Sunday, September 24, 2017


Don't forget—Banned Books Week starts today!
"Every year, there are hundreds of known attempts to remove books from bookstores, libraries and schools.  That’s thousands of lost opportunities to explore ideas that fuel understanding. Words have power and access to diverse ideas makes all of us more powerful. Celebrate the freedom to read by reading your favorite banned book during Banned Books Week, September 24 -  30.  Visit your local library for more information."

If you haven't created anything for your library yet, be sure to check out the #BannedBookWeek resources at the American Library Association website. [].

Easy things that you can use right away include:

Finally, I've posted this before, but Dav Pilkey's video contains my favorite words of wisdom on the topic of banned books. I hope you agree. 😊

Friday, September 22, 2017

Nothing Rhymes with Orange - a review

Nothing Rhymes with Orange
by Adam Rex
Chronicle Books, 2017 

It's hard not to like Adam Rex. His take on anything is usually genius, and so it is with fruit. Nothing Rhymes with Orange is funny metafiction that contains an orange who lamentingly inserts himself and his plight into the cheery rhymes,

"Happens every time ...
"The date is on a date and things are going pretty great."
"me and kumquat: always ignored."

"The kumquat and the currant felt left out until they weren't."
As the frontpapers note, "The illustrations in this book were rendered in fruit." Actual fruit images are given wildly expressive ink faces. A particular favorite is the manga-like expression of the starry-eyed orange when he finally receives some attention.

Requisite puns are in the author's bio.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange is simply good, fruity fun! Kids will eat it up.

Want more fun?  Download the Nothing Rhymes with Orange readers theater script from Chronicle Books.

Starred reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly

Monday, September 18, 2017

Freedom in Congo Square - an audiobook review

Freedom in Congo Square
By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Gregory Christie
Read by JD Jackson

Although I read the print book earlier, I recently reviewed the audio version of Freedom in Congo Square for AudioFile Magazine.

You can read my review of Freedom in Congo Square at AudioFile Magazine.

The following are some additional thoughts:

Freedom in Congo Square is a multiple award winning book, and the audio production with sound effects and music is flawless. However, the digital audiobook suffers without the accompanying picture book.  For full disclosure, I should mention that I've hosted the illustrator, Gregory Christie at my library and I am a huge fan, but the fact that he's a joyous and interesting person who wows children, is beside my main point. In the picture book version (for which he earned a Caldecott Honor), he captures the moods of each day so perfectly, and his transition from the torture of day-to-day chores to the joy of a music-filled Sunday afternoon at New Orleans' Congo Square captures a joy and resiliency of spirit missing in the audio version.  Although the narrator, JD Perkins, does a stellar reading, the accompanying music for the Sunday afternoon of freedom is rhythmic drumming with no hint of the tambourines, flutes, fiddles, and triangles mentioned in the foreword.

By all means, listen to the audiobook version, but have the picture book on hand as well!

You can still visit Congo Square!  It's located within New Orleans' Louis Armstrong Park. It is on our National Register of Historic Places.

I am slowly getting back up to speed following Hurricane Irma, which impacted almost every part of Florida. If you are a resident of hurricane impacted areas in Texas, Florida, Georgia, or Louisiana, please remember that your libraries may need your support, but they're also there to support you!  Libraries and everyday people are a combination that can weather any storm. 😊

If you want to help libraries in Florida and Texas, here's how:
  • The Florida Library Association has set up a Florida Libraries Disaster Relief Fund at
  • Want to help Texas libraries recover from Hurricane Harvey?  Click Here for more details about the Texas Library Association Disaster Relief Fund.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma

I am part of the mass exodus of people from vulnerable cities in Florida. No posts from me until I'm safely back home (or whatever is left of my home) on the Florida coast.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Miguel's Brave Knight - a review

Quick! Think of a book that fits the following:
  • long and difficult to read
  • not originally published in English
  • has an adjective specifically to describe it
  • has a popular idiom inspired by it
  • inspired a hit Broadway play
  • a bestseller in countries around the world
  • popular for centuries
  • inspired artwork by a master
(see Note below)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Some upcoming dates to celebrate at your library

I know that every librarian checks a copy of Chases Calendar of Events, but just in case these have slipped your mind, here are a few dates that are coming soon:

  • September 30—National Public Lands Day Grab your friends and family and head to the park!  Admission is free for all federal lands and many state parks on this day. Follow @NEEFusa on Twitter or

  • October 4-10—World Space Week The U.S. in under-represented in the celebration of this commemorative week, but any excuse to promote space is a good one in my book!

  • October 8-14—Fire Prevention Week Enlist the help of your local fire department to obtain materials or a visit from Sparky, the fire dog to your school or library.  Anything we can do to avoid a preventable tragedy is worth doing. 
Of course, don't forget that it's Library Card Sign-Up Month


This is by no means an exhaustive list - just what happens to be on my radar. 
Feel free to add anything I may have missed.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Picture Book Roundup - Una princesa, bears with cares, and a wolf who despairs

Picture Book Roundup - Una princesa, bears with cares, and a wolf who despairs

It's been a while since I've done a picture book roundup.  Here are a few newly or soon-to-be-published favorites. 

La Princesa and the Pea
by Susan Middleton Elya
Ill. by Juana Martinez-Neal
Penguin Young Readers, 2017

The highly successful duo of Susan Middleton Elya and Juana Martinez-Neal (La Madre Goose: Nursery Rhymes for Los Niños) has teamed up again for another re-working of a classic children's story.  In La Princesa and the Pea, Martinez-Neal uses acrylics, colored pencils and graphite on handmade paper to create Peruvian-inspired illustrations that burst with expression and humor, yet have an air of gentle softness and beauty.  It's a fine mix.  The rhyming text is sprinkled with Spanish words and phrases highlighted in red text.  A group of "strong workers," (which includes a girl and two small kids! 😃) stacks veinte mattresses while the queen munches  from her box of bombones.

The queen ate her treats.  The bed was stacked high, and right when they finished, la niña came by.

"Here is your cama, a place you can sleep."
"Thanks!" said the girl. "I won't even count sheep."
 It would be a wonderful story even without the surprise ending! Great bilingual fun with many humorous illustrated details to find.

A Glossary and A Note from the Illustrator are included.  Helpfully, the Glossary appears in the front!

Full disclosure: This was my favorite fairytale as a child.

The Curious Cares of Bears
by Douglas Florian
Ill. by Sonia Sánchez
Little Bee Books, 2017

I've long been a fan of Douglas Florian.  His books are poetic and nature-inspired.  His books on the four seasons (Autumblings, Winter Eyes, Summersaults, Handsprings) are favorites of mine, as is Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars.

The Curious Cares of Bears is a fanciful look at a year in the lives of bears.  Each double-spread illustration contains a short, rhyming explanation of the season's activity.

Some, like the one above, are mostly accurate (although I'm not sure a full-sized bear would venture out on the comically thin branch!).  Other activities are pure fancy,
In autumn there's playing in leaves all day long,
then building a campfire and sharing a song.
The illustrations are mixed media that appear to be a combination of charcoal sketches, simple brushwork, and digital enhancements.  The bears and their environs are portrayed simply with a measure of whimsy, and a reverence for nature. The combination of crafted rhyming and delightfully simple illustrations is beary likeable.

When a Wolf is Hungry
by Christine Naumann-Villemin
Ill. by Kris Di Giacomo
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2017

A hungry wolf decides that he has a hankering for a rabbit,
Not just any ordinary cottontail, though. What he craved was a grain-fed, silky-haired rabbit, one with just a hint of sweetness.  A city bunny.
So with knife in paw, Edmond Bigsnout heads to the city to find his rabbit. As it turns out, the perfect rabbit lives on the 5th floor of an apartment building.  Every time that Edmond gets close to the apartment, a friendly neighbor appears and begs to borrow Edmond's instrument of death - knife, chainsaw, rope. The story is full of rich and language and dialogue,
"Delighted to meet you.  Oh, look, you have some rope! Any chance I could have it? This great big package is such a nuisance."
"I suppose so," sighed the wolf.
The skunk was so pleased that he let out a little air.

Why do the neighbors need these items and where is Max Omatose, miniature rabbit?

A humorous ending will make everyone happy—perhaps there is something wonderful about living in a big city neighborhood. The double-spread illustrations in this generously-sized book are comically suspenseful.  Edmond rides a bicycle while wearing a black suit and bow tie. A middle-aged cow in a flowered dress and pearls eyes Edmond's pot hopefully.  A beautiful neighbor wolf, Miss Eyestopper, is straight out of film noir.

When a Wolf is Hungry is a perfect book for sharing with slightly older kids. I'd take this one on a school visit any day.

My review copies of La Princesa and the Pea and The Curious Cares of Bears were provided by the publishers at my request. My copy of When a Wolf is Hungry was obtained through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In the Shadow of the Sun - a review

In the Shadow of the Sun (audiobook)
by Anne Sibley O'Brien, read by Jackie Chung
Scholastic Audiobooks

North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), has been in our news feeds much too often lately for all the wrong reasons.  We hear much about the country's leader and its nuclear capabilities, however, we know very little about daily life in the closed, dictatorial nation.

 Anne Sibley O'Brien has lived in South Korea, speaks Korean, and has done extensive research to create this middle-grade thriller about two siblings who are attempting to escape the country after their father, a humanitarian volunteer, has been seized by the police.  Mia is an adopted Korean girl and has little in common with her tall, blond, blue-eyed brother.  But while she may be a minority in her Connecticut hometown, her appearance will prove to be an asset in Korea.

In the Shadow of the Sun could not be a more timely book, and it should appeal to readers of many genres.  It features family dynamics, sibling rivalry, travel, adventure, thrills, mystery, identity politics.  It's relatively short, just under 9 hours and worth your time. 

The publisher suggests Grades 4-7. Lexile is 700.

The audio snippet provided by the publisher on AudioFile Magazine's site, is from the author's foreword—not from the contents of the books itself, which is read by Jackie Chung.  The author's foreword and notes are well worth a listen, however.  It's clear that she is very passionate about depicting North Korean life as accurately as possible.

For more information:
Link to the CIA's The World Factbook page on the DPRK.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fault Lines in the Constitution - a review

Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect us Today
by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson
Peachtree 2017

Most Americans of all political stripes revere our Constitution and the far-reaching genius of the men who drafted it. With the glaring exception of their failure to do away with the heinous institution of slavery, the framers did a remarkable job of creating the rules for a new government.  But are those rules of government still serving us adequately today, or are they aiding the gridlock that we now see in all three branches of government?

YA author Cynthia Levinson, and constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson, wrote Fault Lines in the Constitution to highlight sections in The Constitution of the United States that they believe are contributing to our current political situation.  The Electoral College, the out-sized influence of small and sparsely populated states in the United States Senate, and the difficulty in amending the Constitution are several of the featured flaws.

Whether you agree with the arguments posited by the authors or not (for the record, I think that they make some very salient points), Fault Lines in the Constitution, can serve as a primer on some of today's most pressing political arguments, and as a jumping off point for classroom discussions. 

Are we still in the process of creating a more perfect Union?

Fault Lines content includes illustrations, timeline, bibliography, introduction, and parts with titles that reflect current concerns such as, "How Bills Become (Or, More Likely, Don't Become) Law," and "If America Threw a Party, Would You Be Let In?"

If you want to join in on the Constitutional discussion, join the authors of Fault Lines in the Constitution at this website. []

Another review of Fault Lines in the Constitution:

Read a copy of The Constitution of the United States here.

My copy of Fault Lines in the Constitution is an Advance Reader Copy provided by the publisher at my request. The final version will likely be updated to reflect recent changes adopted by the Senate regarding filibusters.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Stanley's Opposites and Stanley's Numbers - a review

Let me just say that I continue to be a fan of Stanley books by William Bee.  The latest are Stanley's Opposites and Stanley's Numbers from Peachtree (2017).  You'll find these on a shelf near you this fall.

These colorful books are everything one wants in a board book—bright colors, simplicity, simple concepts, minimal text.

If you're interested, Stanley has a new fan page.

You can read my other reviews of Stanley books here:

Thanks to Peachtree Publishers for my review copies.  I'm passing them along to tiny relatives ASAP.😃

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Graphic Shakespeare: Othello - a review

I was working on a collection development project and picked up this copy of Othello from my library in search of a good graphic Shakespeare.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to share them!

Graphic Shakespeare: Othello 
Adaptation by Vincent Goodwin
Graphic Planet, 2008

A fair introduction to a Shakespearean classic. The back matter includes a glossary, as well as notes on the play, Shakespeare, and the graphic novel adapters. This information would have been more useful as an introduction, as the first act is difficult to follow if the reader is not already familiar with the play.The dialogue retains a Shakespearean flavor, and it should be noted that not all unfamiliar words appear in the glossary. (I had to look up "bawn" in an online dictionary.)

The illustrated characters, besides Desdemona, have a dark and serious cast befitting this tragic play. Scenes featuring Desdemona offer the only break from the furtive treachery talking place in dark corners.The oversized dialogue bubbles, rather than the illustrations, often drive the story.
Othello is part of the Graphic Shakespeare series by Graphic Planet.

For young kids, I absolutely LOVE First Second's Stratford Zoo Midnight Review presents Macbeth.  (There's a "Romeo and Juliet" too, and I hope more to follow) My review is linked above.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Seashores - a review

About Habitats: Seashores
by Cathryn Sill
Peachtree, 2017

Approximately 40% of U.S. residents live near the coast, yet there is a dearth of nonfiction titles for very young readers on the topic.  Seashores fills this gap with beautiful, painted illustrations by wildlife artist, John Sill.  The illustrations are reminiscent of Audubon's style. Cathryn Sill offers very simple observations,

Plants have to be tough to live in the salty spray, strong winds, and hot sunshine at seashores.
Each sentence is in a large simple font on a white background.  The accompanying illustration is on the facing page.  In a nod to all types of seashores, there are depictions of muddy flats, rocky cliffs, palm-ringed beaches, and beaches from across the globe.  Wildlife and bird life are accurately represented in each location.

There is only one sentence or thought per page, however, for older readers, a note at the bottom offers the title and plate number of the illustration.  The author's Afterword lists each plate number with a small representation of the illustration and a paragraph that more fully describes the scene.  For the quote above, the description reads,

Many seashore plants grow close to the ground for protection from the wind.  Others have thick and waxy leaves that make it easier to store water.  Some have leaves covered with tiny hairs that protect the plant from the heat.  Pink Sand Verbenas have thick, water-storing leaves.  They live in sandy soil along the western coast of North America.
A Glossary and Bibliography complete the book.  The suggested age range for About Habitats: Seashores is from 3-7.  This is a lovely, educational book that will appeal to shore dwellers and mid-staters alike.

A Teacher's Guide for the About Habitats series is available here.

My copy of Seashores was provided by Peachtree Publishers.  It will be on a shelf near you in August.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A Fugitive in Walden Woods - a review

A Fugitive in Walden Woods
by Norman Lock
Bellevue Literary Press, 2017

A Fugitive in Walden Woods is historical fiction, a revisionist history featuring some of the greatest American minds of 1845. The book is part of The American Novels series.

At the cost of his shackled hand, the enslaved Samuel Long escapes via the Underground Railroad to relative freedom in Massachusetts. His benefactor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, gives him a job of sorts—monitoring the well-being of Emerson’s friend, Henry David Thoreau, who is in the midst of his famous sojourn in Walden Woods. In the occasional company of these men, Samuel becomes acquainted with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, William Lloyd Garrison, and other Transcendentalists. A Fugitive in Walden Woods is Samuel Long’s memoir of his year in Walden Woods, written through the lens of his later experiences.

So thoroughly does Lock set the mood that it is impossible to tell which words of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne are ones actually spoken or ones created by Lock. Though these men pondered the great questions of their age (and our own), the insertion of Samuel into the story, forces a more practical rendering of their great ideals. 

Samuel writes,

"Emerson had asked me what it meant to be human. I should have told him that a person cannot be human if his life is perpetually in the grip of terror and uncertainty. Just as cities are built by people unafraid of marauding barbarians and the caprices of a hostile universe, so will we become human when we no longer live in fear for our lives."

A Fugitive in Walden Woods does not shrink from the difficult questions of our time, including racism. It succeeds in its goal of nudging us to become deeper thinkers.

"It is easy to misjudge others—a commonplace remark, but nonetheless true. We close our minds to the completeness of others, striking from the portraits we draw of them in our imaginations all contradiction."

My copy of A Fugitive in Walden Woods was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Nonfiction Audiobooks slideshow

I created a slideshow of the nonfiction audiobooks that I've reviewed recently for Audiofile Magazine. Enjoy!

And don't forget to download your free audiobooks each Thursday from SYNC YA!  This week's two free audiobooks are available from June 22 – June 28

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Picture book audiobook reviews

Here are two audio books that I reviewed recently for AudioFile Magazine.  Both are historical fiction, picture books for older readers/listeners and are based on real events.

Flowers for Sarajevo by John McCutcheon is a child-centered look at living in a war-torn city. Though difficult to do, John McCutcheon coaxes optimism from misery. Read the full review for Flowers for Sarajevo at AudioFile Magazine.  

 Read an excerpt here: […/Flowers-for-Sarajevo-Excerpt.…]


The Cellist of Venice by Kim Maerkl with music by Bach, is a brief historical fiction audio book. Music and narration are combined to tell a magical, melancholy, musical, and mysterious story.  My full review of The Cellist of Venice is available from AudioFile in print or online.

Don't forget to check out Audiobook SYNC free audio books all summer! There are two titles available every Thursday.  One is a classic and one is a modern YA book with a similar theme to the classic.  Books are free and yours to keep!  Spread the word! You can find SYNC on Facebook.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Navigating Life with Epilepsy - a review

Navigating Life with Epilepsy
By David C. Spencer
Oxford University Press, 2016

I recently found myself in need of information on epilepsy, and found this book in my college library's collection.While I sincerely hope that you do not find yourself in a similar situation, I can recommend this book if you do.

Navigating Life with Epilepsy is not too difficult for the average person to understand, yet offers very specific medical and practical information. It contains a brief history of epilepsy, first aid for seizures, types of epilepsy, diagnostic and testing methods, real life scenarios, discussion of surgical options, a basic explanation of brain functions, treatment options for epilepsy, and more. A glossary, index, and a description of the most commonly prescribed medications are also included. Many of the sections begin with a real-life scenario making it easy to skip over medical information that is not pertinent to your interest or specific type of seizure.

It's helpful to know as much as possible about a life-altering medical condition, however, it's often difficult to process everything a doctor says during an office visit. Navigating Life with Epilepsy can assist in understanding treatment options and in knowing what questions to ask of your medical professional.  My family has found it helpful.

This is part of the Neurology Now Books series that includes Navigating Life with Migraine and Other Headaches, Navigating Life with a Brain Tumor, and other titles.

You can read a sample of Navigating Life with Epilepsy here.

For a fictional look at epilepsy, try 100 Sideways Miles, a YA novel by Andrew Smith. I reviewed 100 Sideways Miles for AudioFile Magazine.

If you're seeking more information on epilepsy, start with the Epilepsy Foundation website.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sam Sorts - a review

Sam Sorts

by Marthe Jocelyn
Tundra Books, 2017

Sam Sorts is a delightful combination of a messy room, a happy boy, collage art, and the math concepts of sorting and counting.
"Sam's things are in a heap. Time to tidy up. First he finds Obo the robot, one of a kind. Then two snarling dinosaurs, three little boxes, and four fake foods. How many things is that?" 
 Even Venn diagramming makes an appearance with circles created from the red and white string that is synonymous with bakery boxes. But it's not all math—there's fun as well. When creatures meet people, there is visual pandemonium. Realia and cut paper combine to make a mashup gathering featuring a lucha libre wrestler, mermaid, caveman, snake, alien, robot, cowboy, pirate, tiger and more. Sam Sorts is a perfect book for sharing one-on-one or in very small groups. The opportunities for counting and sorting are endless and can inspire similar activity at home.

My copy of Sam Sorts was provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A comparison of Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow

I recently read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
(Penguin, 2016) which I consider the best, new adult novel I have read in years. I followed it up with his first book, Rules of Civility.

Here is my take on both.

First - the most basic differences:

Rules - spans one year
Gentleman - spans one adult lifetime
Rules - social climber
Gentleman - social outcast
Rules - Manhattan
Gentleman - Metropol Hotel, Moscow
Rules - female protagonist
Gentleman - male protagonist

My takeaway: Become the master of your circumstances or they will master you.

The protagonists in Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow manage their circumstances with aplomb, however, the characters could not be more different. One's fortunes are ascendant, the other's—quite the opposite. Both protagonists are smart, well-read, and appreciative of life's finer things.

Rules of Civility spans a single year—1938 in New York City. The young secretary, Katherine Kontent, can recognize a custom-made suit, an expensive lighter, or a fine glass of liquor because she aspires to have fine things. A Gentleman in Moscow spans a tumultuous period in Russian history—from the Bolshevik Revolution to the Cold War. It takes place within the confines of the fictionalized Metropol Hotel in Moscow, where Count Alexander Rostov has been sentenced to a lifetime of house arrest. He, too, can easily recognize a custom-made suit or a fine glass of liquor—not because he aspires to have them, but because he had always had them.

Katherine (Katey) is a woman who enjoy life's smaller pleasures. She enjoys people-watching, a well-written book, a well-timed phrase or gesture. But her enjoyment is fleeting—a moment marked in time, appreciated, and discarded without sentimentality.

The Count enjoys similar simple pleasures—but he savors them, appreciating that it is these small joys that make a life worth living. Although his fortunes literally and figuratively spiral downward, his spirit and joie de vivre are rarely diminished. At the worst of times, he finds pleasure in the most basic events.

 The Count has deep, genuine, and lasting connections with those people he counts among his friends—be they cook, revolutionary, poet or child. Katey, too, appreciates her friends, but in a more offhand manner—seeking or eschewing their company as it suits her mood or needs. Still, each has an ethic that suits his/her particular place and time.

Amor Towles' writing is replete with short literary passages that are worth reading on their own. That he has filled two historical fiction novels with thought-provoking commentary of literary quality is impressive. The words of a young girl in pre-WWII Manhattan and a disgraced aristocrat in post-revolutionary Russia jump off the page and insert themselves in the modern world in a way that is urgent and immediate, and not without surprises.

I know that I am late to the party and both books have garnered numerous awards, but I would like to add my hearty recommendation of Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. I cannot wait to see what Amor Towles will offer next!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Monticello - a review

Monticello: A Daughter and Her Father; A Novel
by Sally Cabot Gunning
Harper Collins, 2016
ISBN 9780062320438

No one can ever recount with certainty the conversations and events that transpired within Thomas Jefferson's sphere of influence at his famous Virginia plantation, Monticello.  However, because of his status as, arguably, the most famous of the nation's founding fathers, the particulars of his business dealings, his ownership of enslaved people, and other financial matters are as well known today as they were in his own time.  Also well-documented are his periods of travel to/from Monticello and the important life events (births, deaths, marriages, etc.) of his legal family members.

Armed with this information, Sally Cabot Gunning has crafted a thoughtful piece of historical fiction that explores the relationships of Martha Jefferson, the former President's eldest child, with her father, her siblings, her large family through marriage, and the people enslaved by her family—particularly Sally Hemmings.

The story unfolds in three parts, arranged by date and the plantation at which Martha lived. It begins with the years 1789-1800, and her residence at the Varina planation with her husband Thomas Randolph, whom she married shortly after returning from France.

Martha had decried the decadence and filth of Paris to Tom Randolph, but in truth, there was something as decadent about Monticello, although in a different way—the slower pace of life, perhaps, or the way her father's French wines and more elaborate French furniture, just now beginning to arrive from France, seemed out of place.  And then Negroes.  They crept about in an unnerving, pantherlike silence that Martha hadn't noticed before she left for France.  What did they hear as they moved about? And why hadn't Martha ever before wondered about that?  Martha puzzled over what seemed such a great change, either in her or in life at Monticello, she truly didn't know which.  She asked Maria, pointing as Sallys' sister Critta whispered out of the room after stirring up the fire, "Were they always so quiet?"
(from page 20)

This finely crafted work of historical fiction gently forces the reader to view history through a variety of lenses, none of which are rose-colored. Wishing for an end to the family's dependence on slavery, Martha nevertheless becomes embroiled in a lifelong conflicted existence - constrained to the restrictions and social mores of a Virginia planter's wife and daughter of a President, which render her often helpless yet still complicit in her family's continued connection to enslaved people. The political upheavals of the new nation provides the backdrop of the story, but politics is not the story.  This is a story of a woman's struggle to be a good wife, to be a good mother, to honor her father, and to help shape his legacy.


My copy of Monticello was an Advance Reader Copy supplied by the publisher.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors - and its Malaysian alternative

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

by Drew Daywalt with pictures by Adam Rex
Harper Collins, 2017

I read The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors on the advice of a librarian friend (thanks, Rebecca). It tells the fictional origin story of the game that siblings and playground pals have used to decide things for as long as one can remember.  Of course, with the combination of Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex, you know it's going to be funny.

I don't want to review it, however, I want to tell a story.

When my children were little, a Malaysian friend of mine came over to visit.  We each had three kids and they played together often.  When I suggested that they decide something with Rock Paper Scissors, she was puzzled, so I explained the concept.

"Oh!" she said.  "I know that.  In Malaysia, it's bird, water, rock," and she made the appropriate hand gestures for each.  It took me a minute to wrap my head around that.  Water wears down rock, bird drinks water, rock crushes bird.  At first, it seemed a gruesome game for little kids to play, but who am I to say? Honestly, I always thought that rock covers paper was a rather lame win. Is Bird Water Rock not a more accurate depiction of how things work in the world? 

My roundabout point here is that we must always remember that everyone comes into life with a different backstory.  That's what makes the world such a rich and interesting place. That it the reason for the #WeNeedDiverse books campaign.  Not only is it comforting to see yourself in the pages of books; it's eye-opening and mind-expanding and refreshing to see someone different in the pages of books.

And speaking of refreshing, I kid you not ... On another warm summer day, nearly twenty years ago, I asked this same friend if I could get her a cold drink.  She asked for a shandy.

"A what?" I asked.

"Half beer, half lemonade," she said. "We drank that in Malaysia all the time."

"Ha! ha!" I laughed.  "That sounds awful!"

That was nearly twenty years ago.  How I wish we would have run with that thought to the patent office or the nearest brewer!  Now shandies are so popular - but don't kid yourself into believing that Budweiser invented them.  Just ask someone from Malaysia.

So, enjoy The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (a sample is below), but keep Bird Water Rock in the back of your head.  Both are worthy of your attention.