Posts by challengingthebookworm

The Secret Project

Secret Project.jpgTitle: The Secret Project
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
ISBN: 9781481469135
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2017.

Night and day, the greatest scientists in the world conduct experiments and research in the laboratory. They are working on something they call the “Gadget.” What they are trying to invent is so secret, they cannot even call it by its real name. (unpaged)

Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter attempt an ambitious undertaking in trying to condense the creation of the atom bomb to a level that the picture book crowd can understand. This is definitely not an easy subject to place into context, but they try. They compare the busy, secretive work to the outside world, where life continues, where “artists are painting beautiful paintings” and there are “peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs”. The basics of the science are there, that the scientists are “trying to figure out how to take the tiniest particle in the world, the atom, and cut it in half, making it even tinier” before other scientists are able to do the same thing. Atom is not further described, and a passing mention of metals plutonium and uranium are described as things “that can be turned into something with enormous power” with no elaboration. The scientists are portrayed as single shaded shadows, emphasizing their anonymity during that time frame.

I have a hard time determining who to recommend this to or what audience this would best serve, as it will likely raise questions that will have to be answered by an adult. The book is dedicated “for the peacemakers”, which makes me think it was created for parents who are intentionally broaching the topic with their children, maybe because of a new awareness brought about by today’s politics or media. The author’s note elaborates on the creation and aftermath of the first nuclear test. I feel it was probably a conscious decision to refrain from using the word “bomb” or “explosion” instead referring to it as invention or “Gadget”. The wordless spreads at the end are used to convey the powerful nature of what they’ve created, with a four page ever expanding angry red mushroom cloud culminating in a double page spread of finite black.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

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Accident

Accident.jpgTitle: Accident!
Author/Illustrator: Andrea Tsurumi
ISBN: 9780544944800
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, c2017.

“Oh No!” Lola cried. “I’ve ruined everything!”
“I’ll hide in the library! They have books and bathrooms.”
“And I’ll stay there till I’m a grownup.”
So Lola ran away from her mess and right into everyone else’s.

From red punch spilled on a white sofa, to a broken swing, a snipped hose line and a collapsed cake, the assorted animals in this town would give Alexander a run for his money in the horrible terrible day category. The illustrations remind me of Richard Scarry’s world or Family Circus cartoons, with lots of action and tiny vignettes completely filling the page. If you’re using this as a story time selection, I would recommend making it available for kids and parents to peruse or pointing out some of the more specific actions. The surprised puffer fish is an ingenious choice, seemingly maneuvering around like the excitable fish in Seuss’s Cat in the Hat, bounding through the streets on either back fin or propelling himself with his side fins and his expressions are not to be missed as he bounces down the stairs head(?) first. Vocabulary building opportunity exists as Lola and others call the incidents catastrophe, disaster, mayhem, calamity, and fiasco. After a red bird whose been following the action since the beginning sets Lola right in that they were all accidents that they can make better, the rest of the anxious animals pitch in to correct the problems. Some we saw causes and solutions (a narwhal who popped a sloth’s balloon is shown with the sloth who now has a pinwheel) while others are more open ended (two flamingos replacing a door certainly has a story behind it). Lola’s return shows that everyone can have an accident, and it’s how you react that is important. A humorous, much needed lesson in owning up and helping out.

Plume

Plume.jpgTitle: Plume
Author/Illustrator: Isabelle Simler
ISBN: 9780802854926
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., c2017.

Is this a catalog? Is this a story? It’s difficult to categorize what amounts to beautiful digitally rendered images of over a dozen different birds and one cat. The double page spreads showcase the entire bird on the right, and then focus on the variety of feathers that make up each bird. As the pages turn, the number of feathers increase. In each picture, a piece of cat is visible, sometimes just a tip of ear or tail or paw is visible and other times interacting more fully with the bird, with both bird and cat being observed by it’s counterpart. All the feathers are wispy and imperfect in shape and symmetry, appearing to be falling from the sky and waiting to be picked up and stroked by an inquisitive collector. The birds also have textures that convey the textures and arrangement of the feathers if they were still on the animal. The end papers feature feathers not just from the featured fowl, but also from additional species of birds and, in a sly nod, fur from the cat. I do think the artist missed an opportunity to showcase all of the feathers together on the final page, but it’s a tiny quibble. Pair this with Lois Ehlert’s Feathers for Lunch or Aviary Wonders Inc Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth for a feather focused story time.

Little Brother

Little Brother.jpgTitle: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Narrator: Kirby Heyborne
ISBN: 9780307711540 (audiobook), 9780765323118 (paperback)
Discs/CDs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 54 minutes
Pages: 382 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2008.

I lost it. “Dad! Are you listening to yourself? They’re talking about investigating practically every person in the city of San Francisco!”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s right. They’ll catch every alimony cheat, every dope dealer, every dirtbag and every terrorist. You just wait. This could be the best thing that ever happened to this country.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” I said. “I beg you. You think that that’s what they intended when they wrote the Constitution? What about the Bill of Rights?”
“The Bill of Rights was written before data-mining,” he said. He was awesomely serene, convinced of his rightness. “The right to freedom of association is fine, but why shouldn’t the cops be allowed to mine your social network to figure out if you’re hanging out with gangbangers and terrorists?”
“Because is’t an invasion of my privacy!” I said.
“What’s the big deal? Would you rather have privacy or terrorists?” (137-138)

Marcus is a computer nerd living in San Francisco. He’s cut out of school early with his friends to pursue a clue as part of an online scavenger hunt, when the impossible happens. A terrorist attack leaves them one man down after the Department of Homeland Security apprehends them and holds them for secret questioning. When Marcus gets out, the city is in a semi-militarized state as the government hunts down the perpetrators. That’s what they claim they are doing, but as their surveillance methods increase, Marcus isn’t the only one who begins to wonder who these people are and what or who they are really collecting and pursuing.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant about technology, surveillance, privacy, and how they intersect all too often these days. However, reading this book gave me the same creepy crawly feeling that Robopocalypse did almost 5 years ago. Written before Robopocalypse, nothing has really changed since Cory Doctorow wrote this a decade ago. The general public still blindly accepts that surveillance is happening, that information about them is being collected about their movements and habits and activities, and nobody questions where that information is going or how it is being used. We grant access to huge quantities of information because companies require it in order to use their services, and now these publicly owned companies have the ability to control that information, including selling it to third parties, analyzing it for their own purposes, and deciding whether or not the authorities can gain access to that stored information.

It’s hard to imagine any of this happening in real life, and that’s Doctorow’s point. It might be hard to imagine, but it could happen, and we have the technology already where it could. Obviously advocating for a more involved and informed society when it comes to technical privacy, the book ends with Marcus advocating in what feels like a public service announcement for “signing up voters and getting them to the polls.” It includes afterwards by a security technologist and the MIT student who hacked the XBox, both of whom encourage readers to evaluate the world. “Trading privacy for security is stupid enough; not getting any actual security in the bargain is even more stupid” says the security technologist Bruce Schneier, while Andrew Huang ends his essay with “Be like M1k3y [Marcus’ screen name in the book]: step out the door and dare to be free.”

As a result of the technical nature of the story, there are huge sections of info dumps, where action is forwarded and details are revealed in professorial paragraphs mimicking a classroom lecture. This means that readers might get more out of it when they read it over listening to it. While the background is necessary to understand the story and appreciated by this reader, I do wish there had been a better way to incorporate it into the narrative. Obviously Marcus, the main character, is going to surround himself with people who can aid in his digital exploits and who are already more knowledgeable than readers about hacking concepts, so explaining it in character to a character wouldn’t ring true to the story. But they do have an opportunity when they finally have to involve a less-tech savvy but no less paranoid character (I won’t reveal who) about two-thirds into the story. And five pages on key-encryption or an even longer passage on Marcus’ history of LARPing, while appreciated, seemed a little wordy.

The story is insular in nature, with the close-up focus of Marcus and his movements and point of view. As a result, we don’t get a detailed feel for any of his classmates, friends, or fellow hackers who aid in his attempted take down of the government overreach. There is a romance, and they do have protected sex off screen which might prevent recommending it to some audiences. In fact, I feel like we get more information and character development from Marcus and his parents then from any of his friends, most of them falling to the sidelines due to objections of Marcus’s activities.

It’s an important book to recommend in these times of digital sharing and oversight, and hopefully one that not only sparked discussion when it was published but will continue to encourage debate and free thinking, along with caution and thorough analysis of the world, both virtual and real.

Wires and Nerve

I originally intended to post these in October, but the end of the year got away from me. Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober 2017 I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for the theme from October 29th: united.

Wires and Nerve.jpgTitle: Wires and Nerve
Series: Lunar Chronicles series
Author: Marissa Meyer
Illustrator: Doug Holgate with Stephen Gilpin
ISBN: 9781250078261
Pages: 238 pages
Publisher/Date: A Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, c2017.

I’ve been hunting wolves for seventy-one days. I’ve tracked their packs through the jungles of Peru. The sewers of Rome. The abandoned shipyards outside Cairo. I’ve seen the devastation they cause with my own eyes. The mutilated bodies of their victims. The terror that lingers in those left behind. I’ve been hunting them long enough that I’m beginning to understand how they operate. Like the wild wolves they’re meant to imitate, they like to prey on the old and sick, singling out the weak from the herd. They strike fast, targeting heavily populated areas, then vanish back into the wilderness. I’ve even come to recognize the sorts of places they like to make their dens. The darker… the eerier… the better. (18-19)

Fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series will be happy to learn that the story didn’t end with Cinder ascension to the Lunar throne. Unfortunately, the wolf-hybrid soldiers that were sent to Earth by Queen Levana in anticipation of her taking control of the planet are still at large, and wreaking havoc around the world. Cinder can’t jeopardize her relationship with Earthen governments and citizens by sending Lunars, especially so soon after they were threatened by that very race. Humans are no match for the wolf soldiers speed and agility. So that leaves Iko, the plucky robot and loyal sidekick with a chip in her personality that makes her unlike any other android. When she runs into a spot of trouble and needs to call on members of the old gang, it sets into motion events that expose the head of the revolution, Alpha Lysander Steele, and his plans to revolt against both humans and Lunars alike.

I’m a biased, long-standing fan of the series from the very first book. I’ve enjoyed and listened to the audiobooks so often that some of the voices used in those are now in my brain. I didn’t expect the blue tones in the illustrations (considering the covers of the original series, I expected red), but the visuals are exceedingly well done. The pacing adds to the action sequences, building suspense and supplementing the dialogue and text with wordless panels that convey meaning and emotion. Holgate does have a tendency to end chapters by focusing on a singular character, especially with an extreme close up of eyes, but that does lend an episodic, cinematic feeling to the story, where you expect a “duhn duhn DUHN!” to play in the background along with the page flip. The plot reads naturally, and while you can more fully appreciate the plot if you’ve read the preceding titles, there is a short summarizing prologue, and additional back matter is provided within the story in a way that doesn’t feel like obtrusive. Characters relationships with each other and motivations are clearly displayed or stated.

It’s exciting to see Iko get her moment in the spotlight and her personality especially shines in her indignity at the salesman who tries to explain why Iko isn’t as celebrated as the rest of the heroes. There is a short scene where it alludes that we’ll learn more about Iko’s programming in the planned sequel. The relationship that Iko begins by the end of the book is slightly problematic to me right now, but I’m looking to see how it develops in the next installment. I was originally looking at her as a C3PO type character, where it wasn’t necessary for her to pair with someone like the rest of the original crew. I guess like a Shakespearean play or the second half of Little Women, fans might have requested this to happen, but I’ve seen some comments online that indicate I’m not the only one with some trepidation on how this will work out.

The sequel, Gone Rogue, comes out Jan. 30th, so soon you can pick them both up to complete your collection.

The Fast and the Furriest

I originally intended to post these in October, but the end of the year got away from me. Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober 2017 I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for the theme from October 1st: Swift.

Fast and the Furriest.jpgTitle: The Fast and the Furriest
Series: March Grand Prix
Author/Illustrator: Kean Soo
ISBN: 9781623701710
Pages: 137 pages
Publisher/Date: Capstone Young Readers, a Capstone Imprint, c2015.

In a Zootopia meets Cars idea mash-up, three issues assemble this volume of comics about a bunny family supporting their racecar driver relative. March has his parents and three sisters, mechanic May, baker April, and baby June. Assisted by “Uncle Hammond” (although his actions place him of a similar age as March), March races in two races, one on a track and one in a desert, and attempts to make a delivery for April when her bakery opens. Bright possibly digitally colored illustrations could draw comparisons to Raina Telgemeier. The different types of species represented is occasionally the punch line, such as when opponent Lyca Fox (get it?) calls her canine pit crew dogs (which they are). All’s well that ends well, as each of the three short stories end with a deus ex machina type resolution. His car is fixed and his father’s advice proves valuable, the eaten tarts are forgiven, and the whole racetrack celebrates March’s second place finish. While encouraging a suspension of belief, they also promote ideals like helping others, taking responsibility for your actions, and that you don’t always have to win to have fun. A fast read for young speed demons.

Korgi: Problem with Potions

I originally intended to post these in October, but the end of the year got away from me. Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober 2017 I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for the theme from October 12th: shattered.

Korgi 4 Problem with Potions.jpgTitle: Korgi Book 4: The Problem with Potions
Author/Illustrator: Christian Slade
ISBN: 9781603094030
Pages: 116 pages
Publisher/Date: Top Shelf Productions, c2016.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a look at Korgi, to the point where I reread books 1-3 before progressing to the fourth book in this series. Readers realize that Ivy and Sprout don’t always have the perfect relationship that we’ve previously seen, as Sprout gets into a jar of food, tracks footprints over the floor, and breaks a dish before finally getting thrown out of the house by Ivy. It’s then that reoccurring characters the creephogs receive some of the spotlight, as they mistakenly supersize, spotify, and stupefy poor Sprout. Ivy gets him some help, but meanwhile the two brothers we finally met in book three are out for revenge, and wake a skeletal unicorn in their efforts.

Taken individually, the books are all appealingly cute and perfectly suited for multiple age bedtime reads (so long as everyone can see the pages). But the pacing as a series is starting to suffer.  A new character introduced in the final pages is an intriguing addition, but it’s taken us 10 years to get to this point and we’re still no closer to guaranteeing Sprout and Ivy’s safety. In fact, they are probably in more danger then they were in the beginning now that the “big baddy” has started making appearances in the plot. I’m not sure now why the antagonists from the first two books were introduced to begin with, as their actions seem removed from the overarching story. Also, characters Scarlett and Lump, who we saw in previous books, are still included in the (this time more detailed) character list, even though they don’t even make an appearance in book four. Maybe when the fifth one finally rolls around we’ll get some more answers. The illustrations are still engaging and I’m in love with the disguised resurrected unicorn (does anyone make them as plush animals?) but I do wish we were a little farther along. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of these characters, but I won’t guess when the next book will appear and it’s doubtful original readers will still be interested in discovering the overall conclusion.

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