is similar to Mighty, Mighty Construction Site with each vehicle’s task for the day described before the truck is put to sleep with a “Goodnight.” The vehicles’ work is finally revealed in its finished form: a new fire station. I wonder if that signals an upcoming book in the same world. Mighty, Mighty Fire Station anyone?

***

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

Where Do Diggers Celebrate Christmas? by Brianna Caplan Sayres and illustrated by Christian Slade. Penguin Random, 2018.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book was something of a disappointment. I liked the illustrations, and it fit well thematically with the required book for our story time, Construction Site on Christmas Night. The text… well, to start, it never answered the questions it asked. I expected an answer eventually, thought that I was going to get a book written stylistically like Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs series, questions then answers. This was the first book in this series (books that are titled in the pattern of Where Do X Sleep at Night?) that I had ever read. I’m guessing that this book is written in the style of the series, and if I’d known that and been prepared for it, I might not have minded it so. I did appreciate that this book seems to celebrate more than many others do that family and friends’ gatherings that mark the holiday. We had fun finding the little mouse in each of the illustrations.  This is definitely a book whose illustrations outshone its text.

***

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

The Cool Bean by Jory John and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This has been I think my favorite by this duo. The POV bean used to hang out with a group of other beans, but as they got older, he grew apart from the other beans. They became “cool,” and he did not. He thinks that he’s lost his friends, but then when the not-cool bean gets into some embarrassing scrapes at school, dropping his lunch, falling on the playground, each time the cool beans help him out. He realizes that his friends haven’t changed so much, that they are still kind, still friends, even if their interests and wardrobes have diverged and if the cool beans have found new skills at which they excel. Their small gestures of kindness improve the POV bean’s outlook, give him self-confidence and confidence in the kindness of his friends. Kindness not clothes or special skills make beans cool. This was a story to which I related. I grew up in a small town and coolness only came as we hit upper elementary school. The old stereotypes of 80s and 90s movies didn’t hold up. One of the coolest girls in our school was also one of the most generous and softest, and her kindness did a lot to cheer me up on more than one occasion. That said, check out the band Smoke Season because while we haven’t kept up I hear that she’s been doing well for herself.

****

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

The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Penguin Random, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was a surprisingly fun book. The reader is asked to make a silly face (there is a mirrored surface in the book) to make the serious goose laugh. And that—not the silly hats or the tasty treat of the previous pages—is what turns the serious goose who won’t smile into a silly goose who is buoyantly happy and barks like a dog to be silly. The rhyming is a lot of fun. There is a good bit of adult humor with the narrator threatening the audience with lawyers for violating a direct commandment from the Order of the Serious Geese and Gooses. The proceeds for the sales of this book benefit children’s hospitals.

****

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

The Kindness Book by Todd Parr. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

Although my opinion may be colored by having to rush through it as I’d lost two members of my audience entirely and the last’s attention was split between coloring and listening and waiting for her family to return, I read this one after reading Kindness Makes the World Go Round, and honestly it paled in comparison. There’s no plot. This is a good overview though of the kind things that a person can do for others, for the community, for strangers and loved ones, for oneself, for animals. There is actually a pretty strong emphasis on being kind to oneself; it’s mentioned thrice. I appreciated the inclusion of characters of limited physical mobility with the gray-haired woman whose wheelchair rests beside her bed and another whose cane rests by her chair. Todd Parr’s bright colors and simple drawings and simple text hide a deeper message as almost always.

***

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.

My 2019 in Books

Standard

It’s that time of the year again: the time when I like to look back and reflect on the previous year.  This is always the simplest of the reviews that I do because Goodreads does most of the work for me.

I acquired 28 books this year that I did not begin to read. I acquired two more that I am currently reading. One of those 28 was the first book that I finished in 2020.

YearinBooks20202

This is the second year that I have done only one story time per week and the first year that I have led the YA book club that our company started—though that’s a generous description as though we have done six such events, only one person has ever shown up and then only to the first such event. I have stopped being as diligent about reading the books that I acquire for these events; the company is kind enough to provide the questions and a fairly detailed summary of each book, which I do still read in the event that anyone ever should come.

The longest book that I read was a novel that was chosen for that book club, but it is the shortest longest book that I have read in four years—which I find a tad ironic because it is the first that has been a book for teens instead of for middle-grade readers.  J. K. Rowling really did change the publishing world’s expectations about the length of book that a kid could handle.

I read 49 novels including graphic novels and audiobooks.  Because I borrowed several this year and have already given away some that I didn’t love as much, not all of them are pictured here.  25 of those 49 were new to me.  My favorite new-to-me novel was I think Mackenzi Lee’s The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, followed by in no particular order Akwaeke Emezi’s Pet, Jerry Craft’s New Kid, and Ru Xu’s NewsPrints (I owe you a review for that one and its sequel too).

novelsof2019

YearinBooks20201

The book with the highest rating is rated on Goodreads only by me. I gave it five stars out of five. Only one other person has yet told Goodreads that they have read it. Y’all, it’s a great read for pirate lovers, and it comes with a craft. Check it out. Our Barnes & Noble currently has it for $5 on discount.

For the 4th year, my average rating has remained the same, so I can at least say that I am consistent there.

This is the highest my average length per book has been in these four year.

I read eight novels by Rick Riordan and four picture books by Mo Willems. I re-read three novels by Sharon Shinn (and I’m hankering to do another re-read now, though I know I should read some new books) and re-read three by Diane Duane (two of those I owe you reviews for). I read three picture books by John Jory and Pete Oswald three by Norman Bridwell (all of Bridwell’s probably re-reads but from my childhood, though two I had read as recently as 2017). I read two graphic novels by Jen Wang (I owe you both reviews) and listened to two audiobooks by Liz Kessler (I owe you a book review for the second). I read two picture books by Jon Stone, two by Dr. Seuss (the two that I read every year, The Grinch and Oh! The Places You’ll Go), two by Craig Manning (one of those, Kindness Makes the World Go Round, I read multiple times), two by Naomi Kleinberg (both Sesame Street books), two by Ryan T. Higgins (both re-reads), two by James Dean (one a re-read), and two by Aaron Blabey (one a re-read).

I’m only 18 reviews behind this year, and several of those are prepped and just awaiting me to proofread and publish. I have started reviews for many of the novels, and I am considering now perhaps doing a quick wrap up, shorter reviews of each of them, just to get the word out about them. What do you all think of the idea?

I have added a tag to each year that I have done these reviews.  Use it to take a look through my books for the past four years.

Book Review: The Surprising Sweetness of Dog Man

Standard

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

This was my first Dav Pilkey novel. I missed the Captain Underpants books when they were coming out during my elementary school years; I didn’t have any interest. I never had any interest in Dog Man either as an adult and a bookseller despite their popularity among the children. Then I was asked to throw a release party for the 8th novel in the Dog Man series, and I thought I had better at least introduce myself to the characters and the story.

Lucky for me, the 7th book at least begins with a recap of the story thus far. In sum, a police dog’s head is surgically attached to a policeman’s body when the two are in a horrific accident (a bit of a creepy premise, but okay). The two become Dog Man. Dog Man continues to protect the city from evil, which seems to come primarily in the form of other even more anthropomorphized animals, because Dog Man himself doesn’t talk.

Among his foes is Petey, a cat inventor, and Piggy, an evil mastermind who was shrunk with his henchmen to the size of a flea prior to the start of For Whom the Ball Rolls.

Petey’s heroic deeds in the previous novel earn him a pardon from the mayor at the beginning of For Whom the Ball Rolls.

Petey comes to claim his son/clone Lil’ Petey from Dog Man and 80-HD, who have been parenting Lil’ Petey during Petey’s incarceration.

Lil’ Petey is conflicted about leaving his found family to live with his father/clone Petey, but Petey insists, though he does quickly compromise by saying that he will allow Lil’ Petey to spend weekends with his found family if he can have weekdays.

This is what first sold me on Dog Man. How many other books are dealing with incarcerated parents right now? While I wish such books weren’t needed, there is a need. I can think of few other fictional parents who have been incarcerated and released (Lucius Malfoy, the Titan General Atlas) but no books that have at all dealt with a child’s return to a formerly incarcerated parent’s custody.

Ultimately, I think this book was about the meaning of family. Lil’ Petey, Dog Man, and 80-HD have become a family through proximity that becomes love and a bond. Petey believes at first that his blood bond with Lil’ Petey gives him more claim to Lil’ Petey. With that lesson, Lil’ Petey discovers that Petey doesn’t know his own father and sends 80-HD to retrieve the tomcat. Petey’s father remains critical and curmudgeonly as he was in Petey’s youth. He steals all that Petey and Lil’ Petey have, and Petey explains that it is okay that his father won’t be in his life; his father’s blood bond with Petey and Lil’ Petey does not promise him a place in their life. Petey as promised leaves Lil’ Petey with Dog Man and 80-HD for the weekend, and Petey goes home to his empty house with his love of Lil’ Petey to keep him warm.

Lil’ Petey is this story’s heart and conscience, though here he briefly falters and has to be uplifted again by Petey.  Love, Lil’ Petey espouses, sometimes must be an act before it can be a feeling.  So too good acts prove goodness; good intent without good acts are not enough for goodness.

The book is ridiculous. There’s no denying that. We’re introduced to a superhero this book whose superpower is less a superpower than a compulsion to eat cupcakes and knock over whatever baddies stand between him and the treats. But there’s also a great deal of sensitivity and positivity in this book.

Petey sees the mud and the pollution and the weeds but with Lil’ Petey’s help he learns to see the beauty in the world. He learns that a world that is shared with those he loves is never only horrible.

This was such a short book that I was able to finish it in the time that it took for my 20 oz of brewing tea could cool to lukewarm (maybe 20 minutes?). Do you have 20 minutes to spare? Perhaps while waiting for a cup of tea to cool or a pot of water to boil into spaghetti? Perhaps like me you’ll feel good about having completed a book in so little time. Perhaps like me your soul will feel just a bit better, the future will look just a bit brighter, and you’ll trust a bit more that the littles know good literature when they find it.

****

Pilkey, Dav. Dog Man, Book 7: For Whom the Ball Rolls. Graphix-Scholastic, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 7-10, Grades 2-5.

This review is not endorsed by Dav Pilkey, Graphix, or Scholastic, Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: November 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Sing Along

Standard

Snow Blows White

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

The Soundtrack Series: Let It Go by the Disney Book Group. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

You probably almost all know this book by heart already. This is the lyrics and illustrations to match the original animation of “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen. Nothing really spectacular here, but if you need the lyrics for, say, a sing-along story time, it is a helpful book to have on hand. The book comes with a CD of the single. According to the description, the CD is a karaoke, instrumental version, and a sing-along version of the song. It’s a good song, but I’m not sure that the picture book is a necessary publication. I was surprised how few of my littles at story time did sing along with the book and I (we were a cappella). I had one who definitely knew the chorus, but that was all the backup that I got.

***

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

Reindeers Are Better Than People by the Walt Disney Company. Disney, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I had sort of hoped that this would be the lyrics to the song like the Soundtrack Series: Let It Go—only because I was doing a sing-along story time. It was not. I still sang the song for the kids, and I only missed a line. I pulled it up on my iPod and let Jonathan Groff sing us through it once too. It’s such a delightful, short song. Instead of lyrics, this is a very brief introduction to the characters of Frozen, seemingly narrated by Kristoff (I would guess because of his “thing with the reindeer”), two sentences or for each of the main adventurers. The kids at story time laughed at and seemed to very much enjoy the characters that they knew with reindeer antlers.

***

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

Anna, Elsa, and the Secret River by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum and illustrated by Denise Shimabukuro and Elena Naggi. Disney, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This is a new adventure for children Anna and Elsa. Note: I have not yet seen the new film, but I don’t believe that this particular adventure is portrayed in the film. Anna convinces Elsa to chase after a magical river that might provide answers to why Elsa is born with magic mentioned in a lullaby. The sisters use their senses to search for the river, but the sun begins to rise before they find it. As soon as they decide to return to the castle, they wake in their beds, but was the adventure a dream or did they really venture out of the castle and into the woods? The illustrations in this are beautiful, and Rosenbaum does a good job capturing the personalities of the two sisters as I understand them from the first Frozen film. The introduction to the senses—sight, smell, hearing—was a nice touch too.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and sample.The Crayons’ Christmas by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.  Penguin Workshop-Penguin Random, 2019.

In previous Crayons books the crayons have written to Duncan.  Now the crayons are the recipients, receiving letters and postcards and gifts from friends and family in a sweet celebration of reaching out to loved ones at the holidays.  The book has the same offbeat humor and insightful comments on our use of colors that the previous books did.  Many of the characters are from previous books, their adventures expanded here, and I think the book made less sense as a standalone for that reason.  The concept of the crayons and their letters was not well explained in this book (I’m giving it five stars anyway but suggest reading The Day the Crayons Came Home first; meet Esteban).

I grew up with my mother’s love of the interactive picture book, The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg.  This book reminded me of that with its letters and postcards and gifts in envelopes attached to the page while the envelopes’ contents remained separate, able to be taken from the book and read.  This book includes ornaments to hang on a Christmas tree, games, and a gluten-free cookie recipe to try in addition to letters and postcards.  There was also a Hanukkah greeting and paper dreidel to make!  Reading it could easily be spread out over a day or several days if one stops to interact with all the contents.

I had a small audience for this one, but they did better with this story than they have with the length of any of the other Crayons books.  I struggled to balance the book and the separate pieces.  If you’re reading it aloud, make sure you have somewhere to lay the book down to hold up the envelopes’ contents.

*****

 Click to visit BN's website for links to order, summary, trailer, and reviews.

Jack Frost vs. the Abominable Snowman by Craig Manning and illustrated by Alan Brown. Wonderland-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

I am excited to have an introduction to choose your own adventure style stories for such a young audience, although the Choose Your Path series name is more fitting. The endings for this story cannot change; there is only one. A reader can however choose which character to follow through the story. There is a lesson here about not having to be locked into one way of reading. When I let my story time children choose their path, they did miss one adventure with Abe the Abominable Snowman, so if they read it a second time, there might be a surprise for them. The instructions to turn to this or that page were included in the rhyming text, and sometimes that felt awkward, but reading it aloud without any prep time, it was nice to have a catchy way to explain to the audience how we could choose between following either of the two racers.

***

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

Cookies for Santa: The Story of How Santa’s Favorite Cookie Saved Christmas. Illustrated by Johanna Tarkela. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebooks Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

This was a pretty long book for story time, and required me to skip a bit of the text—though, again, I didn’t get to prep. With more time before reading, I might have been able to trim it more effectively. I barreled through to the ending, but the kids’ attentions were wandering. This is yet one more picture book trying to begin a new Christmastime tradition (like Elf on the Shelf, like Santa’s Magic Key), though this is my favorite of the traditions that picture books have yet tried to begin—and may already be a tradition for many. This tradition is to make a particular type of cookie: Chocolate Krinkle Cookies.

The Kringle family cookbook, which Santa uses every year to make cookies for his helpers and family, is missing. Santa cannot get the recipe right without. He has no cookies to share as he usually does. His helpers and family feel unappreciated and become uncooperative, not helping him prepare for Christmas any longer.

Meanwhile in a library, Abigail who reads cookbooks for fun, finds the Kringle cookbook. She brings it home, and the odd ingredients in the cookbook confuse her family.

In a televised address, Santa confesses to feeling like he should cancel Christmas because he is so upset that he lost the cookbook. Abigail and her family realize what they have, and rush to the America’s Test Kitchen studio to get help with the recipe, not having time to mail the book back to Santa in time for Christmas. The cooks there figure out substitutes for all of the magical ingredients. They televise the recipe and encourage the world to bake the cookies that Santa could not and leave them for him.

On his rounds, Santa finds the cookies left for him, and cheers up considerably. Abigail and her family leave the book for him in addition to the cookies.

In addition to being long, I didn’t really like any character in this story. Santa is not jolly. He, the elves, reindeer, and Mrs. Claus are too focused on the gifts that come with the season. The insertion of America’s Test Kitchen was clunky and clearly an advertisement for the company. I think reading aloud I actually left out the trademarked brand, and I think that the text ought to have done too.

The story I think would have been better without the inclusion of Abigail and her family and without the inclusion of America’s Test Kitchen, perhaps instead a story about Santa losing his cookbook and his family and friends reminding him of the Christmas spirit. The idea that the world gets to give back to Santa is sweet, though.

I could never decide whether I was imagining that the stack of these books smelled a touch like peppermint and chocolate, though they are not advertised as scented.

Kirkus suggests a chance that Abigail and William’s mom might be Asian, but I’m not sure that I see the same.

The book does include the recipe in the backmatter.

**

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

Cookiesaurus Christmas by Amy Fellner Dominy and Nate Evans and illustrated by AG Ford. Hyperion-Disney, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

I did not realize that Cookiesaurus was a series until I began to research for this review, though this is only the second in the series. Cookiesaurus, whose pleas and excuses make up the text of the story, wants to be the cookie left out for Santa. He knocks other cookies off the plate, making several messes and hurting his friends. Near the end, he realizes that his friends have been hurt by his actions and apologizes and helps the cookies back onto the plate. As a reward, he is chosen to top the Christmas tree. The style of writing reminds me of Mo WillemsPigeon books.

***

Making the World a Kinder Place

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

Stir, Crack, Whisk, Bake: A Little Book about Little Cakes. America’s Test Kitchen Kids-Sourcebook Explore-Sourcebooks, 2019.

This is an interactive book on the line of Don’t Touch the Button! and Press Here. My audience member was shy and nervous about participating. The text reads like instructions for an app game, especially “Use your finger to drag each [ingredient] to the counter.” The end result of these interactive instructions is a batch of cupcakes for a “special day.”  This is a way to “bake” together with a little one without the mess, but the result is only “cupcakes.” I can’t eat “cupcakes.” I can see where a family might use this one though, to make a little feel as though they had been included in the baking process.

***

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

Sunny Day: A Celebration of Sesame Street by Joe Raposo and illustrated by Christian Robinson, Selina Alko, Brigette Barrager, Roger Bradford, Vanessa Brantley-Newton, Ziyue Chen, Joey Chu, Pat Cummings, Mike Curato, Leo Espinosa, Tom Lichtenhelf, Rafael López, Emily Winfield Martin, Joe Mathieu, Kenard Pak, Greg Pizzoli, Sean Qualls, and Dan Santat. Random, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The text of this book is the lyrics of the theme song that opens episodes of Sesame Street. Each illustrator gets a single page spread. The book celebrates diversity. As a bookseller, I enjoyed the challenge of identifying each illustrator and have yet to convince myself that I have solved the puzzle. I believe the illustrators are listed in the order that they appear, but I would have to double-check that. The text works best, I think, as a sing-along, but there was a verse that neither I nor the young parents at my story time remembered.

***

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

People in Your Neighborhood by Jeff Moss and Sesame Street. Sterling, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

I remembered this song only after looking it up, and I did not find this exact version of the song. I was able to sing the chorus for story time but not the verses. The book does come with a CD, but reading a book intended for sale to another, I did not use it for story time. The book introduces children to several professions including postman and fireman. The book suggests that putting on the clothes of such a profession makes one such a professional.

This book has been available at Barnes & Noble for several months now, at least since November when it was a required story time read, but it appears that it will be getting a wider release in February 2020.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, info about Thunberg, info about the 350.org, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Greta and the Giants by Zoë Tucker and illustrated by Zoe Persico. Frances Lincoln Children’s-Quarto, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

Greta Thunberg, Time’s Person of the Year 2019, is in another picture book. This one makes fantastic her battle against the giant corporations—here literal giants. Greta lives in a forest. The forest animals come to Greta to ask for her help because the Giants are destroying their home. Greta makes a sign and stands in the Giants’ way. They bowl past her, but other human inhabitants of the forest watch, and slowly begin to join her protest until the Giants are forced to pay attention to the crowd. In this story, the Giants mend their ways and begin to live more sustainably, making the forest better for all those who live in it. The giants are portrayed as being greedy and busy but blind to their destruction rather than heartless. I really like the illustrations in this one. I like the hope in this one even if I believe it to be misplaced.  Greta is portrayed though as more magical than she is, given the ability to speak to animals, and that is a dangerous line to walk, but then, this is clearly a fantasy if the antagonists are literal giants so a heroine who can talk to animals is not unusual in such a story.

*****

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.

People of Color in Books That I Read in 2018: Part 2: Picture Books

Standard

This review is SO FAR OVERDUE! I was prompted to look for it again as 2019 comes towards a close and I began to think about doing a recap of the representation of people of color across the books that I read THIS year. That being said, I want to get this information out to those seeking it. All the lists like this one that I have done can be found here.  There are lists that include novels too.

Looking at 2018’s numbers, 28% percent of the books that I read included a person of color in any capacity—which is 1% more than 2017’s numbers. However, only 12 books that I read in 2018 included a person of color as the protagonist, a dismal 7% of my total books read, less than half as many as in 2017. That’s terrible. That’s on me. I did not this year seek out as many picture books to read independently as I have done in other years. Only 1 of the 12 books with a person of color as the protagonist was a book mandated for story time. I was not this year running independent, reader’s choice story times.

Picture and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

I did not complete every month’s picture book review in 2018, and now it seems too late, so this is the first time some of these stories are mentioned on this blog. Where possible, I have included links to my full reviews.

Books with a POC as a protagonist

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington. 2018.  This is a biography of Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space. Mae is told by her white teacher seek a more practical career than astronaut, but her parents tell her it’s possible, and she succeeds.

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. 2015.  This is an introduction to the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple whose court case legalized interracial marriage in the USA.

Two Problems for Sophia by Jim Averbeck and illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. 2018.  Sophia’s giraffe is causing a lot of trouble for her family. Every character’s skin is a different shade, from Grand-mama’s darker skin to Sophia’s father’s light. I’d guess that Sophia herself is biracial.

Feminist Baby Finds Her Voice! by Loryn Brantz. 2018.  I thought that the primary character of Feminist Baby was white but looking online I realize that her family is interracial. One of the babies with whom she “stand up tall” is darker skinned than she is.

Goodnight Football by Michael Dahl and illustrated by Christina E. Forshay. 2014.  There are many crowd scenes that allow Dahl to show off the hues of humanity. An African American family is featured. 

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. 2015.  Saya’s mother immigrated to America from Haiti without papers and is taken to an immigration detention center and separated from her family. Saya’s family are all darker skinned. The judge is a dark skinned woman too.

Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R. Johannes and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. 2018.  The protagonist, Cece, is I think biracial and darker skinned, her mother darker skinned and her father light skinned with dark hair. Isaac, her best friend, is light skinned with black hair, possibly Asian.

Santa’s Husband by Daniel Kibblesmith and illustrated by A. P. Quach. 2017.  Santa is a black man, living with his white husband, who helps him around the house and with his business. This book is shelved in the adult humor section at Barnes & Noble, but it is a picture book, and I think could be read and enjoyed by children.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat.  2018.  A boy struggles to connect with his grandfather who only speaks Thai. The two end up communicating by drawing together.

Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. 2018.  The protagonist Jerome has darker skin and pink hair. The background characters are of varying hues. One girl, whom he thanks, wears a hijab.

A diverse cast with no protagonist

I Am Enough by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo. 2018.  The girls represented in this story are mostly dark skinned. A few look like they could be of Asian descent. A few are lighter skinned. One wears a hijab.

Love by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Loren Long. 2018.  Latinx and African American and Asian America and white and biracial families are all represented. One girl wears a hijab and a long dress while relaxing in the grass.

First Explorers, Book 5: Astronauts by Christiane Engel. 2017.  Some of the astronauts in this little, lift the flap board book about the profession are darker skinned.

Salam Alaikum: A Message of Peace by Harris J and illustrated by Ward Jenkins. 2017.  A diverse cast illustrates this picture book version of Muslim, British singer Harris J’s song of the same title, the chorus of which is Arabic for “peace be upon you.” 

The Peace Book by Todd Parr. 2017.  Todd Parr often illustrates his humans with no likeness to the colors of human skin: green and blue for example. There is a snake charmer in a turban and a woman in what I think is meant to be a niqab. The story, about sharing and caring for the Earth, implies that more than one group of people are meant to be represented.

The Forever Tree by Tereasa Surratt and Donna Lucas. 2018.  The grandfather who first finds the tree for humanity is lighter skinned. But among the first families to discover the tree are people with darker skin and black hair. Among those who save the tree are people of darker and lighter skin too.

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with a secondary character who is a POC with a speaking role

Merry Christmas, Little Elliot by Mike Curato. 2018.  Elliot and Mouse search across New York City for the spirit of Christmas but are unsuccessful. They find a letter to Santa that has gone astray and travel to the suburbs to answer it, meeting a new friend, Noelle, who is darker skinned. The New Yorkers in the group scenes have different skin tones.

Corduroy Takes a Bow by Viola Davis based on characters by Don Freeman. 2018.  The family from Corduroy visit a children’s theater production. Corduroy is the protagonist, but Lisa and her family are dark skinned, usually interpreted as African American. It looks as though the actress playing Mother Goose might have a darker skin tone than the other actors on stage too.

Neck & Neck by Elise Parsley. 2018.  The zoo patrons have different skin tones. The boy who holds the giraffe balloon has darker skin and dark hair. The protagonist is definitely Leopold the giraffe.

A white protagonist with a secondary character who is POC with a speaking role

Fancy Nancy: Oodles of Kittens by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2018.  Nancy and her best friend Bree each bond with a kitten. Bree is more of a secondary than a background character in this picture book.

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Meg Hunt. 2015.  The prince in this Cinderella retelling is darker skinned.

Animal or nonhuman protagonist with diverse background characters

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates. 2018.  The umbrella really is the protagonist. Characters of different skin tones are all represented. A woman wears a hijab. This is a story about acceptance and sharing space, sharing kindness.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. 2018.  Penelope Rex, a T-Rex, is the protagonist but her delicious classmates are a diverse bunch, including a hijabi and a yarmulke-wearing Jewish boy.

How to Catch a Snowman by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton. 2018.  One of the three children trying to catch this snowman is African American. I would say though that the snowman, who appears to also be the narrator of the story, is the protagonist.

White protagonists with a person of color as a background character

Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen and illustrated by Derek Desierto. 2018.  Juno herself may be white, though I am not entirely certain, but some of the women throughout history whom she becomes are not, included are Egyptian Cleopatra, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, and African Americans Serena Williams and Misty Copeland. Unfortunately because Juno becomes these women by stepping into their shoes, none of them are depicted as themselves. The ballerinas on the page around Juno as Misty have a variety of skin tones, and Egyptian are depicted serving Juno as Cleopatra.

Princesses Save the World by Savannah Guthrie and Allison Oppenheim and illustrated by Eva Byrne. 2018.  The two princesses whose kingdoms are in peril are both dark skinned. The princesses who convene at the Pineapple Kingdom’s palace to devise a solution to their problems seem to be from all over the world. 

Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. 2018.  The prince on his search for a bride—a partner—visits other kingdoms; the royal families of some are darker skinned. His knight appears also to have a darker complexion than does the prince, though whether that is his less-pampered life of knight errantry or genetic I am not certain.

I Am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos. 2018.  Neil Armstrong is of course himself white, but he meets with Katherine Johnson in the books, who is African American, and in the museum there is an African American boy.

The Magician’s Hat by Malcolm Mitchell and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. 2018.  The magician is white but the library audience is diverse.

Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2005.  At the restaurant there is an African American family.

Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2007.  In this, Nancy plays with other children and their dogs. One of those girls is Bree, who is African American, but in this Bree is not yet named, though her dog is. To be fair, neither of Nancy’s friends are named.

Fancy Nancy and the Wedding of the Century by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2014.  Nancy has never been to a wedding, but Bree has, and it is from Bree’s questions and experiences that Nancy imagines the wedding before arriving at the cabin. But Bree is only in two pages of this book.

How to Scare a Ghost by Jean Reagan and illustrated by Lee Wildish. 2018.  The main kids portrayed are white but at least one of the trick-or-treaters and one of the families offering candy Halloween night are African American.

Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex. 2018.  In the Star Wars films, Darth Vader is portrayed as white, though in this picture book, he is completely masked and cloaked in black. The kids sent by the narrator to ask him questions and climb all about him are a diverse bunch.

Builder Brothers: Big Plans by Drew Scott and Jonathan Scott and illustrated by Kim Smith. 2018.  Not all of the adults at the Scott family’s outdoor barbeque are white. The woman in the hardware store is African American.

A First Introduction to Audrey Hepburn by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara and illustrated by Amaia Arrazola. 2018.  This biography of Audrey Hepburn includes her in her later life traveling the world to visit and help more impoverished countries in Africa and India. The book portrays her enjoying her time with the children in these countries, playing soccer with the kids in Africa and sitting quietly beside a pond with kids in India.

I have one more book to note: Moon by Alison Oliver (2018). I want to be the first to admit that I may have this one totally wrong. The girl, Moon, is purple. She has classmates who are darker skinned than herself. I want to include this on the list of books that include a person of color but I don’t know where to put it.

Do you think or know that I misrepresented or misinterpreted any of these?  Please comment below.  Let me know.

Shelfie: July 15, 2017: Spine Envy

Standard

IMG_1431

Since I was headed to the hairdresser for the first time in several years this day, and I was considering being bold and asking them about dye as well, and I was eyeing the spine of The Host for inspiration.  I have yet to be bold enough to ask anyone how much such a treat would cost—or to decide to so permanently alter my hair.

But this fun story is not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to warn you all that I am still swamped in holiday-time preparations, and I haven’t hardly even thought about the book reviews that need finishing.  I hope you can all be content with images of books for a little longer still.

Shelfie: July 13-14, 2017: Too Much Time and Not Enough

Standard

I broke my humerus in a fall in July of 2017.  For a few days my view didn’t change as I basically didn’t move from the couch.  Luckily, my cat altered the view somewhat and the view involved lots of colorful spines of books, so at least my view wasn’t boring.  (Shown here is our poetry shelf and the beginning of the alphabet with anthologies stacked on top.)

While I was laid up, I took the time to return to Harry Potter, re-reading The Half-Blood Prince while I recovered.  Do you have books that you turn to when you’re in pain?  Or books that you have been meaning to return to but haven’t find the time?  I hope you do find the time, but I hope you don’t find the time in the same manner that I did.

This week I didn’t find time to finish, though I worked on several, any reviews for you.  I got wrapped up in hunting up gifts for my loved ones.  As we move into December, I wish you time to do everything that you wish to do, whatever it is you may wish to do.

Hopefully by next week, I’ll have something completed for you.

Book Review: Learning About Franco’s Spain in The Fountains of Silence

Standard

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

20191027_151251

I read an ARC of Ruta Sepetys’ The Fountains of Silence for Barnes & Noble’s YA Book Club. It isn’t probably a book that I would have otherwise picked up. Although Sepetys’ books are well reviewed, hers is not a genre into which I often venture, and Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray both about persecuted characters in WWII seem too desperately tragic for me to find reading them enjoyable; I tend to favor literature that helps me to escape the tragedy of life over that that reminds me of the tragedy of the past, as much as I know that it is important to remember.

But it’s only since 2007 that I have found history past the 1600s or so interesting.

Besides hearing the name Franco and knowing him to have been a leader of Spain, I was and am woefully ignorant about this period of Spanish and world history.

I learned a little from this novel.

I won’t pretend that I learned a lot or that I learned enough.

The novel centers one family, now adults or older teenagers, whose parents have been killed in the civil war and who are now living in the slums of Madrid and getting by as best as they can do. The son of an American oil baron comes to stay at a hotel where one member of the family, Ana Torres Moreno, works. Daniel Matheson is an outsider in Texas high society because of his Spanish mother, and his father frowns on his aspiration to become a photographer. In Franco’s Spain, the press is censored. Daniel quickly gets in trouble with the Guardia Civil for photographing aspects of Spanish society that Franco would rather be kept silent and out of the world’s eye—and the novel untangles why that particular photo gets his film confiscated, what act is being perpetrated by the nuns.

Daniel and Ana bond over Daniel’s photography and Daniel’s kindness and dreams of a more free future. Ana opens his eyes to the darker side of the Franco’s Spain, but she cannot open them enough to believe herself able to make a relationship with him—not until after Franco’s death, when the two of them have pined for one another for nearly two decades despite having no contact with one another in that time.

This plot was… too tight for me, a very rare complaint from me, but I could not suspend my belief enough to think that the Morenas and the Mathesons would be so intricately woven together as Sepetys writes them. The writing itself was good, but I had some trouble with that aspect of the plot. On the one hand I am glad that the book did not end on the sorrow of Daniel’s departure from Spain. On the other hand, that first part of the novel that ended in heartbreak was the more believable end. I might have ended with Daniel and Christina arriving in Spain and being greeted by Nick, though that would not have centered the story on the plight of Spain as Sepetys intends I think to do. SPOILERS Or just don’t have Daniel and Ana fall back into one another’s arms so easily! That would have solved a lot. And having Christina be Ana’s stolen niece and the child over which Ana’s cousin Puri, also adopted, so dotes, her Clover…. It’s all just too much—too much convenience and coincidence.

A few positive details: I appreciated the detailed glossary of Spanish terms and phrases in the back of the book. I have seen books suffer from a lack of such a glossary, and while I didn’t need it in every instance, I was glad to be able to check so easily what I remembered of Spanish classes now almost two decades past.

Sepetys opens many chapters with firsthand sources—pieces of interviews with US officials, newspaper clippings, photographs—which lend legitimacy to her portrayal of Franco’s Spain. If only because it shows that she absolutely did her research and dug into archives for information.

This is an entertaining introduction to the plight of the Spanish people under Franco’s rule, but I personally enjoyed learning from it more than I enjoyed the story of it.

***

Sepetys, Ruta. The Fountains of Silence. Philomel-Penguin Random, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 12+, Grades 7+.

This review is not endorsed by Ruta Sepetys, Philomel Books, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

A question to my readers:  Do you think I should include a photo of the books’ text in my reviews if I have one?  Will that help you decide to read or skip a book?

Book Review: Adventure, Asexuality, and Fighting the Patriarchy with A Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Standard

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

Spoiler in white.  Highlight the text to reveal it.

I skipped over the first book in this series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, (I will almost certainly return to it, especially as this series has just been announced to be continuing with a new book in August 2020) because I discovered that the second in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, features a protagonist who is asexual like me. And that excited me. This is the first book that I have ever read about an asexual character. This is the first book that I have read that includes any asexual person. Though no such term existed in British English in the 1700s, and it is never used in the text, Mackenzi Lee confirmed it in answering a question on Goodreads, and it is made clear in the text.

Seeing myself in text—and without the whole story being about asexuality—was so important, so fulfilling to me. Reading a teen novel in which the protagonist isn’t at any point seeking a relationship—is in fact seeking not to be in a relationship—is so refreshing.  Felicity does have to consider whether or not to settle with a man that she doesn’t love in the way that he loves her, and that undercurrent runs throughout the book, but that actually rings fairly true to my experience with asexuality too unfortunately, despite the 300 or so year difference filled with advances in women’s rights and autonomy between Felicity’s story and mine.  (Lee never specifies the year in which her book occurs, but I have determined it to be later than 1726 as that is the year of the founding of the Edinburgh School of Medicine.)

Felicity Montague is living with a Scottish baker when the book opens, and he fumbles a proposal that she flees, going to her brother and his lover in London. She has been turned out of meetings with every hospital board in Edinburgh. She is turned away by another in London, though one of the doctors afterwards suggests that she query her idol, Dr. Alexander Platt, who is currently in Stuttgart about to marry a childhood friend of Felicity’s with whom she had a falling out over their diverging interests. A Muslim sailor offers to fund Felicity’s travels to Stuttgart if Felicity will ask her no questions and will get her inside the Hoffmans’ home. Despite misgivings and her brother’s warnings, Felicity accepts Sim’s help, and the two embark across Europe.

Neither Felicity, Sim, nor Johanna Hoffman are happy with their lot, with the lot of women in the 18th century. Felicity wants to study and practice medicine. SPOILERS Sim wants to inherit the rule of her father’s pirate fleet. Johanna wants to become a biologist. All three seek to enter fields dominated and controlled and policed by men. Felicity writes a note to herself­—“You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”—words that still bear repeating by women today, taught to keep compliant, subservient, and quiet.  That these thoughts echo Tumblr and seem equally comfortable there as in a book set in the 18th century reflect on the slow pace of progress of women’s power.

The women’s attempts to overcome the obstacles of a patriarchal society were as much fun for me as was the chase across Europe and Africa and the possible fantastical turn that the book takes.

I finished this book in August, and I have put copies in the hands of several customers looking for something different, something fun, something to inspire hope since.  I have not bought myself a copy yet, but I intend to do so, as I am already wanting to read this book again—and I don’t intend to wait until the book is available in paperback.  I’ll look forward to catching up with these characters in August.

*****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.