Saturday Review of Books: October 11, 2014


““For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.” ” ~Louis L’Amour

Talk about diversity, the theme at KidLitCon in Sacramento, CA this weekend. I’m not there, but I hope all of those who are there are enjoying the time spent discussing, dissecting, exploring, examining, and encouraging diversity in YA and children’s literature. Real, nourishing literature is as diverse as its authors and readers, and we readers need each other to find the “good stuff”. Link up your reviews here each Saturday so that we can discuss, dissect, explore, examine, and encourage all through the year.

Reading from Flickr via Wylio© 2009 Easa Shamih, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

SatReviewbuttonWelcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read. That’s how my own TBR list has become completely unmanageable and the reason I can’t join any reading challenges. I have my own personal challenge that never ends.

Also, don’t forget that nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers.Anyone can nominate, so nominate your favorite children’s and YA books from 2013-2014 at the Cybils website.

Poetry Friday: October’s Bright Blue Weather by Helen Hunt Jackson

Novelist, poet, and activist Helen Hunt Jackson was born October 15, 1830. She wrote a nonfiction book titled A Century of Dishonor in which she exposed government mistreatment of the Native American peoples. “Jackson sent a copy to every member of Congress with a quote from Benjamin Franklin printed in red on the cover: ‘Look upon your hands: they are stained with the blood of your relations.'” (Wikipedia, Helen Hunt Jackson) She also wrote a novel, Ramona, in which she endeavored to dramatize the plight of Native Americans in the same manner as her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe had done for black slaves in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Ms. Jackson’s poetry was much more light-hearted and celebratory than her prose.

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.

Rejoice in God’s gift of a new October. Count the hours like a miser, and enjoy the bright blue weather in pairs or alone. That’s my plan.

Poetry Friday Is On! at the Miss Rumphius Effect.

Cybils: Poetry

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description:

What belongs in Poetry? Anthologies and poetry collections written by various authors or a single author should be nominated. They can include illustrations or not. If the words on the page sing to kids of all ages and it is a collection of poems, Poetry is the category.

Here are a few poetry collections that I think are eligible and that have not yet been nominated. If any of these crossed your desk and tickled your fancy, please feel free to nominate your favorite for a Cybils award:

Alphabetabum: An Album of Rare Photographs and Medium Verses by Vladmiir Radunsky and Chris Raschka. NOMINATED
Treasury of Bible Stories: Rhythmical Rhymes of Biblical Times by Kelly Pulley.
The Poem That Will Not End: Fun With Poetic Forms and Voices by Joan Bransfield Graham. Featured at Jama Rattigan’s blog for Poetry Friday. NOMINATED
The Biggest Burp Ever: Funny Poems for Kids by Kenn Nesbit. NOMINATED
S Is for Seaglass: A Beach Alphabet by Richard Michaelson. Also featured at Jama’s blog for Poetry Friday. NOMINATED
Stars in Jars: New and Collected Poems by Chrissie Gittins. NOMINATED
Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the Writing Life by Jane Yolen.
The Lion Book of Poems and Prayers for Easter compiled by Sophie Piper.
Swimming to the Moon: A Collection of Rhymes Without Reason by Jeff McMahon.

He Laughed With his Other Mouths by M.T. Anderson

I considered NOT reviewing this little volume since it’s just not the kind of humor that tickles my funny bone. Humor is strange and hard to write, I think. Not all of us laugh at the same things, and we’re not always in the mood for the same kind of humor. It must be very difficult to try to be funny for a living, as a comedian or a writer. And I’m not sure exactly why the books in this series don’t make me laugh.

Now, I can do absurd as well as the next guy. I have laughed out loud at the absurdity and wit of Christopher Healy’s Hero’s Guide series. And the third book in that series, which I just read a couple of weeks ago, was as funny to me as the first one. When I read the first book in M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, I described it as “a pastiche of all those series you read when you were a kid back in the fifties and the sixties, if you were a kid back in the fifties and the sixties: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Danny Dunn, the Bobbsey Twins, cowboy series that I never read.” I also opined then that the joke was getting old by the end of the book.

Well, it’s still the same joke, and it’s still old. Plus, Mr. Anderson decided to add in a sad little story in the footnotes about a boy named Busby who lived during WW II and read the Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut books that form the basis for the main story. Busby has a sad life with his dad being injured in the war, and it’s not funny at all. The contrast is jarring.

I just didn’t find Pals in Peril very humorous. If you liked The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, He Laughed With his Other Mouths is more of the same. If not, skip.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Cybils: Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description:

We’re looking for titles that are suitable for reading aloud or independently, including picture books and early chapters. We love text and illustrations or photographs that will wow kids and adults alike and topics so fascinating that kids will want to go digging for more, more, more nonfiction! Nonfiction Elementary/Middle Grade includes titles with factual content and informational titles, or books intended to teach. Roughly 50% or more of the book should be narrative nonfiction (as opposed to experiments or activities) and books should be directed generally at ages 3-12.

Here are a few elementary nonfiction books that may deserve a look, but haven’t been nominated yet. If one of these is your favorite, please nominate it for a Cybils award.

The Blue Marble: How a Photograph Revealed Earth’s Fragile Beauty by Don Nardo. NOMINATED
Hitler: How a Photograph Shocked a World at War by Don Nardo.
Tank Man: How a Photograph Defined China’s Protest Movement by Michael Burgan.
Summiting Everest: How a Photograph Celebrates Teamwork at the Top of the World by Emma Carlson Berne.
Walt Disney: Drawn from Imagination by Bill Scollon.
Leaving China: An Artist Paints His World War II Childhood by James McMullan
With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Slade.
Hello, I’m Johnny Cash by G. Neri.
Gravity by Jason Chin. NOMINATED
In Search of the Little Prince by Bimba Landmann.
The Pilot and the Little Prince: The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis.
Stand There! She Shouted:The Invincible Photographer Julia Margaret Cameron by Susan Goldman Rubin.
The Amazing Travels of Ibn Battuta by Fatima Sharafeddine.
It’s Raining by Gail Gibbons. (my favorite nonfiction children’s author)
Behold the Beautiful Dung Beatle by Cheryl Bardoe. NOMINATED

Nominate your favorites in all of the categories, but remember that only those books published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014 are eligible. And only one book per nominator per category.

Confession: I found a lot of these titles, with reviews and links to reviews, at the group blog, Nonfiction Monday. If you’re in the market for nonfiction, old or new, check out Nonfiction Monday.

Thrones and Bones: Frostborn by Lou Anders

This middle grade fantasy adventure takes place in the frozen North, very Norse, but on a different planet than Earth, one with two moons? The mythology that the story incorporates is definitely Norse/Scandinavian, but the different planet aspect allows the author to deviate from Norse folklore and culture whenever he wants without getting accused of being inauthentic. At least, I suppose that’s why he set the story on another planet. I can’t see that the foreign planet setting serves any other purpose . . . yet. (This book is, of course, the beginning of a series.)

Anyway, Karn lives in Norrongard where his father is jarl and owner of the family farm. Karn is due to inherit the farm someday, but he’s not much interested. He’d rather be playing Thrones and Bones. Typical unmotivated young teenage boy.

Thianna lives even farther north than Karn because she’s a frost giant, sort of, half. Her mother was human, and her father is a giant, which makes Thianna a misfit. She wants to be seen as a full-fledged giantess, but she’s too short for a giantess and too tall to be a human. She’s definitely tough and stubborn, not unmotivated.

When both Karn and Thianna are forced to leave home under dangerous and unjust circumstances, they meet up and help each other to evade their pursuers and to survive long enough to figure out their own strengths and goals. Thianna carries the Macguffin, a horn that neither Thianna nor Karn understands the significance of, but that everyone wants. Somehow the horn is dangerous enough to practically destroy the world. That part is never completely explained, but rather left open, perhaps for the next book in the series?

Anyway, lots of near-death experiences, a huge, hungry dragon, undead draug, murderous relations, an avalanche or two, and flying wyvern, among other things, make the book exciting and full of vicarious reading adventure. Read it if you like northernness or Norse mythology or chasing-around-in-the-snow adventures. Stay for the friendship that develops between two very different young people, Thianna the Bold but sometimes Foolhardy and Karn the Lazy but Master of Strategy.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Cybils: Picture Books

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description for Picture Book Fiction says:

The category contains titles for toddlers and third graders, funny stories and moving tales, history and fantasy, traditions and diversity, elegance and silliness, education and entertainment. An amazing conceptual range for books with typically 32 to 48 pages.

Here are a few Picture Book Fiction books that may deserve a look, but haven’t been nominated yet. If one of these is your favorite, please nominate it for a Cybils award.

The Christmas Cat by Maryann Macdonald. NOMINATED
Stone Soup with Matzo Balls by Linda Glazer.
Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane.
The Artist and the King by Julie Fortenberry.
Audrey Bunny by Angie Smith.
Those Magnificent Sheep in Their Flying Machines by Peter Bentley.
Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak. NOMINATED in Middle Grade Fiction.

Keep turning in nominations for all your favorites in all of the categories, but remember that only those books published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014 are eligible. And only one book per nominator per category.

Rain Reign by Ann Martin

I have a weakness for stories about quirky children, especially autistic or Asperger’s children. I absolutely loved Rain Reign, the story of Rose, whose name is a homonym, who loves homonyms, and who loves her dog, Rain, whose name is also a homonym.

Homonyms are everywhere, and Rose is the collector of all things homonymic. Rose (rows) is also the owner of a stray dog that her father brought home for her in the rain, hence the name, Rain (reign).

What did I like about this book?
I liked Rose, even though I could see how she could be annoying with her constant attention to homonyms and prime numbers, her insistence that all traffic rules must be obeyed to the letter, and her tendency to blurt out her concerns and thoughts in inappropriate places and at inappropriate times.

I liked Rose’s Uncle Weldon, who is a gentle soul who lends some stability to Rose’s otherwise out of control life.

I even liked that Rose’s father, a borderline abuser and alcoholic, makes the right decision in the end, for Rose and for the others in Rose’s world.

Rose’s schoolmates and teachers are for the most part kind and patient, even though Rose is not always easy to deal with in the classroom or outside.

I highly recommend this story to dog lovers, lovers of children on the autism spectrum, and rule followers everywhere. Rain Reign might bring a tear to the eye, but I can reassure those who are wondering what my children always wonder about dog stories:(possible spoiler!) no dogs die in the course of this story.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Cybils: Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Nominations are open through October 15th for the Cybils, the book awards for children’s and young adult literature that are administered, judged, and awarded by kid lit bloggers. The category description for YA Speculative Fiction says:

Magic, aliens, ghosts, alternate universes, time travel, space travel, high fantasy, dystopian, post-apocalyptic futures, horror, and sentient animals are just some of the many topics that belong here. If a book could happen today or could have happened in the past, nominate it in YA Fiction. But any story that’s impossible, improbable, or merely possible – but not quite yet – belongs in Speculative Fiction. Magic Realism is tricky, but more often than not ends up here. The age range for this category is approximately 12-18.

Here are a few YA Speculative Fiction books that may deserve a look, but haven’t been nominated yet. If one of these is your favorite, please nominate it for a Cybils award.

Parched by Georgia Clark.
Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski.
Destined for Doon by Carey Corp and Lorey Langdon. Reviewed at The Book Nut: A Booklover’s Guide.
Nightmare City by Andrew Klavan.
Mindwar by Andrew Klavan.
One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul. Reviewed at Redeemed Reader.
Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard. NOMINATED
Rebels (The Safe Lands) by Jill Williamson.

Do carry on with nominations for all your favorites in all of the categories, but only those books published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014 are eligible.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, The Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions by Lenore Look

Alvin Ho is back again, kind of like his namesake, the chipmunk. (Actually, the two have nothing to do with one another. I just was reminded of Alvin the Chipmunk for some reason and wanted to post a picture. Maybe because both Alvins have a penchant for getting into lovable trouble.)

This time Alvin Ho goes on a trip at Christmas time to China with his family to visit his relations who live in a tall scary apartment building. And Alvin has to fly across the ocean in an airplane, aka tin can, to get there. And there are maybe a billion people in China who could squash you. And you might have to use a squat toilet or be stuck all over with acupuncture needles like a pincushion. Scary, right?

Those are only a few of the dangers Alvin faces as he explores, or tries to keep from exploring, a new country. I’m getting a little jaded on Alvin, but I think this book might be just as funny and just as comforting to the average second or third grader as were Alvin’s previous adventures.

I did especially like chapter 15, You Can Make a Friend Anywhere, where Alvin does something very generous and kind in spite of all of his fears and phobias. The rest is standard Alvin Ho fare, although it provides a good introduction to the tourist attractions and interesting aspects of a visit to China. I felt sorry for Alvin’s dad, though, who is forced to be very, very patient and forgiving with Alvin’s childish anxieties and careless misdeeds.

Read this one if you’re a fan or if you want a painless introduction to China or if you have yet to meet the inimitable Alvin Ho.