Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Alan Cole is Not a Coward by Eric Bell

Alan Cole is a "sapling" (7th grader) at Evergreen Middle School. He has just recently come to the conclusion that he's gay and he has a terrible crush; he stutters and blushes whenever he talks to the boy he likes. Alan's brother likes to beat on him and periodically puts him through a bunch of ridiculous tests, making him complete a list of challenges. Alan never wins and he always loses something in the process. He's getting pretty fed up. And, now the punishment for not completing an almost impossible set of tasks is . . . you guessed it . . . giving away his secret about being gay. Alan knows he has to complete the set of challenges, but they are incredibly difficult: learn to swim (in just over a week), get his first kiss, stand up to his father, figure out how to retrieve piece of paper from an impossible place.

An introvert who has given up on friendship because his brother has always worked hard to sabotage his friendships in the past, Alan sits with two boys at the "Unstable Table" in the lunchroom. When they eventually find out what's happening, they offer to help Alan. Alan is hesitant to call the other two boys "friends" because of past ruined friendships, but they're determined and Alan has made up his mind that he's not going to let his brother beat him. He tells himself repeatedly that he's not a coward. This is one of the things I absolutely love about Alan Cole is Not a Coward - the use of repetitive positive self-talk to help Alan deal with his challenges at home and at school, including an extremely dysfunctional family. The family scenes portray chilling emotional abuse. You can practically hear the clock ticking during the painful meal scenes.

Near the end of the book, there is a dark moment when it appears his brother has done the same kind of damage to Alan's new friendships as he's done in the past. But, because the boys from the Unstable Table really are true friends, they're willing to take him at his word.

Highly recommended - This recently-released middle-grade gem is by far one of my favorite books of the summer if not the entire year. I loved absolutely everything about Alan Cole is Not a Coward, the hilarious, touching, and surprising story of a boy who learns to face fears and challenges with the use of positive thinking, discovers the true meaning of friendship, and unravels the source of his family's dysfunction. I just can't say enough good things about this book. It's laugh-out-loud funny, suitably complex, meaningful, and inspiring and Alan is a terrific kid; you can't help but love him. Alan Cole is Not a Coward is Eric Bell's first novel and I can't wait to see what he comes up with, next.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday Malarkey

After getting no books in the mail at all, last week, this week was especially fun. Four books! And, some goodies! Cool.

Recent arrivals: Top to bottom (from above photo) and then one below:

  • Saving Tarboo Creek by Scott Freeman, with illustrations by Susan Leopold Freeman - from Timber Press for review (and totally up my alley!)
  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - Movie tie-in version from William Morrow for review
  • The Saboteur by Paul Kix from Harper for review

  • Force of Nature by Jane Harper - from Flatiron Books for review, and this one came packed inside a drawstring bag with a flashlight, some trail mix, and a water bottle. How fun is that?! I very seldom get any extra promotional items with books, so it felt like opening a birthday gift. 

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories 
  • Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry
  • Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by L. Wallmark and K. Wu
  • The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

This past week was a fun reading week. I finally finished The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories, a book of prize-winning stories by African writers. Bonaparte Falls Apart just happened to arrive in the midst of Children's Week, so I read and reviewed it immediately. And, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is the book I've been walking past for months, even though it was sitting in plain sight on our piano bench. The Cottingley Secret took me several days to finish, even though it flows well and is easy to read at pace, because I kept getting started with my reading around the time I should have been turning out the light. I need to get un-addicted to Twitter.

I loved everything. And, of course, I got to reread all the books I reviewed, last week, because I always read the children's picture books at least two times before reviewing.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

I started a book called Blackout by Mark Elsberg, last night, after finishing The Cottingley Secret. I plan to restart Spies in the Family, though, tonight. If I can get Spies in the Family finished quickly, I'm going to send it to my son via Husband Courier. If not, I'll just have to mail it, later on.

In other news:

Huh. Can't think of any other news. The weather's nice. *shrugs*

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Fiona Friday - Squirrel!

They were seriously watching a squirrel video together!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Rufus Blasts Off! by Kim T. Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev

Rufus is a very adventurous pig. He's gone to school and he's sailed with pirates. He has a treasure chest full of his very favorite treasure: books! And, now the pirates want more stories. Rufus has an idea. He'll go to space! Surely there will be plenty of stories to tell about space. He packs up and rows away from the pirate ship, waving goodbye to his pirate friends, then trudges toward the space center on shore.

A guard takes Rufus up in an elevator, where a rocket ship is waiting to take off for Mars. But, the commander says pigs are not allowed in space and lists all kinds of silly reason why pigs can't go to space:

"Because pigs draw smiley faces on the portholes," said Commander Luna. 
"They do loop-the-loops in the crew cabin."
"They hog the juice packets."
"And they always want to push the buttons."

Rufus is disappointed but not discouraged. He knows what he needs. A space suit! He goes out and buys a space suit (and even poses for a selfie with a tourist when he puts it on). But, Commander Luna is unimpressed. Again, she tells him he doesn't have the "right stuff" and reminds him that pigs are nuisances with a second list of silly things that pigs do.

Rufus has a third idea. He makes a flag that says, "I love reading!" and returns to the rocket ship. Commander Luna says it's no use. The mission has been scrubbed because one of the passengers was going to read from Mars but she has a cold. "I can read!" Rufus says. The commander realizes Rufus has the right stuff, after all.

The spaceship takes off, loads up supplies at the space station, and they set off on a long journey. It takes months. Rufus keeps asking, "Are we there yet?" and then finally settles down for a long nap. Eventually, they arrive. Rufus does loop-the-loops from the space ship to the planet. He goes six-wheeling. He has a great time on Mars. And, then he reads and the reading is broadcast on Earth, where children and pirates eagerly watch. Because it's good to share books with friends and Rufus loves reading most of all.

Recommended - When I first read Rufus Blasts Off! I admit I was a little disappointed. The story was, I thought, a bit wobbly. But, I loved Rufus's determination and love of reading. The second time I read it, I wondered what I was thinking the first time. I absolutely loved it. Maybe I had a preconceived notion of what a pig in space book should be like; I always have my own stories brewing in my head, after all, and it's been 4 years since I read Rufus Goes to School.

Rufus Blasts Off! is the third Rufus book. I actually missed the one with the pirates, although I remember I loved Rufus Goes to School (link to my review, at left) and, now that I've looked at my review, I see the listing of things pigs do that are a nuisance is a hallmark of this series. Well, I think it's adorable. I've noticed recently that I've read and reviewed quite a few books illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev and always appreciate his illustrations. The same is true of this latest Rufus book. Rufus is adorable. As in the first book, I noticed the artist does a great job of portraying action (several images of Rufus in one illustration show him doing loop-the-loops, for example). While I haven't read the second book in the series, I imagine it's much the same and youngsters will probably especially appreciate owning all three so they can read about all the ridiculous barriers that are placed in front of innocent piglets and how determination gets Rufus past them. Because that's what they're really about: determination and love of reading.

This is my last picture book for Children's Week. Wow, did I have a stack! I have two middle readers that I'll save for next week. Next up will be a Fiona Friday photo, in a couple hours. Hope everyone enjoyed the children's book reviews. I'll have links to all of them in my Monday Malarkey post, for convenience. Happy Weekend!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Dough Knights and Dragons by Dee Leone and George Ermos

In a magical kingdom far to the east,lived a very small knight and a very large beast.
One day while collecting fresh herbs in a glen,the young knight discovered a well-hidden den.

So begins Dough Knights and Dragons. You can imagine what lives in that "well-hidden den," right? Of course. A dragon. But, before he meets the dragon, the young knight discovers a well-stocked kitchen with ingredients that are new to him and cooks up a pot of soup, just for fun. Then, out comes the dragon. Will he eat the boy?

Well, no, because the dragon really likes the soup and he just happens to enjoy cooking as much as the young knight does. So, they hang out in the kitchen together and discover they have a shared passion for baking. They spend some time baking marvelous treats before remembering that they soon will have to look at each other as enemies, again.

Each year, knights and dragons fight each other in front of their two kings and the kingdoms. A young knight is expected to prove himself by killing a dragon with his sword, while a young dragon must show his courage by roasting and eating his competitor, a young knight. And, this year, it's their turn.

They've just discovered how to make doughnuts by dropping dough in a vat of oil heated by the dragon's flame when the knight and dragon come up with a scathingly brilliant idea. The rules only say a knight must stab a dragon and a dragon must shoot cook and eat a knight. They don't say the knights and dragons have to be real.

In preparation for the annual event, the young knight and dragon (who are unnamed) make dragons and knights out of dough. And, in the ring, when they face each other the dragon pulls out a vat of oil, the boy takes the dough shapes off his shield, and they make dough knights and dragons. After doing what they believe is required of them, the young knight stabs his remaining doughnut dragons and offers them to the king and the dragon offers the knights he's created with his flames.

At first, the dragon and human kings are shocked. But, then they eat the doughnuts and they're so good that the two kings end up finishing all of the doughnuts off. From now on, the competition will be a bake-off. In my words. They don't actually refer to it as a bake-off.

Highly recommended - While I would have preferred this particular story was told in prose rather than rhyme, it really didn't matter. I love the story, the clever plan two new friends come up with to avoid having to try to kill each other, and the idea that friendship and warmth are formed in a kitchen. And, I do love the illustrations. I think one of the features of children's picture books that always draws me back is the colorful illustrations. I just love them - some better than others, of course. In Dough Knights and Dragons, I could almost visualize myself walking right into that den and cooking along with them. It looked very welcoming and I loved the chosen colors and expressiveness of all the characters.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Goodnight, Little Bot by Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith

Goodnight, Little Bot by Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith is a book about a little robot's going to bed routine. There are some similarities to the human litany (take a bath, read a book) and some charming differences (plug in to recharge, comb your circuits). It's a simple book that contains nothing overly surprising or unique beyond those few differences between a robot's routine and that of a human child but the illustrations are super cute. I'm a fan of robots and I enjoyed the illustrations more than the story, itself.

I was slightly bothered by the fact that the robot is shown snacking on batteries, since children do put dangerous things in their mouths. While I personally wish that had not been put in the book at all, I'm also aware that there's a way to overcome that problem, by playing a game relating to food. "Ew, we don't eat batteries. Yuck! What do we eat?" Talking about foods that are acceptable versus batteries or other things a robot might be shown munching on . . . I don't know, nuts and bolts? . . . could also lead to doing similar with the other differences between robot and human routines.

Neither recommended or not recommended - Love the illustrations and it's always nice to have a few bedtime stories that are just about the routine, itself, but apart from the cool robot pictures there is little that I found outstanding about Goodnight, Little Bot and it seriously bothers me that the robot is shown eating batteries. They're tremendously dangerous. If you're willing to use the robot's eating habits as a lesson, though, it's definitely a terrific visual experience.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The "My Little Cities" series: Paris, San Francisco, London, and New York by Jennifer Adams and Greg Pizzou

The My Little Cities series of board books by Jennifer Adams and Greg Pizzou are all similar but each, of course, contains images from the titled city. They have limited words, so if you're not familiar with the sites shown in the book, you can refer to the additional material at the back.

Why would you want to buy board books about big cities around the world? Well, I'll illustrate by telling a story about Paris. When I was 17, I went to London for several weeks with a friend whose father lives there and we spent a weekend in Paris. We took an elevator rather than climbing the stairs to Montmartre, one evening, because we were wearing dresses and heels. On the elevator was a young couple with a toddler. The toddler yawned and her mama said, "Are you fatigué?" with an American accent. I was surprised that someone would take such a young child across the ocean but I've since seen plenty of people taking very small children along on their travels around the world - and, of course, plenty of people move to these cities for business purposes, bringing family along. So, there are definitely little ones who could use either an introduction to the places they're going or a reminder of where they've been. And, you're never too young to learn about the world, whether you're able to explore it or not. I'm a big fan of introducing children to the wider world.

I received the 4 books shown above for review from Chronicle Books and I enjoyed them. Each is a rhyming book with a couple words on each page and additional information in the final spread. Here's an interior shot from My Little Cities: London:

My Little Cities: London - London is one of my favorite cities in the world and I think the author and artist did a great job of portraying some of its interesting features for the tiny board book crowd. Because there is identifying information at the back of the book (true of the entire series), I had fun trying to identify each of the locations in all 4 of the books and then checking the back to see if I was correct. You can see why the artist's style might make identification a tiny bit of a guessing game if you've only seen photos of the landmarks he illustrates. They're blocky and colorful, though not vague enough to make anything familiar difficult to identify. The info in the back of the book for Piccadilly Circus, shown above:

Piccadilly Circus is a public space in London's West End where Regent Street meets Piccadilly. There, you can enter the Piccadilly Circus tube station, which is part of the London Underground. The Circus is filled with electronic billboards and has a fountain topped with a statue widely thought to be of Eros, the Greek god of love, though the statue is actually of his twin brother, Anteros.

Other sites and structures shown in My Little Cities: London are The Tower of London, the Shard, Trafalgar Square, the Natural History Museum, Tower Bridge, Abbey Road, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and Big Ben.

My Little Cities: San Francisco - The landmarks illustrated are The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Lombard Street, the Ferry Building, Chinatown, City Hall, Pier 39, the Cliff House, cable cars, and the Painted Ladies Victorian row houses. I had a little trouble with the San Francisco book in that the descriptive final page spread talks about the ferry building's location in the Embarcadero without elaborating. I recall looking up "Embarcadero" while reading a novel, before I visited San Francisco. It's not an obvious descriptor if you haven't been there. I also thought the words "travel high" with an image of the Golden Gate Bridge (people walking across the top?) made for a slightly iffy depiction of the bridge.

My Little Cities: New York - Illustrated landmarks are the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, the New York Subway, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, Yankee Stadium, Coney Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

My Little Cities: Paris - Illustrations show the Jardin des Plantes, Shakespeare and Company, La Géode, the Catacombs, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, a street market, Notre-Dame, Les Deux Magots, and Sacré-Cœur. 

Recommended - Boldly illustrated board books with cute little rhyming words that don't say much about each illustration, perfect for very young children. Further information at the back of each book can be used to either answer questions or talk about illustrations. A cute way to take a virtual tour of a city, whether you're intending to travel there or not and great for throwing into a carry-on. 

Note: I have no idea what happened to the text to alter the final paragraphs in this review and I've been unable to fix it. This is a continuation of Children's Week and I'm a bit late getting started today, thanks to a headache. I'll attempt to write another review or two but if I'm unable to do so, Children's Week will continue into Friday and I'll post a cat photo at the end of the day or on Saturday morning. 

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu

There's a little rhyme in the end papers of Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark and Katy Wu:

Software tester. Workplace jester.
Order seeker. Well-known speaker.
Gremlin finder. Software minder.
Clever thinker. Lifelong tinker. 
Cherished mentor. Ace inventor.
Avid reader. Naval leader.
Rule breaker. 
Chance taker. 

It's just a hint at what a brilliant thinker and accomplished woman Grace Hopper was. A picture book for young readers, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is an easy but comprehensive biography of Grace Hopper's amazing life. A tinkerer at a young age, Grace's early years sound very much like the kind of story I've heard from the many engineers I've known throughout the years. Curious how her alarm clock worked, she took a look at the inside of her clock but accidentally dismantled it. And, when she couldn't figure out how to put the clock back together, she taught herself how by taking apart every other clock in her house. She moved on to building an elevator for her dollhouse.

Grace's insatiable curiosity continued throughout her life and she was a trailblazer. After earning bachelor's and graduate degrees, she taught for many years then went on to join the U. S. Navy, where she spent time writing early programs in machine language and then teaching computers how to understand words. She inadvertantly came up with the term "bug" - meaning a computer glitch - when a moth was discovered in a computer that wasn't working. She contributed to the development of early computer languages like COBOL. And, she was so important to the work of the Navy that after she was forced to retire, they brought her back and she continued to work for 20 more years.

All of this is covered in Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code. I don't know what age this book is geared to but my family has never felt constrained by age limit suggestions and I'd happily read this book to my 3-year-old granddaughter, although she probably will need another year or two to really start to grasp it. Peppered with wise quotes by Hopper, the book is a wonderfully succinct bio of a brilliant woman, the kind of book little girls need to read as early as possible.

Highly recommended - What a wonderful book! While I particularly think this easy bio is a great way to introduce little girls to a strong and brilliant woman's career, don't ignore the boys. They need to learn that women are every bit as intelligent and capable as men as early as girls need to start hearing about successful women. Lucid prose, stylish and cheerful illustrations, and a deeply respectful tone make for an excellent true story of an extraordinary woman.

Addendum: I'm adding on a note because I had a conversation with my youngest son (who has a degree in Management Information Systems) and discovered something I would not otherwise have known. When I asked him if he was familiar with Grace Hopper, he said, "Admiral Grace Hopper? She's one of my heroes." The book doesn't mention the fact that she rose to the level of admiral in the Navy but I think it's worth mentioning that her full title was Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Hopper.

Last post for today. There will be more children's book reviews coming up, tomorrow!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell is, first of all, a book with a mouthful of a title. If I had little ones, right now, I would definitely refer to it as, "Little Red Cat" or "Red Cat ABCs." And, I'd definitely have to come up with some kind of shorthand because I have a feeling little ones will want to read it repeatedly. The illustrations are a hoot.

The first thing that happens, of course, is that a little red cat runs out the door of a house. Oddly, The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs is completely wordless. The story is told through the illustrations and it's up to the grown-up to dictate the storyline for the youngest readers. That totally stunned me when the book first arrived. I loved the illustrations but there were a couple panels in which I was unsure of what the letter for that particular page represented. And, then I discovered the alphabet at the back of the book. The author has provided a list of the words each of the letters of the alphabet represent. So, once you've figured that out, you're golden.

The second time I read the book, I had no problem with the storyline. The illustrations make it perfectly clear and you'll find that the lack of words is no obstacle to the story. In fact, it may even be a little more fun not being constrained by someone else's word choice.

Not-so-quick synopsis: A little red cat goes outside to play but immediately encounters an alligator with open jaws. The alligator wants to eat him! The red cat runs away, past a brown bear, past a chicken. As he runs, each animal follows. When they encounter a dragon, the chicken is so frightened she lays an egg. The dragon blows fire at them and they all put on sunglasses (this was a frame I had trouble with: G is for "glasses"). The cat thinks, "I want to go home!" But, he keeps running. It snows and the alligator, the bear, the chicken, the dragon and the egg (who has miraculously sprouted legs) slide on ice. They swing through a jungle and run past a castle with a king and a princess peering out a window. The princess points out a sign with a picture of the red cat on it and you get to see one of only two words in the book, here: "LOST". The animals cross a mountain range and come to a cliff. "NnnnnOoooo!" shouts the dragon, but it's too late. The other animals fall over a cliff. Fortunately, they all have parachutes. They come to a sign with arrows but no words and they all have a question mark over their heads. They decide to stop for a restroom break. The sun is setting. Everyone is tired. But, then a unicorn shows up with the king and princess on its back! The princess hands out valentines and the other animals wave goodbye to the cat, then the king hands the red cat a scroll. It's a map and X marks the spot - the map leads home! The cat arrives home and runs straight to his bed. He yawns and then falls asleep and Zzzzzzz, sweet dreams.

Highly recommended - Clearly, the story in The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) is an obvious one, easy for a parent or teacher to describe and dramatize. The illustrations are a delight, most of the words that go with the letters obvious enough to make telling the story a breeze (a handy key in the back clarifies if you're unsure about any of the words that go with each letter), and the story comes full circle with a happy ending. Great for home or school.

This is Book #4 for Children's Week. I forgot to mention that the last review was #3. Oops. Quite a few more children's book reviews are on the way!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry

Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler and Will Terry is the story of a skeleton with a unique problem. His bones keep coming apart. He can't pedal a bike, catch a ball or bend over without worrying about losing a bone or two. What should he do?

His friends have all sorts of crazy ideas but none of them work. Franky Stein (that adorable guy on the cover) suggests gluing and screwing Bonaparte's bones together but when he's done Bonaparte can't move. All that work for nothing. Blacky Widow (a spider) tries spinning a web around Bonaparte, but he just ends up in a tangle. The same kind of disaster occurs when his mummy friend tries binding him. Regardless of what his friends come up with, all the work ends up having to be undone, until a solution walks right past them. And, since we're all grown-ups, here, I'm going to give away the ending. It's a dog. Bonaparte teaches a dog to fetch his bones when they fall off.

Here's what I got out of Bonaparte Falls Apart: This is not the Halloween book you might have expected; it's really about friendship and working together to find a solution. Sure, the solution ends up walking right past them, in the end, but Bonaparte's buddies went out of their way to try to help him out. Also, it's an opportunity to teach children a stunning number of bone jokes:

Franky Stein picked it up and set it back in place. "Before school starts, we will bone up on other ideas," he said.

"We will leave no bone unturned," said Blacky Widow. 

"No bones about it!" said Mummicula. 

Recommended - Not just for Halloween. The characters are perfect for the season but the theme of Bonaparte Falls Apart works year-round and nicely keeps the book from being simply a seasonal story that you only feel comfortable pulling out once a year. You'll appreciate that if you've ever bought a book for your kids or students and then realized it's so specific to a particular day that reading it any other time of the year is just . . . awkward. Love the illustrations (which appear to be colored pencil drawings - subtly colored but seriously adorable). Franky Stein is my favorite character - so oddly cute for a Frankenstein character.

Side note: My husband walked in while I was in the middle of writing this review and asked what I was writing about. I summarized the story and told him how it ended. "That's silly!" he said. Well, yeah. That's what kids will love about it, right? Silly is good.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ally-saurus and the Very Bossy Monster by Richard Torrey

Ally-saurus is a little girl named Ally who likes to pretend she's a dinosaur. I reviewed the first Ally-saurus book, a few years ago:

Ally-saurus and the First Day of School by Richard Torrey

In Ally-saurus and the Very Bossy Monster, Ally-saurus is still imagining herself as a dinosaur. As in the first book, each child's imaginary self is shown with a crayon outline - a dinosaur around Ally-saurus and a top hat on her friend Kai, who pretends to dance across a stage when he's on the porch stairs. Her younger brother Petey just loves to show off his bear.

All is well until a bully named Maddie moves into the neighborhood. Maddie likes to boss everyone around, telling them what to do and not do. She makes up the rules to please herself. But, now she wants to be a monster (as shown by her green monster outline) and she insists that everyone must follow her rules for playing the monster game. No roaring, no saying "Ta-da", no carrying bears around. Maddie insists that monsters say things like "Grack-a-crack", they have warts and horns, and they're smelly and slimy.

At first, Ally-saurus, Kai, and Petey are simply stunned at Maddie's rules for playing at being monsters. But, then Maddie takes Petey's bear away and that is, as they say, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back. Ally-saurus gets up and roars.

"If you are going to play monsters with us," she said, "You have to follow the rules!The first rule is: we can be any kind of monster we want to be," said Ally-saurus. "Hairy and ugly, a dancer . . . even a dinosaur. We can say whatever we want to say:'Grack-a-crack,' 'Roar!,' or 'Ta-Da!' . . . And finally," said Ally-saurus, "nobody takes Petey's teddy bear!"

Ally-saurus and the Very Bossy Monster is, of course, a lesson in how to deal with bullies: You can still play with them but don't let them dictate all the rules.

Recommended - As with the first book, I'm a big fan of the way the author and illustrator uses the crayon outline to show a child's imagination. I also love the fact that Ally-saurus, her friend, and her brother hear out Maddie's ideas. But, it's the fact that Maddie takes away her little brother's bear that spurs her to action. Petey is smaller than Maddie and he needs a defender. So, Ally's not just standing up to a bully for herself; she's acting as a protective big sister. I love that. Just about everyone experiences a problem with bullies, at some point (or becomes one) so Ally-saurus and the Very Bossy Monster would make a super book for everyone to own - to prepare little ones for the bully they may have to deal with and to discuss why bossing other children around is unacceptable, whether at home or in a classroom setting.

Side note: We had a bully problem when my eldest son was 5 years old and a little boy kept grabbing Eldest's toys while they were playing in an an enclosed courtyard. The little bully did this for several weeks before we hit upon a solution. I told Eldest, "The next time he tries to take your toy away, pick it up and come inside. Tell him you don't want to play with him if he's going to be a bully." Eldest did exactly as I said. I was sitting on the doorstep so we both went inside and closed the door. Within minutes the little bully knocked at our door. He apologized and asked Eldest if he would please come back outside, promising not to grab his toys without asking. We're talking about a 4-year-old child, here. Bullying can start young. But, in this case, the young child really just wanted a playmate and didn't realize he was doing anything wrong. My son and his grabby playmate became the best of friends. So, I think the way Ally-saurus handles her bully problem very well could work in real life. Sometimes, very young bullies are not aware that they're doing anything wrong until someone tells them.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Cap'n Rex and His Clever Crew by Henry L. Herz and Benjamin Schipper

Dinosaur pirates! What a combination. That's what you get in Cap'N Rex and His Clever Crew, a ship full of dinosaur pirates in search of treasure. But, they'll encounter many dangers. First, a Megalodon (a giant shark) takes a bite out of the ship. One of the crew wonders aloud what they'll do.

"Now what, Cap'n? We can't steer without a rudder," said Pat. 

"Rex glared with teeth bared. "Can't ye?" 

And, herein lies the theme of the book. When a pea-soup thick fog rolls in and Terry (a pterodactyl) says he can't spy land, Cap'n Rex repeats the phrase, "Can't ye?" Whenever he says "Can't ye?" it makes his crew try harder to find a solution. Terry can fly above the clouds. Pat (an apatosaurus) can act as a rudder. Another dinosaur with armor on his back (Kyle, the ankylosaurus) can use his armor to knock away the boulders being thrown by an active volcano so that the crew can dig for treasure at the volcano's base. And, when the Cap'n says he can't share the booty with his crew:

The crew frowned. They looked at each other. Then the crew surrounded Rex. 

"CAN'T YE?" 

"Well, sink, me! Yer a clever crew," said Rex.

Recommended - Brightly colored, adventurous, witty fun. I love the theme of Cap'N Rex and His Clever Crew: You can come up with a solution if you think you can. There's only one complaint I have; I can't figure out what's happening in one of the illustrations. Just one. The rest are obvious (and all are delightfully bold). I also like the fact that each dinosaur's name is a hint to the type of dinosaur he is, without it being handed to you on a platter. Not necessarily knowing the type of dinosaur they're looking at will give little ones something extra to do if they're not already well-acquainted with dinosaurs. And, if they're not sure they can look up dinosaurs, whoever's reading to the little ones just has to say, "Can't ye?" and help them out. Children who are more knowledgeable will be delighted to be able to figure out the naming puzzle on their own. At the end of the book is a glossary of pirate terms used in the book, for easy reference.

This is Book #2 for Children's Week. More to come.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Amazing Animal Friendships by Pavla Hanackova and Linh Dao

I completely forgot to mention that I'm planning to make this a Children's Week in my Monday Malarkey post, yesterday. This is Post #1 for Children's Week. More to come!

Amazing Animal Friendships by Pavla Hanackova and Linh Dao is a book about animals and plants that have symbiotic/companion relationships, like clownfish and anemones (anemones protect clownfish; clownfish keep the anemones clean), aphids and ants (aphids share nectar with ants; ants protect the aphids), truffles/fungi and the root systems of trees, etc. It also mentions a few similar but harmful or parasitic relationships.

I love the clear, cheerful illustrations in Amazing Animal Friendships and found the information extremely interesting. It's meant for ages 5-9 and there are a few words that I thought children might not understand. Fortunately, there's a small glossary in the back of the book that explains some of those words (one of which I didn't know, myself).

My only complaint about the book is that it's a bit "busy". However, that's also handled well. I'm easily overwhelmed visually, as is one of my children, but in this case the descriptions have helpful arrows, so that it's clear which illustration goes with which description. And, it only took one page of reading before I understood the right way to read the book (top to bottom, left page then right -- similar books are often read across the page spread from left to right and then down, so that's important to know). One of my children loved books that keep your eyes moving, so the busy look won't be a concern for everyone.

American readers should be aware that there are a few British terms, like "ladybird" instead of "ladybug", but nothing that can't be easily looked up online if you're not already familiar with them.

Recommended - A fascinating read with lots of information I don't recall ever reading much about anywhere else (although I did know about companion plants from gardening). I especially recommend Amazing Animal Friendships for nature-loving children.

Side note: I read Amazing Animal Friendships just before we left for vacation in South Africa, so it was fresh in my mind when I saw a few of those relationships at work, most notably birds on the backs of large animals, as you see in the cover illustration.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Late in the day, but at least I made it in time to avoid Tuesday Twaddle.

Recent arrivals:

None. So, you get a picture of an outrigger canoe in Hawaii at sunset. Well, it's better than nothing, right? And it comes with a good story. Husband and I were sitting in a grassy area to watch the sunset in Maui when I took this photo. The sun had fallen and we were on the verge of getting up to walk back to our hotel when the outrigger canoes (there were two of them) went past. I pointed them out and we both laughed because, honestly, could there be a more Hawaiian thing to happen than outrigger canoes moving into frame as you watch the last of the evening light fade?

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz

Not a long book and not a difficult one, either, but I read A Bigger Table exclusively and it took all week because I found myself rereading sentences and paragraphs that I liked. I marked that sucker up like crazy. You should see the number of colorful flags I put in the book! In fact, you probably will, at some point. A Bigger Table is a book about why the author believes churches should be more inclusive and allow people to express their doubts in order to help them grow in faith. The book is part memoir, as the author tells his story to explain how he came to pastor a church that has the kind of inclusive policy of which he speaks.

Posts since last Malarkey:

I don't have an excuse for light posting, this week. Oh, well. It is what it is.

Currently reading:

I just finished A Bigger Table, yesterday, and immediately returned to The Goddess of Mtwara. The first story I read baffled me. The second one was exceptional, and I just read several stories that were all thought-provoking. One was even surprisingly upbeat. I'm close to finishing The Goddess of Mtwara and then I'll return to the remaining two books with bookmarks in them: The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker and Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon. I read a handful of pages of The Half-Drowned King this week but I'm just going to have to restart Spies in the Family, when I get back to it. It's been set aside for too long.

In other news:

I've got three rather large piles of ARCs in my bedroom and a pile of children's books that I've read but haven't reviewed. And, I just discovered a children's book that I haven't yet read, which was literally hiding in plain sight - just sitting very openly on the piano bench and I've probably been walking past it for months. So, I'm back in non-request mode. I'll be accepting children's books because they're easy to read and review quickly (although I do prefer to read them once and then do a Children's Week in which I reread each before reviewing) but otherwise, I'm just going to have to stop accepting books, for now, and enjoy the ones I've got.

What's up in your world?

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fiona Friday on the Wrong Day

This is a slightly sleepy, just-woke-up kitty. You can tell by the way she's got her front paws spread for balance that she's not quite with-it, yet. She was giving me her, "Feed me?" look. Yes, it worked.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy

In 1939, Dutch brothers Jacob and Edwin Koopman are sent to Hitler Youth Camp in Germany. They'd really prefer to spend the summer helping their Uncle Martin, who runs a fishing boat in the North Sea so their father agrees to divide their time, instead. First, the camp, then some time learning how to fish and operate Uncle Martin's boat, and finally some time spent learning about their father's lightbulb factory from the ground up.

At camp, they find that the other boys are fiercely competitive, often violent, and many already know the routine. Some have won a particular prize that Jacob covets. Edwin, an artist, spends all his free time drawing but can be surprisingly competitive, during the games. Although their time is divided, the lessons learned from all three of their experiences will continue to linger.

Back home, their father is determined to get a contract selling lightbulbs to Volkswagen. Against their mother's wishes, the two teenagers tag along with their father to Rotterdam, where the first of many tragedies strikes when Rotterdam is bombed, Holland is occupied by Germans and their hopes to escape Europe quickly become impossible.

From here on out, the major plot points feel like spoilers to me, so I won't mention them. Instead, I'll keep it generic and tell you that The Boat Runner is Jacob's story, the tale of his emotional and physical journey through the war. Faced with numerous tragedies and traumatized by loss, bombings, and the many horrible things he witnesses, he makes a fateful decision. But, has Jacob made the right choice?

I think what I liked best about The Boat Runner was the emotional honesty. At Jacob's age (teenager/young man), many don't have a grip on their emotions and I thought the author did an excellent job of showing the shock, trauma, pain, and (sometimes misplaced) blame that came of his experiences. Also, The Boat Runner is definitely a plot-heavy book - a lot happens. And, I learned a few new things about the WWII era. I'd never heard of potato masher grenades and I didn't know RAF pilots carried barter kits containing gold coins and rings.

I did have some problems with the book like occasionally feeling like the prose was flat, although at other times I found myself stopping to reread a beautiful sentence. It might have been that I simply didn't fall in love with the author's writing style, coupled with the rawness of the story. There are some gruesome scenes; it's worth mentioning that The Boat Runner is not for the faint of heart.

Having said all that, I liked the point-of-view and I think The Boat Runner would make an excellent discussion book. The decisions Jacob made, the emotions he experienced, the historical perspective, and the situations in which he was placed are all ripe for conversation. I wondered, for example, if at times certain situations were resolved a little too easily, or the consequences didn't necessarily fit the actions, or even if other people squirmed at some of Jacob's conclusions - and a couple times, whether a scene was plausible given the surroundings.

Recommended but not a favorite - A very good WWII book, extremely emotional, sometimes beautifully written and sometimes a little too descriptive for my taste, definitely worth discussing. I would have preferred to know precisely when the events were occurring without having to look them up. Dates at the chapter headings would have been helpful. My copy was an ARC sent by Goodreads, so I can't say for sure dates were not added but the only date I saw was in the cover blurb.

Note: I looked up a lot of images while reading The Boat Runner and I found it particularly interesting that there were images of boys in Hitler Youth Camp doing exactly the activities that the author described. If you read the book, I highly recommend looking up images from the time period. While the author has been called out for some inaccuracies, I found a lot of what I looked up matched the descriptions and seeing the images always adds an interesting dimension to the reading.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Malarkey

We're celebrating our first really autumnal day (although, of course, it's not apparently going to last) by throwing open the windows. The cats and I are in total bliss and I decided I must rush outdoors to photograph the latest book acquisitions. Fiona kindly posed.

Recent arrivals (top to bottom - all were purchased except for The It Girls):

  • Moon travel guide to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island
  • Slade House by David Mitchell
  • The It Girls by Karen Harper - from HarperCollins for review
  • The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
  • A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Slade House, The Faraway Nearby, and Big Magic (which I checked out from the library and have wanted to own, since) were all purchased on Wednesday evening when I spent the night in Oxford, Mississippi, where I was needed to sit in Kiddo's apartment and wait for a delivery, the next morning. We went to Off-Square Books after eating dinner:

I love Off-Square Books.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
  • The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy

I was focusing exclusively on The Boat Runner when I saw a friend's review of Dark Matter and decided I needed to take a break and read something suspenseful. I bought Dark Matter several months ago and, wow, Debbie was right. It was almost impossible to put down. The only reason I managed to set it down at all was because I started reading late enough at night that my eyes grew heavy. Dark Matter is a terrific read. I finished up The Boat Runner, last night, a WWII novel about a young Dutch man who is sent to Hitler Youth Camp with his brother just prior to the occupation of Holland by Germans and his experiences during the war.

Posts since last Malarkey:

Not a big week for blogging, since I was gone in the middle of the week, but boy did I have fun reading in a hotel room alone!!

Currently reading:

Hmm, I'm between books and not sure which to focus on, next. A Bigger Table just arrived this afternoon and I immediately sat down to read the introduction (so excited about it that I didn't even fetch my reading glasses; I just read it blurry). so I'll undoubtedly add that to the current reads. I'd also like to get back to The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker and get that finished up but I'm well aware that it's a slow read so I might, instead, focus on finishing up The Goddess of Mtwara (a book of prize-winning African short stories). Whenever I take the time to read a story in The Goddess of Mtwara, I'm always frankly blown away by the quality of the writing, although a couple of stories are so very, very African that I just had to read between the lines. At any rate, there's nothing I feel like totally abandoning, but I'm not entirely sure what I'll pick up when I climb into bed, tonight. We shall see.

In other news:  

I'm so excited about the cool air I can hardly stand it. I completely forgot we were expecting a cool front until about noon and then I rushed to open the windows and the cats were happy as clams. Then I had to shut the windows to go to the gym. When I arrived home, they were sleeping but they came running when they heard the kitchen windows go up. Opening the windows has the same effect as popping the top of a can of cat food. We have so little open-window weather that it's just as exciting for me but I don't fit on the window ledge so I guess I'll have to go out and trim bushes to enjoy the air. Or sit outside reading!!! Oooooh. There's a thought!

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fiona Friday

You can't tell they're snuggling but the lengths of their little fur bodies were pressed together and it looked super sweet. Unfortunately, I took this photo and my phone battery promptly died, so I didn't manage to get a view that showed how close they were. Still sweet, though, yes?

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

An American Family by Khizr Khan

I read An American Family by Khizr Khan near the end of September so there are details I've forgotten. But, the one thing that really sticks with me is the sense of admiration I felt for the author and the experience of reading about how much pain the family went through after losing their son to a bomber in Iraq.

Let me back up a little, in case there's anyone out there who is unaware of who Khizr Khan is, since I spent many years refusing to talk politics or vote. Khizr Khan and his wife are gold-star parents (meaning parents who lost a son or daughter during his or her American military service) who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. He had harsh words for Donald Trump, who had criticized both Muslims and John McCain, the congressman known for his many years as a Vietnam Prisoner of War. After Khan's speech at the DNC, Trump verbally attacked Khan.

I was impressed with Khan's speech and his measured response to Trump's attacks, although reading the speech in the book, it really does appear quite harsh. Still, I found what little I heard about Khan and his story compelling, so I was very excited to get an Advanced Reader Copy of his book, An American Family.

The author goes all the way back to his youth to tell his story. As a child in Pakistan, he lived in poverty but he was determined to become a lawyer. Because of his financial situation, it took a lot of hard work and faith to get to law school and then neither he nor his parents could come up with the money for him to take what we call the Bar Exam (I don't recall if it's called that in Pakistan, but it was clearly the same - a test that allows one to practice law), although a leap of faith and a dollop of courage led to that opportunity. The story of how he acquired his education and the words of wisdom that were repeated to him as a child are fascinating enough alone. But, you also get to read about Khan's love story - how he met his wife, Ghazala, and why her mother wanted her to marry someone else in an arranged marriage but Khizr won out. It's a truly beautiful story.

He talks about the decision to leave the country for a job, rather than staying in Pakistan, where he knew that bribery had a lot to do with the outcome of a trial, and the steps in his career and further education that eventually made his family financially secure. He talks about his three children, their differing personalities, and son Humayun's decision to join the military. You really get to know and admire the family. While Khizr Khan was strict enough that today he'd probably be referred to as a "helicopter parent", it's clear that he and his wife raised children with strong principles and a deep love of their country.

Near the end of the book, the focus is on Humayun and his death - and it is heart-wrenching. The author also talks about how Ghazala eventually worked through her pain by hosting young military recruits for a dinner and giving each a gift, encouraging them in service in spite of her own loss. I could hardly breathe through the last part of the book for all the tears. While his Muslim heritage is a huge part of his life, faith mostly comes into the book in a soft way, in moments when he explains how his beliefs figure into certain decisions and actions, although it's a huge part of his life. This quote, for example, explains how he came to give Ghazala a certain gift that impressed her:

Islam teaches that the Creator made nothing in a cage, and that to release one of His creations back to the wild was an act of kindness and mercy. 
~ from p. 53 of ARC (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

Highly recommended - A deeply moving and admirable story of the author's life and that of his family. Every now and then you read one of those rare memoirs that makes you think, "I wish I knew the author. I would love it if he was my neighbor." That's how I felt while I was reading An American Family. They sound like absolutely lovely, giving people and I wish I knew them. Near the beginning of the book, you find out about how the author discovered the U.S. Constitution and why he carries a copy of it around with him. While he didn't actually intend to end up in the United States, it's quite interesting to read about that early connection and how his understanding of our Constitution has influenced him, over the years, and how his home country compares. A new favorite memoir. I can't think of a single negative thing to say about this book, although it's worth mentioning that it's a very emotional read.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Monday Malarkey

Quite a change after last week's pile but this time only a week has passed and look at the cover of Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things! Is it cool or what?

Recent arrivals:

  • Memoirs of a Public Servant by Charleston Hartfield
  • Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

I read about Memoirs of a Public Servant in a news article about the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. Charleston Hartfield, a former police officer, was among those killed and the article I read mentioned his book. I used to read quite a few books by or about police officers back in the days when I thought I wanted to be a mystery writer so I figured it would be an interesting read. It's got some slight formatting issues but looks like a quick gulp of a book and I'm looking forward to the reading.

I read every book Simon Van Booy publishes, of course, so I pre-ordered Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things when Simon told me about it. It's the first in a Middle Grade series and I've already read it, although it took me 5 days because I was still recovering from my recent trip and kept falling asleep. I napped a lot, this week, too. More about Gertie Milk will be coming soon, but I can tell you it's a wild and wacky ride.

Books finished since last Malarkey:

  • Iowa: Poems by Lucas Hunt
  • My Little Cities: London by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • My Little Cities: Paris by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • My Little Cities: New York by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • My Little Cities: San Francisco by J. Adams and G. Pizzoli
  • Goodnight, Little Bot by Karen Kaufman Orloff and Kim Smith
  • Dough Knights and Dragons by Dee Leone and George Ermos
  • Rufus Blasts Off by Kim Griswell and Valeri Gorbachev
  • Gertie Milk and the Keeper of Lost Things by Simon Van Booy

Almost all of my reading was chosen with my current state of fatigue and slumpishness in mind, although I was very excited about Iowa and Gertie Milk because they're both books I've been waiting on for quite some time. The last couple of months, between and during travel, my reading took a serious beating. Children's books and poetry just happen to be two of my slump breakers and I had plenty waiting for me. And, they did the trick! Sleep might have helped a bit, too, but it took me all week to recover from both Hawaii and the long night of watching the news about Las Vegas (I just happened to be up when that horror occurred).

Posts since last Malarkey:

Currently reading:

  • The Boat Runner by Devin Murphy
  • The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories
  • The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker
  • Spies in the Family by Eva Dillon

OK. You know I've been listing some that I have bookmarks in but which I'm not currently reading, right? Well, this week was an improvement. After all those children's picture books and the one MG broke my post-vacation slump, I managed to pick up The Goddess of Mtwara and read two stories, both of which were excellent (they are prizewinners, of course, but sometimes African stories are so heavy in African names and local references that they can totally lose a reader from Elsewhere). Then, I started The Boat Runner because I wasn't yet in the mood to pick up The Half-Drowned King, knowing how dense it is. But, I no longer feel like tweeting instead of reading, so I'm feeling very positive about the coming week's reading and have the sense I'll probably finally get back to the books I've set aside. 

In other news:

There's not much news but there's one question I've been asked 3 times since we returned from Hawaii: "Is the water pretty?" To answer that, here's a photo I took just off the coast of Oahu from the air:

Clearly, the answer is "yes". We didn't do any snorkeling on this trip (although, if you go back and look at posts I made in November of 2007, you will see that we once went snorkeling off Oahu) but the water is lovely and I did see a lone sea turtle, at one point. So, that's cool.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Fiona Friday

Isabel has to come into the bathroom with me, but she also has to consider going out.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

A few minis - Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, Defining Moments in Black History by Dick Gregory

There are a few books I've been thinking about not reviewing (and one I loved but don't want to give full review treatment) so I've decided to do a few mini reviews. Most of these were read some time ago, at least long enough that plenty of the details will probably escape me.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautifully written story about a young girl and her family after their move to New York. Told in reflection after she meets an old friend on the train and refuses to speak to her, the story describes the fiction she told herself about her mother and how eventually the missing mother would show up, the friendships that she formed after she was finally allowed to roam outside her apartment, and the horror when one of her friends was raped. I read Another Brooklyn in July and that's about all I can remember, apart from how it made me feel.

And, here is where the surprise comes. Most everyone seems to love this book but it simply did not resonate for me. Jacqueline Woodson's writing is impressive, evocative, a little dreamy and very honest. It wasn't so much that I couldn't relate because that doesn't necessarily matter to me. It was that I couldn't always follow; in other words, sometimes the book was a little too lyrical or metaphorical and I wasn't entirely certain what she was trying to say or what had just happened. And, in the end, I was left with questions. I no longer recall what those questions were, but I definitely would have loved to talk to someone about it when I closed the book. Maybe that would have made it a better read for me, having someone to discuss with. But, I found it just an above-average read because of the confusion. Apparently, it was just me. The book gets rave reviews. All of my friends have given it either 4 or 5 stars at Goodreads and I love Woodson's writing so I still recommend it. I may even reread Another Brooklyn, someday; it's very likely I missed something.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans is a book that's been on my radar since Andi of Estella's Revenge talked about it. Till then, I was unfamiliar with the author or her blog (where she appears to now seldom write an entry) and her heartfelt posts about her struggle between the Christian beliefs that have taken a sharp direction away from those of the evangelical church in which she was raised and her yearning to be a part of a church community. Subtitled, "Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church," the book tells about Evans' childhood in a Southern Baptist church, her devotion to learning about the Bible and saving people, her Bible-scholar father's calm explanations, and then . . . the questions, the creation of a new church with friends, and the gradual changes in her beliefs that led her to search for a new church home.

With the exception of having a Bible scholar as a father (mine was an accountant) there were some striking similarities between Evans' church history and mine. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church (a cheerful, small-town church where I always felt happy and loved). I was an eager student of the Bible, although maybe not a very good one, and I wanted everyone to feel the kind of acceptance and love I felt at church so I was constantly trying to convert people. I can only hope I wasn't too much of a prig, but it all boiled down to the fact that my home church was a joyful place. Like Evans, I also went through a stage when I finally began to seriously question the church's stance on particular modern issues, although I had long since moved to the Methodist church and my move away from the church was decidedly slower. Still, the similarities stunned me and I found Searching for Sunday an incredibly affirming and comforting read.

Highly recommended, especially to those who find themselves questioning the church but not their Christianity.

In the opposite vein, I'd really like to say as little as possible about Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies by Dick Gregory because I have such mixed feelings about it. It starts out great. Gregory, who recently passed away, lived quite an interesting life as an actor, comedian, and writer, and appeared to know just about every black person of fame that you can think of. He was around during the Civil Rights Movement and was knowledgeable about the events, the people, the movement itself and the many organizations working for change. At the beginning, he shares a great deal of history in fairly short chunks. They're not necessarily cohesive, but they're interesting and revealing. The audience he addresses is black; he talks as if he's talking to a young person, offering his knowledge as well as advice.

However, as the book progresses, Gregory begins to occasionally contradict himself and dig deeply into conspiracy theories. While I felt like some of them were absolutely plausible, there were many others (particularly involving the deaths of celebrities) that simply didn't make sense to me, even when I sat back and thought about them and twisted them around in my head.  He believed, for example, that Tiger Woods' downfall was not due to his infidelity but due to generic white supremacists who didn't want him to surpass the success of Jack Nicklaus. How he came to that conclusion in spite of Tiger's own confession and decided that Tiger's back surgery was a fiction forced upon Tiger by these unknown white supremacists is beyond me. That's simply one example. I'd like to give Gregory the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps the contradictions and conspiracy theories were due to the fact that he was aging and died shortly before publication but I haven't read any of his other books so I can't compare to know if there's been any change.

At any rate, I liked parts of Defining Moments in Black History and found some of the history particularly fascinating (music, movies, movements, you name it - he spoke broadly). Iffy on recommendation but I wouldn't tell you not to give it a try. I'd love to hear other folks' thoughts about this book.

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