When We Were Vikings

46205807Title: When We Were Vikings
Author: Andrew David MacDonald
ISBN: 9781982126766
Pages: 323 pages
Publisher/Date: Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., c2020.

My favorite part of the article was about the strongest kind of woman warrior, called a skjaldmær. They are not Valkyries, but are almost as strong. Women don’t get chosen to be warriors very often in Viking legends. Girls at age twelve who were very strong and fit and could do battle with the same strength as the boys could become skjaldmær, which let them become warriors. I was not a king, so I wondered if I could be a skjaldmær. But first I would need to have a legend. (40)

Twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast Zelda MacLeish lives with her brother Gert, who takes care of her after their mom died and their father abandoned them. Zelda lives her life by rules, such as take off your shoes upon entering, Gert answers the door, and no talking about Gert with her psychologist Dr. Laird. But lately, things have been happening that Zelda needs to talk about. Zelda is thinking about taking the next step with her boyfriend (which Gert REFUSES to discuss). Instead, Gert’s been lying to her, struggling with going back to school, and working with some people that she doesn’t like. Deciding that in order to become a legend, she must be brave, defeat the villain and save her tribe, Zelda discovers along the way there is more to being a Viking than just sword and shield.

The descriptions that I read before starting this book made it sound like a good match for fans of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman or The Helpline by Katherine Collette. A woman with a strange obsession sets her life to rights with the help of understanding friends. I was honestly a little shocked upon starting the book by the number of swear words and crude language. It’s appropriate for Gert’s temperament and does lessen slightly as the plot progresses, but it was unexpected and the family’s favorite curse words — “Fuck-dick” and “Shit-heel” — are liberally scattered throughout the book.  While it makes me pause when considering it for a book discussion pick, I think if your book club can handle it they will find some meaty discussion in this story of diversity and overcoming obstacles.

For instance, there are refreshingly honest discussions about sex, whether it involves the promiscuous Gert or the more naive and innocent opinions and lessons for Zelda. Zelda is dealing with the effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and navigating the world with a high functioning cognitive impairment. She visits the Community Center on a regular basis to interact with other impaired individuals, including her boyfriend Marxy. Typical of probably most sibling dynamics, Gert is squeamish about discussing the birds and the bees with his younger sister, and that dubious honor falls to his surprisingly grounded, African American ex-girlfriend Annie, whom Zelda nicknamed “AK47”. As the voice of reason, she helps Zelda see that her brother is struggling too, he doesn’t have all the answers, and some of the answers he does have might not be the right ones. In a climatic ending, AK47 is the one who rescues Zelda from her own attempts to rescue her brother.

Between AK47, Dr. Laird, and the gay community center manager Big Todd, Zelda’s tribe has a diverse support system that comes to her aid when she gets in over her head. As previously mentioned, Gert has his own struggles and issues but lacks that same support system. Both AK47 and Zelda try, but Gert isn’t interested in asking or accepting help. After their mother died, Zelda and Gert were sent to live with an abusive uncle, and Gert has engaged in some shady activities in order to first get them out of that situation and then keep them housed, clothed, and fed. He’s assumed a lot of responsibility for a young guy, and doesn’t want to burden Zelda with any of the specifics or logistics. When Zelda starts to realize the stress he is under, her attempts to help are either unwelcome or go horribly wrong.

Zelda’s own quest and search to become a legend have a noticeable influence. The smallest spoiler of those changes is that a member of her community center group pursues employment, but Zelda inspires others to reexamine their own lives. The open ending not only leaves readers to consider where the characters might be headed, but also reminds readers that the story is never over. There is always time to change your quest and make yourself into a legend, even if it’s just in your tribe’s eyes.

The Museum of Modern Love

30741918._SY475_.jpgTitle: The Museum of Modern Love
Author: Heather Rose
ISBN: 9781616208523
Pages: 284 pages
Publisher/Date: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, c2018. (originally published in Australia in 2016 by Allen & Unwin)

The Artist Is Present distorts the line between everyday routine and ceremony. Positioned in the vast atrium within a square of light, the familiar configuration of a table and chairs has been elevated to another domain.
Visitors are encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork rather than remaining spectators.
Though Abramovic is silent, maintaining a nearly sculptural presence with a fixed pose and gaze, the performance is an invitation to engage in and complete a unique situation . . . (17)

The book revolves around the fictionalized interactions of people who visited a real life art exhibit called “The Artist is Present” put on by Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art. It began exactly a decade ago, from March 9 to May 31, 2010. 1,554 people sat across from Marina during that time frame and simply looked at each other for an amount of time specified by the person sitting across from her. There is a complete record of everyone who sat with her (along with some photos of the artist herself) published in a book and also available online.  Told in alternating, multiple viewpoints, the main characters include:

  • Arky Levin, a music composer who is dealing with his wife Lydia’s debilitating disease. She has issued a court order forbidding him from visiting, even though at this stage she is basically nonverbal. They have a daughter Alice who makes an appearance.
  • Brittika Van Der Sar is writing her PhD on the artist, and makes several trips from overseas to visit the project.
  • Jane Miller is coping with the loss of her husband Karl and runs a dairy farm that he left behind.
  • Marina (the artist) was previously married to Ulay. They did performance work together for about a decade, and then decided to part ways by walking from opposite sides of the Great Wall of China to meet in the middle and say goodbye. It was filmed. Her performance artwork often involves nudity, isolation, and/or physical harm.
  • The ghost of Marina’s mother, Danica, also makes an appearance.
  • Portions of the book are narrated by an unnamed, unknown being I thought of as inspiration or a muse (but others might have other ideas)

It’s difficult to really summarize this book because so much of the plot takes place as internal dialog. It’s an introspective about art in many forms: what makes something art, who it appeals to, and the difficulties in creating and interpreting art. It’s almost a character study held together by the joint experience of the art, and how circumstances and positions in life can affect how you see the world. I think the book, like the exhibit that inspired it, might be something that sticks with readers who find it but might not be something that most people would seek out. It first came to my attention as a Book Club pick through Hoopla, and I used it for my own book club last month. While there were questions included at the end of the publication, I came up with some of my own based on the many memorable quotes throughout the novel:

  1. What do you think of Marina’s art pieces? Some people who come to view it also disagree about whether or not it’s art, including her mother. Is it art? How does Marina’s “in your face” artwork compare to Antony Gormley’s sculptures on high rises?
  2. Jane at one point says “I guess feelings are invisible. Funny how we don’t teach that at school. You know, how things that are unseen are nevertheless real.” What is Marina trying to make real to people?
  3. Brittika has a theory that Marina “didn’t like being alone”. Most of the characters have lost someone in their life or feel alone, from Arky to Jane and even Marina in a way. Do you think their loss influences how they view art? Are we ever really alone?
  4. Why do you think Lydia forbids Arky from seeing her? Is she right in thinking that he can’t and/or won’t care for her? Who is the selfish one in this relationship? How did you feel when he finally visited her at the end of the book?
  5. Pictures of the people who sat with Marina were taken throughout the exhibit by Marco Anelli. Is the photographer making his own work of art, or simply recording an event? Is there a difference?
  6. Marina is quoted as saying “Failure is so important. You have to experiment. Failure is part of the process.” This exhibit was often deemed a success. Who can decide when a failure happens?
  7. Francesca, the wife of Marina’s agent, recommended another female art critic for an interview because she “enjoyed swirling these little pools of influence for other women. God knew, the women of the world needed all the help they could get.” (205) This book takes place in 2010. Ten years later, do you women still need all the help they can get?
  8. Brittika asks another attendee named Charlie about the show, and he says “I don’t think it would work in any other city nearly so well. I would need more.” Do you think that’s true? Where else could have Marina held her performance?
  9. Ulay and Marina “dressed for the film”, with her in red and Ulay in blue as they walked across the Great Wall. Do you think they were more focused on the performance or their relationship? Do you think one detracted/distracted from the other?
  10. Would you have sat across the table from Marina? What do you think you would have experienced?

I feel that, just like Marina Abramovic’s art, this book has to be experienced to really receive the whole affect.

Night of Miracles

Friday Feature — Review with Book Discussion Questions!
Friday Features are an irregular occurrence on my blog that include things other than book reviews, something a little extra. This might include author interviews (hint to any authors out there who want to get interviewed), bibliographies, book trailers and program ideas. While I’m not limiting myself to talk about these things just on Fridays, it will be something extra special to finish off the work week.

39025786.jpgTitle: Night of Miracles
Series: Arthur Truluv #2
Author: Elizabeth Berg
ISBN: 9780525509509
Pages: 267 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2018.

She open her eyes to see a familiar figure at the side of her bed, his hands clasped in front of him like a shy person. She rolls her eyes. The angel is wearing jeans, a plaid flannel shirt, sneakers. His wings are awfully ratty for someone in service to the On High.
He extends a glowing hand. “Lucille Rachel Howard –”
“Not on your life,” she says. “I’m babysitting a little boy tonight.”
The angel looks confused.
“If you knew what you were doing, you would know perfectly well that I have a child sleeping right down the hall and I’m not going to die and have him wake up alone with a corpse. That family needs me right now. Also, when it is time, I want Frank Pearson to escort me out of here, not you.” (188)

Lucille Howard knows she’s getting up there in age. She’s moving slower than she used to and her body aches more than it used to, but she still has work to do. Newly engaged Maddy is counting on Iris to bake her wedding cake. The baking school is going so well that she has hired newly divorced Iris as an assistant, even though she knows nothing about baking. And the new neighbors in Lucille’s old house next door need a caregiver for their son Lincoln while they deal with some issues of their own. Besides, Lucille is still waiting for her miracle, and she’s intent on sticking around until that happens, not even the angel of death.

Fans of The Story of Arthur Truluv  might be slightly disappointed that they don’t get to see more of Nola and Maddy, but author Elizabeth Berg introduces plenty of new characters to replace them in her quirky cast. In addition to Lucille’s new neighbors Jason and Abby and their son Lincoln (quickly nicknamed Link by Lucille), Iris also must meet her new neighbor, an overweight taxicab driver named Tiny Dawson who is not-so-secretly in love with the waitress Monica. Monica reciprocates Tiny’s feelings, but neither of them know that about the other. A predictable comedy of errors ensues between Tiny and Monica, but the inevitable results are still enjoyable to watch unfold. Mason, Missouri, like Jan Karon’s Mitford, is a small town that looks after each other, which is something we can all appreciate and envy. Technology is sparse, jobs and schedules are flexible, and while there may be bouts of loneliness the intimate friendships the residents have with each other are nurtured and treasured. It’s an idyllic setting where the drama is of the every day variety.

I found it somewhat ironic that like her first book, this one also ends with a death and a bequeathing of a house. I’m not sure if that says more about the author or about the nature of life itself, that death is when the story ends and home is where you make it. Since our senior book club loved the first one so much, I chose the second one for this month’s discussion. I’ll probably save the third book in the series — The Confession Club — for next year as I think of them as light stories about love perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Discussion Questions (SPOILERS AHEAD)

  1. Early in the story, Lucille says “Oh, he was wonderful, Frank, and the best thing was that he made her kind of wonderful, too. That is the gift of love, not only that you have somebody but that you are changed by somebody.” (15). Does Lucille find that love again during the book? Does Lucille grant that kind of love to others?
  2. Iris asks Tiny “If you could do what seems like an impossible thing, what would it be?” What would you do if you could do what seems like an impossible thing?
  3. Did you learn any new tricks for baking from the classes that Lucille and Iris taught?
  4. Lucille is given a choice at the end, to pick from Frank coming for her and letting Abby live. Do you agree with her choice? Since Abby ended up living anyway, do you think the angel really meant that she couldn’t have both?
  5. The author starts and ends the book with almost identical one-page passages. Why do you think she did that? Did it mean something different at the beginning of the story than at the end of the story?
  6. Tiny and Monica avoid starting a relationship with each for a long time. Why? Who do you think should have taken the first step?
  7. Upon Abby’s cancer diagnosis, Jason reflects on his reaction when Lincoln was born. “God, I’m glad I don’t have to do this. And he felt guilty about that.” (66) When people are happy they aren’t suffering the misfortunes of others, should they feel guilty?
  8. Monica’s mother was “from a time when young women got married around twenty or so, or they were called old maids. […] Old maid is a term that is never used anymore.” (50-51) If we did still use the term old maid, at what age do you think an unmarried woman would be considered one today? Is there an equivalent term for an unmarried man?
  9. Iris and her husband at the time Ed get into a fight about their assumptions regarding having kids. Iris never asked and Ed never told. Who do you feel should have acted first?
  10. Where you disappointed that you didn’t see more of Maddy’s life, or happy that she had so successfully moved on from where she was in the first book?

2019 Geisel Award

The American Library Association Youth Media Awards are announced in January, and I’m slowly working my way through the winners and honorable mentions. I got a little sidetracked last year, so these are the winners from 2019. The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award  is awarded for the most distinguished American book for beginning readers. There was one winner and four honor books named in 2019.


36590352Title: Fox the Tiger
Author/Illustrator: Corey R. Tabor
ISBN: 9780062398673
Pages: 32 pages
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2018.

“I wish I were a tiger,” says Fox. (unpaged)

With that one statement, and that first picture of fox looking at a five page pullout of a picture of a tiger, we poignantly feel the discontent festering in Fox. The whole story, told in third person, never reveals the gender of any of the characters even though the back cover summary uses the pronoun he. Painting black stripes on their body and tail makes Fox feel better, and soon Rabbit and Turtle have joined in on this game of pretend. When rain comes though and ruins their play, it’s Squirrel who points out what an enviable position Fox is in, and Squirrel drives that point home in the last picture. A universal tale of fitting in, figuring out your talents, and finding what makes you special, this story will connect with young children. Corey Tabor accomplishes a lot with minimal facial movement, instead conveying feelings through the posing and posture of the animals. See Rabbit’s dance sequence as an example, and look for Turtle’s tiny white eyes peeking out of the shell while listening to Fox’s and Squirrel’s conversation. Part of a series, there is more Fox to appreciate. Cute, but as you will soon see, not my favorite of this year’s recognized titles.


38533032Title: See Pip Flap
Series: The Adventures of Otto
Author/Illustrator: David Milgrim
ISBN: 9781534416369
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Simon Spotlight, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2018.

This hilarious book had me laughing aloud while reading it the first time, to the point where people were looking and I shared with a friend when they arrived. You know that it’s a good book when something sparks that kind of reaction. No offense intended to Corey Tabor, but I really wish this had won over Fox the Tiger. This is the second of Milgrim’s Otto series to win an Honor but not the Geisel Award. I hope if the series continues, he’ll be stop being “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride” and take home the “first place prize”. Repetition wins in this book. Read it with feeling to any story time crowd or class visit.

37534387Title: Tiger vs Nightmare
Previously reviewed here this is another title that I think could have, should have, would have won over Fox the Tiger.






35959964Title: The Party and Other Stories
Series: Fox + Chick
Author/Illustrator: Sergio Ruzzier
ISBN: 9781452152882
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books, LLC, c2018.

Three stories give the illusion of a chapter book in this early reader, especially when you consider the “Contents” page listing each of them. The humor is similar to Elephant and Piggie, with Fox being the more responsible member of the duo who has to continually deal with Chick’s immaturity. In the title story, Chick asks to “use the bathroom,” which Fox agrees to, only to discover that they had very different ideas of what that use entailed. In the second story, Chick is incredulous that Fox would want to eat vegetables over other live animals. Fox’s frustrations towards Chick are finally visible in the third story, where he is trying to paint a landscape and Chick keeps inserting himself in the picture, only to be repeatedly waylaid from sitting still for his portrait. The pictures are watercolor and ink, but they make me think of bright highlighters, with nearly fluorescent blues, pinks, greens, yellows, and oranges on off white paper. They are cute, but lack memorability. Case in point, I had to re-read the entire short book before writing this review. A confidence builder for sure as children transition from readers to chapter books. But a classic? That’s questionable.

38371979.jpgTitle: King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth
Series: King & Kayla #4
Author: Dori Hillestad Butler
Illustrator: Nancy Meyers
ISBN: 9781561458806
Pages: 47 pages
Publisher/Date: Peachtree Publishers, c2018.

In an age where they talk about lack of diversity in children’s books, I think their assertions definitely prove correct in evaluating the Geisel Awards. Main characters were primarily animals or other with two tigers, a mouse, a robot, a fox, a chick, and a dog. At least Kayla and her family plays an important supportive role in King’s search for the missing tooth, and so too does their white friend Mason. Kayla has lost her tooth and uses process of elimination to find it. In emptying her backpack, searching the car, and visiting Mason, readers see King’s enthusiasm towards helping his owner find the tooth. The tooth fairy still visits and provides payment, but Kayla is still trying to solve the question of where her tooth went. Persistence pays off and King is ultimately the one who finds it, although Kayla must deal with the consequences of King’s enthusiasm. The fourth book in an early reader series, this is the first adventure I’ve read and it doesn’t appear you have to read them in any order. A fifth one was published in 2019 and a sixth one is slated for publication this year, showing the series may continue for some time. It’s a story of friendship and research skills.


Play How It Shapes the Brain.jpgTitle: Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Author: Stuart Brown, M.D., with Christopher Vaughan founder of the National Institute for Play
ISBN: 9781583333334
Pages: 229 pages
Publisher/Date: Avery, a member of the Penguins Group Inc., c2009.

Far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive. […] We need newness of play, its sense of flow, and being in the moment. We need the sense of discovery and liveliness that it provides. We also need the purpose of work, the economic stability it offers, the sense that we are doing service for others, that we are needed and integrated into our world. (126)

I first became aware of this book from a webinar Bringing Play to Adult Services Programming: It’s Not Just for Kids hosted by Library Journal in October. It was surprising to me that this book was 10 years old, as we’re facing the same questions it poses almost a decade later. Brown asserts “The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.” (6) Some libraries in pursuit of play are conducting Nerf wars, coloring (remember that craze), board game gatherings,  and “Recess” programs for adults, allowing them the chance to rediscover and recapture that innocence of doing something because you want to have fun. My library recently put out a community puzzle, and it’s lovely to see people who pass by, then come back and find one piece, then two, then inevitably sit down and work on it diligently for five or ten minutes (or something longer).

Brown lists seven priorities of play

  • Apparent purposeless — no apparent survival value
  • Voluntary — not obligatory or required by duty
  • Inherent attraction — fun, makes you feel good, exciting, and cure for boredom
  • Freedom from time — so fully engages us that we loose sense of time
  • Diminished consciousness of self — fully in the moment and not worry about ourselves
  • Improvisational potential — open to chance
  • Continuation desire — a desire to keep doing it and when it’s over to do it again

I’ve “attached” the presentation slides and my (somewhat incomplete) notes to this post so you too can hopefully have the “light bulb” moment I had when listening to this webinar. What I did not realize is that this is a book that cannot, and should not, be read quickly. Take notes and take breaks, because several months after reading this book and “attending” the webinar, I don’t remember the specifics about his theories or the studies that were cited.

However, I do remember how the webinar and the book made me feel afterwards. It made me stop and think about what we as libraries are doing to promote these priorities. Do-It-Yourself events where participants learn a craft are a start, but how can we do more? We bring in speakers and presenters on a variety of topics, but the musical acts bring the biggest crowds. Our scavenger hunt had over 50 participants last summer, and there was no prize. What are you offering adults for a chance to have fun, engage in a passion or hobby, and encourage a desire to keep doing it? We advocate for hands on learning and active events for youth, but then most of the adult programs are sit-down and listen. How do we change that? Do we need to? How do you promote play?

Bringing Play to Adults Webinar Oct 2019  Bringing Play to Adults Webinar Notes Oct 2019

2019 Caldecott Awards

The American Library Association Youth Media Awards are announced in January, and I’m slowly working my way through the winners and honorable mentions. I got a little sidetracked last year, so these are the winners from 2019. The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded for the most distinguished American picture book for children. There was one winner and four honor books named this year.


35580105Title: Hello Lighthouse
Author/Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
ISBN: 9780316362382
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2018.

On the highest rock of a tiny island
at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.
It is built to last forever.
Sending its light out to sea, guiding the ships on their way. (unpaged)

2016’s Caldecott Award Winner Sophie Blackall does it again! After previously winning with Finding Winnie (which I’m realizing now I never reviewed on this blog, whoops!), Blackall has a repeat win with Hello Lighthouse. Her ink and watercolor images have a swooping feel, with the repeating motives along the water evoking in turn either swarming fish or rolling waves. Roundness is everywhere, from the exterior wind, waves, and northern lights to the interior rugs and rooms, from the circular insets of the lighthouse keeper and his eventual family to the concentric circles of the light itself when we finally get close enough to see the details. While physically thematic, it’s narrative is also round in a way as we see the entire course of one light keeper’s journey from arrive to leaving the literal island of light. If you look closely, especially the rock formations at the base of the lighthouse, I believe that she drew each lighthouse individually, as no two are exactly the same. 

It’s a romanticized view for sure of what might have been a lonely lifestyle, as there is no front yard, or grass, or people in the lighthouse besides who lives in the lighthouse. But then again, who doesn’t romanticize lighthouses? The lighthouse itself routinely calls out to passing ships “Hello! Hello! Hello!”. Even in the striking image halfway through the book of the lighthouse enshroud in fog, you can still see the stark white shape and the greeting changes from a cheery hello to a more resonating “Clang! Clang! Clang!”. For fans of water, lighthouses, or simply stellar illustrations, curl up for this view of a quieter lifestyle. Undeniably my favorite of the titles recognized, don’t miss the facts about lighthouses at the very end.


28234753Title: Alma and How She Got Her Name
Author/Illustrator: Juana Martinez-Neal
ISBN: 9780763693558
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press, c2018.

Alma Sofia Esperanze Jose Pura Candela had a long name — too long, if you asked her. (unpaged)


The graphite and colored pencil drawings set this story apart from the rest of the Honor Books this year. With pink accents for Alma and blue accents for her ancestors, the color increases as Alma comes to learn and appreciate the influences and stories behind her rather unique and long name. But the first and last page is all Alma, centered in the frame and bringing the focus where it should be, since as her father tells her “I picked the name Alma just for you. You are the first and the only Alma. You will make your own story.” The pictures draw from the Juana Martinez-Neal’s Peruvian background and culture, with references to ancestral spirits, geography, and and dress incorporated into the photo album that Alma and her father flip through. Watch carefully, as Alma slowly becomes increasingly engaged and interactive with her ancestors portraits. This story reminded me of “My Name” from The House on Mango Street. There are several other family history themed picture books this could be paired with, including Tell Me A Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee.

34362953Title: A Big Mooncake for Little Star
Author/Illustrator: Grace Lin
ISBN: 9780316404488
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc., c2018.

“Now, Little Star,” Mama said, “your Mooncake took us a long time to bake, so let’s see if you can make it last awhile. Can you remember not to touch this Big Mooncake until I tell you to?”
“Yes, Mama!”

Little Star however is HOPELESS when it comes to avoiding the Mooncake, and every night she sneaks out of bed and nibbles a little from the cake. Placing all the focus on Little Star (and her stuffed rabbit), I loved the decision to keep the background solid black with very few props, to the point of even forgoing a bed and just having a bright yellow blanket and two white pillows. The matching star covered pajama are also a nice touch, especially how they move with the characters. While I can appreciate the details on the last page where we see Little Star and her mother making a new mooncake (did anyone else catch the Pegasus necklace hanging on the knob and the milk spilling in a circular pattern?), I was slightly disappointed that minimalism didn’t extend there. Grace Lin could have easily eliminated the side board and left the giant table and chair with Mama and Little Star. The quantity of crumbs scattered throughout the pages also increases as the story progresses alongside Little Star’s nibbling habit. The author hides a note on the back cover end flap that explains this story “doesn’t have any roots in Chinese mythology,” which I think was an important distinction to make as it has the simplicity and softness of a traditional pourquoi tale and people may try to use it as such.

35887584Title: The Rough Patch
Author/Illustrator: Brian Lies
ISBN: 9780062671271
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, c2018

Evan and his dog did everything together […]
But one day, the unthinkable happened.
Evan laid his dog to rest in a corner of the garden, and nothing was the same. (unpaged)

I had a hard time believing that Brian Lies hadn’t won or been honored by this award yet, probably because I’m so familiar and in love with his Bats at the series (which I also haven’t ever reviewed here, man I’m striking out today). In telling the story of Evan and his unnamed dog, tragedy strikes just as we get to know the pair. With his dog gone, Evan enters a deep depression, destroying the garden, the thing that brought him so much joy and pride. However, one pumpkin’s drive to survive encourages him to aid it’s growth, and soon his hope for the future grows too. The book ends wordlessly, with allowing readers to absorb all the emotion that is conveyed in the minimalist final spread.

Caldecott committees seem to like the garden, with this title joining previous honorees of Grandpa Green by Lane Smith and The Gardener by David Small. The garden setting allows for textures and colors and shading that completely fill the paper. After the initial outburst following the burial, Evan’s face is either hidden by goggles/safety glasses or is shadowed by the foliage until he starts reaching out to friends and resuming his old habits. Did you see the gloves and boots have holes for claws?! I got so excited to see the forethought in this detail. A beautiful tale perfect for a child who is processing their first feelings of loss, whether it’s a toy, pet, friend, or family member.

34642482Title: Thank You, Omu!
Author/Illustrator: Oge Mora
ISBN: 9780316431248
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2018.

On the corner  of First Street and Long Street, on the very top floor, Omu was cooking a thick red stew in a big fat pot for a nice evening meal. (unpaged)

Little does Omu know that as her thick red stew simmers, the smell is wafting out the window, the doors, the hall, and every pore of her apartment and beckons to many, including a little boy, hot dog vendor, police officer, dancer, baker, doctor, and even the mayor. But when she is done sharing the stew, there is none left for her own meal. In a modern, multi-cultural spin on the old fable, the folks she fed find food and feed a feast to not only Omu but share it with everyone. The cut paper and collage style bring depth and color to the vibrant illustrations. There are a few instances where old maps and book pages are used instead of colored or patterned paper, which I’m not sure was necessary but doesn’t detract from the quality of the work. Pay special attention to the steam rising from the pot of stew, as the color of the stew changes when seen through the steam. Another moralistic tale that would work for food themed story times when you’re looking for something new.


The Bride Test

Bride Test.jpgTitle: The Bride Test
Author: Helen Hoang
ISBN: 9780451490827
Pages: 300 pages
Publisher/Date: A Jove Book, Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, c2019.

“She’s staying here with you,” she said.
“What? Why?”” Khai’s entire body stiffened at the idea. It was an invasion, clear and simple.
“Don’t sound so upset,” she said in a cajoling tone. “She’s young and very pretty.”
He looked to Quan. “Why can’t she stay with you? You like women.”
Quan choked in the middle of drinking Coke and pounded his chest with a fist as he coughed.
Their mom aimed her dissatisfied look at Quan before she focused on Khai and straightened to her full height of four feet ten inches. “She can’t stay with Quan because she’s your future wife.”
“What?” He laughed a little. This had to be a joke, but he didn’t understand the humor.
“I choose her for you when I went to Viet Nam. You’ll like her. She’s perfect for you,” she said.
“I don’t–You can’t–I–” He shook his head. “What?” (28)

Khai is less than thrilled when he learns his mother has arranged for a woman to come from Vietnam to be his wife. Expecting “a younger replica of his mom,” he’s very surprised by Esme, whom he thinks is hot, gorgeous, and breathtaking, among other things. Khai though is against romance, having difficulty connecting with people due to autism, and avoids relationships with everyone he can. Esme, a mixed-race woman who is anxious to help her family by marrying an American before her visa expires, is immediately drawn to Khai and has been told by his mother that she’ll need to work at seducing Khai. But how do you seduce someone who is so closed off from the world?

I really enjoyed Helen Hoang’s debut novel, The Kiss Quotient (which I realize now I never blogged, whoops!, must remedy) featuring a woman with Asperger’s. Flipping the script, I thought it veered too much into the romance world that I get frustrated by, which is instant love that is thwarted not by anything specific but by an inability to effectively act on emotions and communicate those feelings to others. Khai and Esme are instantly physically attracted to each other. Khai has boners almost every time he is in Esme’s presence, and Esme’s single-minded pursuit of seducing Khai seems like this will be an easy sell. But Khai, in addition to his autism, sensitivity to touch, and avoidance of people, has a tragedy from his past that has convinced him that he cannot get close to people as a form of protecting everyone from certain heartbreak. While the details of the tragedy aren’t released until we think Khai is a real jerk for continuously pushing Esme away, it’s still heartbreaking that Khai has punished himself for so long for something that wasn’t his fault. Esme too pushes Khai away from getting to know her by lying about her professional and personal past, hiding key details that would definitely change their relationship until the end reveal.

It’s no wonder to me that Khai is frustrated by his family. His brother and mother both take on key roles in trying to get the couple together, and their “we know what’s best for you” philosophy starts grating on my nerves. While his mother’s initial manipulation of a bride could have been passed off as a cultural difference, she herself tells Khai’s brother that “If I followed tradition, I would already have found you a wife the same way, but you don’t need my help. Your brother does.” (29) She also refuses to listen to Khai’s insistence to cancel the wedding, that he isn’t lonely, and that he doesn’t want this. While it might be funny to some, and it (predictably?) works out in the end, I have to empathize with Khai in that his mother shouldn’t have been doing this. I know someone from college who agreed to an arranged marriage, but she agreed to it and had the right to refuse. Khai has no such right here and is at the mercy of his mother and family. While Khai’s brother initially objects to the idea, Quan is no better at the end of the book, attempting his own manipulation of Khai into doing what Quan wants Khai to do. Again, it works out, but I have to wonder how people would have reacted if the genders were flipped and in this era of #MeToo it was a woman being manipulated in this manner. Finally, Khai’s birds and the bees conversation with his brother just strikes me as odd and shoe-horned in for cheap laughs at Khai’s expense. All the cliched characters should have gotten more meat in their development and I’m left feeling sorry for Khai and Esme at the manipulation they face from Khai’s family and from each other.



The Book of Boy

34807877Title: The Book of Boy
Author: Catherine Gilbert Murdock
Illustrator: Ian Schoenherr
ISBN: 9780062686206
Pages: 278 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2018.
Awards: Newbery Honor (2019)

“And now you go on pilgrimage.” I should say something, I felt.
“Ah. Yes. I am on a quest, Boy. A quest for seven objects. Seven relics as precious as anything on this earth. Seven relics that will save me.” He held the book so I could see a page of writing. “Rib tooth thumb shin,” he recited. “Dust skull tomb.”
“Rib tooth thumb shin dust skull home,” I whispered to myself. How grand these words sounded. Like a prayer. […]
“Guard that pack, Boy. Guard it as you would your life. For within that pack rests one of Saint Peter’s ribs.” (23-24)

A hunchbacked orphan called simply Boy is sold into the service of Secundus, a traveler in the guise of a pilgrim. However, Boy and Secundus both learn that each of them are hiding secrets from the other. Secundus is on a quest for seven relics of St. Peter that will save him, but from what the Boy doesn’t realize until it’s too late to turn back home. Boy has a way with animals that even he doesn’t fully understand, but it will come to light that they may be on opposite sides of a divide that has existed for centuries. When Seundus’ actions lead to questionable decision making involving thievery, bribes, and a cursed key, Boy must decide how far he is willing to go to have his own prayers answered.

For families who are looking for overtly Christian themed stories in the vein of Chronicles of Narnia, this one would be an excellent choice. This book reminded me of The Seven Tales of Trinket, from it’s medieval setting and long journey to the seven items that drive the momentum of the story. The reveal of the secrets carried by both Boy and Secundus are unexpected and dramatic, with small foreshadowing hints peppered throughout the story remaining unnoticeable until they coalesce into a way brings new meaning to the journey and the relationship between the two. The inclusion of a hunchback character, which is rarely seen in children’s literature, is inspired, allowing superstitions to be brought into the novel and show Boy’s insecurities both literally and figuratively change as he gains confidence, worldliness, and understanding. While a line in the story “if you slump like a monster, then so you’ll be treated” could be misconstrued and taken literally, it should be seen as encouragement to wear a mantle of confidence because people treat you as you appear.

Tiger vs. Nightmare

37534387Title: Tiger vs. Nightmare
Author/Illustrator: Emily Tetri
ISBN: 9781626725355
Pages: 64 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2018
Awards: Geisel Award Honor (2019)

“I know it was supposed to scare me when I was a baby…
…but Monster said it didn’t seem fair to scar a baby.
Monsters gotta scare something, though.
So it started scaring away my nightmare for me.” (12-13)

Tiger sleeps soundly at night because Monster, an elongated blue creature resembling a fish with arms and legs and tail that reminds me of Pikachu’s tail. Monster does a fine job too, until a black shadow with a skull head appears and Monster gets scared. Tiger knows something is up after a nightmarish night, but Monster doesn’t want to admit defeat. The next night though, the both realize they are in over their head. The atmospheric watercolors are just gorgeous, and stand out from the other Geisel Award Nominees from this year. The evening scenes are blues and grays, and the morning scenes are a contrasting orange and green, with the climatic scene resulting in a burst of light that explodes and overpowers the page and the previous darkness.

This book is probably shelved in graphic novels in most libraries, but serious consideration should be given to placing it in the picture book areas where small children who suffer from nightmares would benefit and find it the best. Please recommend and promote this beautiful book that teaches how to overcome your fears with the help of friends – and maybe a monster. And keep your eye out for more by this author.

How to Walk Away

How to Walk Away.jpgTitle: How to Walk Away
Author: Katherine Center
ISBN: 9781250149060
Pages: 302 pages
Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Press, c2018.

I couldn’t tell you how many full rotations we completed as we blew across that runway like somebody’s lost kite, but there’s a reason they call it cartwheeling. The wings were teh spokes of a giant wheel, and we were the axle in the middle on a spinning carnival ride from hell. At a certain point, I lost all sense of spatial orientation, and it stopped feeling like we were spinning–more like rocking back and forth. I remember focusing all my energy on not barfing because there was nothing else to even hope to control. […]
A spray of jet fuel hit the windshield with a clomp sound like we were at a drive-through car wash, and we collapsed at last in a ditch, with my side–the passenger side–wedged down in it, and Chip’s side angled up at the sky.
We stopped.
Everything was still. (19)

Margaret Jacobsen thought her boyfriend was taking her to dinner. Instead, he was taking her on a plane ride with his newly acquired license. Margaret has always been scared of flying, but agrees anyways. Her fears are proven right when a storm blows up and they crash land. Chip is physically fine, but bears the weight of guilt when Margaret doesn’t come away unscathed. Spending the majority of her time in the hospital, Margaret doesn’t have much time to wallow as she must accept and work to improve her new reality. Against Margaret’s wishes, her sister Kit reappears after a three year absence, imposing herself into Margaret’s life and serving as a sprite counterpoint Ian, Margaret’s more stoic Scotsman physical therapist. It’s hard to find her new normal when life keeps throwing curveballs at you.

This is the book equivalent of a Lifetime movie, although not as cliche. The ending as mostly as expected, with a romantic arc that’s alluded to in the description and an 11th hour curve-ball that’s thrown in to complicate the relationship. Actually, more than one relationship has complications that need to be solved and tied up in a bow before the book concludes. Just because it’s dependable chick literature doesn’t make it less engaging, as readers become invested in Margaret’s life and struggles. A bad hand has been dealt, which everyone recognizes, and they are struggling to make sense of it all in their own way.

I enjoyed the author’s portrayal of the reactions of the people involved the most. There are some who are horrified by Margaret’s appearance, there are some who pity her, there are others who feel the obligation of staying with her and checking on her, and there are a few solid and steady people in her life who force her to focus on other things. Margaret’s boyfriend/fiance Chip is trying to do the right thing, but the situation has changed so drastically over the course of just a day that neither him nor Margaret know where they stand, and it’s so nice to see a relationship that is struggling through all the emotions (although readers have a little bit of doubt in it from the beginning considering pilot Chip’s idea of a good birthday present for someone who doesn’t like to fly is an airplane ride proposal). 

Newly-graduated business-woman Margaret’s relationship with her hair-stylist sister Kit is one of the more beneficial to her recovery. While Margaret resents and despises Kit initially, Kit’s sporadic and hyperactive personality and ability to not take no for an answer is just what Margaret needs when the bouts of depression and self-pity overwhelm her. And there is some deep depression, frustration, and emotional outbursts as expected, and I think that’s what is so inspiring as Margaret faces times where she can’t accept her situation, where every little ray of hope is reacted on like it’s a flood of sunlight. Sometimes though, that little ray is just that, and Margaret learns to appreciate it for what it is and how it makes her feel. As Kit so aptly summarizes, from one of the many articles and studies she researches for Margaret’s behalf, is that one year after a huge event, whether it’s an accident or divorce or death or a lottery win, the people impacted are just as happy as they were before the event. And as we see in the final chapters, and even more in the epilogue, while circumstances may change, happiness has not been lost completely. “There are really all kinds of happy endings.” (302)

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