Review: Lost in the Library

Lost in the Library

I need to admit something. The cover of the lovely new picture book, LOST IN THE LIBRARY, is so endearing that I was almost – almost – disappointed in the actual story. Thankfully, the in-depth adventures of Fortitude, one of the two lions guarding the main entrance to the New York Public Library, as he searches for his companion, Patience, in the halls of the famous building are as delightful as the cover promises.

The story begins when Fortitude wakes up from a nap and notices that Patience has left his post at the front of the library. As he wanders the halls, which Patience has visited often, but Fortitude has never seen, we join the searching lion in meeting statues and paintings and even a water fountain decoration. The hundreds of rooms are not featured in detail, but the taste readers get will encourage a visit to the New York Public Library’s halls.

Lost in the Library is a love story not just to the New York Public Library’s structure, but to the books that house the myriad adventures, travels, characters that we share with each other. Why does Patience leave his post at night? To read stories which he later shares with his good friend Fortitude!

The casual, sometimes jaunty rhymes through the story by Josh Funk work well with the chunky, humorous illustrations by Stevie Lewis. Fortitude and Patience, as well as the supporting characters, all have definite personalities conveyed not just through their words, but in the rich and detailed illustrations. The back page of the book includes explanations about some of the people and places Fortitude discovers during his pre-dawn adventure in the New York Public Library.

Highly recommended for ages 4-8 and beyond.

Thank you to Henry Holt Publishers for a review copy of this book.
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In Order To Form a More Compassionate Union

Maya WileyThank you to Maya Wiley for a thoughtful, empathetic, in-depth response to last night’s callous and heinous performance of the current occupant of the Oval Office regarding Dr. Blasey Ford.

This clip ends with Maya Wiley saying: “What we saw today is fundamentally about whether or not we are a compassionate society.” 

I tried to avoid watching the video of our electorally-elected leader mocking a constituent who is also a sexual assault survivor. But then NPR played the audio, so I decided to watch the video to see the audience reactions. They laughed. One man even elbowed the man next to him and they enjoyed the moment as a pair. It made me angry and disgusted. It made me sad. It made me feel defensive and frightened for Dr. Blasey Ford and victims of sexual assault who felt attacked, belittled, and laughed at by the person speaking — and by the people laughing and egging him along.

But before my anger at the audience could grow to a full rage, I remembered something I mention during domestic violence and healthy relationship workshops I run for teenagers and families: Each one of us in this room knows someone in an unhealthy relationship. And that’s true for sexual assault victims as well. Each one of us knows someone who has been sexually assaulted. This, obviously, means that on the risers behind the current occupant of the Oval Office, in the participants at the rally, and among those in the television audience are dozens, hundreds, and thousands upon thousands of people who have endured a sexual assault.

And while my immediate inclination is to defend and protect and support those who don’t stand behind a serial misogynist or support someone accused by dozens of sexual misconduct, the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s the people NOT surrounded by those who say #BelieveSurvivors who need our empathy most. I won’t point out individuals, but there is at least one person in that video whom I’d guess KNEW it was wrong and repulsive and deplorable. This person might well be, or at least know, someone who is a victim of sexual assault. Where does the young woman or man in this Louisiana rally go for help or support when the weight of an assault becomes too much to bear after they have seen their neighbors, friends, family, and leader laughing about Dr. Blasey Ford?

It’s not easy, because many are also enablers. It’s not easy, because many of them voted against what I may consider compassionate treatment of my fellow human beings. It’s not easy because human nature guides us to support those with whom we feel kinship and mutual values.

However, as someone who believes in reform, redemption, growth, evolution, and in the value of sincere discussion and a respectful exchange of ideas, I also have compassion for those victims of sexual assault who attend rallies that share the message that I am worthless and laughable. Mourning, depression, trauma, and survival don’t always look like what we expect. And I truly hope that those who need support and assistance, but who aren’t surrounded by people who act with compassion and care, are able to get it because I have to believe that we are, at our base, a compassionate society.

RAINN has a solid list of support services for sexual assault victims and survivors. RAINN has also been inundated, more so than usual, so please consider a donation to help them continue their important work.

See a fuller version of Ms. Wiley’s remarks here.

 

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Review: I Love You More Than…

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The team that brought us MIXED ME! has a new contemplative and loving book out called I LOVE YOU MORE THAN… This new children’s book written by Taye Diggs and illustrated by Shane Evans is a celebration of strong and enveloping fatherly love that conquers distance and time between visits. Adding another positive and unambiguously loving depiction of a Black father and his child is a welcome addition to the children’s book universe. Aimed at children ages 4-8, the book is applicable to families separated by divorce, work travel, deployment, or any other of life’s circumstances that cause physical separation.

The book is organized mainly via pairs of pages that point out the father loves the child “more than” a beloved activity or place and then reminds the child that the father-child pair has enjoyed or explored it together.

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At times, the book feels like it relies heavily on material items and experiences to compare to the love the father has for his child, but each of the examples are realistic and relatable. And examples like the image above balance out the sneakers and trips to 3D movies.

I Love You More Than… is a comforting, encompassing book. The vagueness about why the father is apart from the child will allow families of many shapes, sizes, and situations to relate to and enjoy the book. In addition, the final frames of the book provide a satisfying moment for both father and child.

 

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Glad I Saw It: Life Without Art

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Especially during moments, whether those moments last 60 seconds or much, much longer, when we feel the world is too much with us, art can lift us and hold us and help steady us on our paths forward. It’s pretty much what my Glad I Saw It theme is all about. I’ve been needing a reminder to stop and appreciate the art around me, and I found it in the window of The Creativity Caravan.

And now I’m reminding you.

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Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869

9781626724938Fantasy, science, and adventure collide (sometimes literally) in Book One of Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869. This first installment of the series gives readers everything   needed to set up a classic adventure for kids: a missing parent, an accidental beginning to a journey from home, life and death danger, mystery, and brooding royalty within a castle. Author and illustrator Alex Alice (translated to English by Anne and Owen Smith) creates an ethereal world where Seraphin, the main character, becomes an eager adventurer and would-be hero despite the efforts of adults around him.

The story opens in France, where we witness a terrifying accident involving “The Aethernaut,” a balloon able to soar to 12 thousand meters in search of the mysterious and powerful substance aether. Claire, the pilot of the Aethernaut, seems to be gone, leaving her husband and son behind.  A year later, the son, Seraphin, holds out hope that while his mother is missing, she is still alive. Reminiscent of the premise behind A Wrinkle in Time, Seraphin defies teasing at school and reminders that his mother is gone and gets a chance to search for her after receiving a clue as to her whereabouts from a mysterious sender. Together with his scientist father, Seraphim adventures to Bavaria where the danger, mystery, and possible live interest continue. This first book of Castle in the Stars introduces many characters, both heroes and villains, and ensures that both our hero and the reader have doubts about whom to trust.

The illustration style is different from many graphic novels. The watercolor look with myriad shades of pastels contrasts with occasional cartoon-style illustration and manga-influenced characters. The intense detail in some panels highlights the dream-like quality of others. The wide spectrum of colors and illustration styles allows the characters additional layers of characterization and mood.

The storyline can be confusing because it abruptly alternates between intimate, sometimes sassy, conversations and detailed, frenetic descriptions of the science and technology used to fuel the plot. Some readers have compared the story to a Jules Verne/Hayao Miyazaki mash-up, and while I don’t completely agree, it’s clear there is some influence from both.

In addition, the steampunk slant against a comedic-romantic-historical backdrop feels a bit forced at times. Even so, as the story develops and the mysteries deepen, readers will become invested in the characters and curious to know what comes next. The ending of Volume One is certainly an intense cliffhanger!

Book One of the English-translated Castle in the Stars came out in 2017, and Book Two, The Moon-King, comes out September 4th, 2018. Recommended for ages 10-14.

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Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

the-power-naomi-aldermanNaomi Alderman’s THE POWER sat on my nightstand for months as it waited patiently to be read. I resisted it because my husband had described some of his responses to the book, and it just didn’t sound like something I could enjoy while actively ingesting current events, with all their breaking news and abuses of power. I finally took it on vacation, because apparently I think too much escapism is…bad.

While reading THE POWER, I often wanted to stop, but I didn’t. It’s not that I found it tedious or boring. Not at all. I was put off by the repeated, often gleeful, rape scenes, including child rape, and the level of detailed violence throughout. The heavy-handed parallels of gendered power, and a few instances where I felt the characters were inconsistent also bothered me. And yet, I was curious to see how each strand of the novel would come together and progress. In the end, I’m glad I finished it, and I do recommend it both as a good read and even more as valuable for discussions about power and delusion and gender and corruption.

Readers of THE POWER should not skip over the “letters” which bookend the story. As in the body of the novel, Alderman reflects a reversal of gendered language and power dynamics back to us in the letters between a tentative writer named Neil and an assertive and kindly patronizing (matronizing?) Naomi Alderman. Neil and Naomi’s exchanges demonstrate the eventual outcome of what the novel’s events build up to.

The novel is structured as a 10-year countdown to a cataclysmic event brought on by the world-wide phenomenon of teenage girls developing electrical charges strong enough to inflict harm and even death. The onset of this discovery feels starkly realistic with talk of experiments and “fixing” whatever has caused the electrical anomaly, as well as the immediate protective response of separating girls and boys “for their own safety.” (This doesn’t protect girls from girls, of course…) There is also the nuance of some girls not having this newfound power, or having an irregular control of it, and some boys having a version, albeit slight, of the electrical charge under their control. I liked that Alderman was matter-of-fact about non-binary gender identity and the various responses society has to the realities.

Events unfold focusing on four main characters whose lives intersect to varying degrees. They go through both moral and emotional adjustments as they grapple with their own and society’s responses to an upended power-dynamic. Alderman creates believable and often uncomfortable decision-making for each main character, and I appreciated the grayness infused in their rationalization for their actions.

As with her 2013 novel The Liars’ Gospel, Alderman explores the relationship between religion and power, and how it can be misused or molded by those with nefarious and even well-meaning intent. Allie, later “Mother Eve,” starts out as a champion for the downtrodden and abused, but soon there are hints that all is not well in her decision-making and emotional life. The use of social media, especially YouTube, in sharing the sermons, messages, and commands of Mother Eve is haunting, considering our current reality.

Her eventual “soldier,” Roxy, is the most interesting character, and the one that experiences introspection, both by necessity and because she sees things with a certain clarity. Her electrical power is strong, and she utilizes it both as a weapon of revenge, which the reader may see as justified, and as the heavy for Mother Eve’s plans, which even Roxy eventually questions. Roxy’s observations and responses are more reliable than Allie’s and serve to reflect where Allie turned away from her original plans. Roxy’s storyline, albeit violent and as a definitive assist to the atrocities over the years, provide support for redemption and maintaining a conscience. Of sorts. It is also Roxy who gives the reader a thread of hope for a (relatively) happy ending, but similar to Offred’s open-ended storyline in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there are no promises.

Margot, a politician whose daughter “gives” her the ability to use electricity, also starts out relatable with responses and motivations that seem reasonable. And she is the character I found most flawed and shallow, perhaps intentionally so. Sucked in by power and wealth, she races past her conscience-guided choices and becomes ruthless and narcissistic as fear and control of and by women, becomes the new normal. Margot is the clearest example of how good intentions by those in power and business on a small scale can go terribly awry for the common people on a national or world-wide scale.

Tunde, a Nigerian student who goes from amateur photographer to popular photo-journalist thanks to a combination of guts and ego, good-looks, and smart perseverance, is recognizable. Again, using YouTube and connections with cable news, he records the world-wide conflicts and danger from a place of luck and privilege, even enjoys them, until he can no longer ignore the reality of what is crashing down around him. For me, Tunde is the character from whom we can learn the most. The tendency to record and comment on arms-length atrocities both large and small will be familiar to many. And while Tunde (and the reader) sees himself as an ally to abused and persecuted women who have new-found power, he doesn’t consistently see his role in creating fear and furor that feeds the worst tendencies on all sides. Even so, his character arc is skillfully written, and he is likable throughout the novel.

A rallying cry we’ve heard a lot of over the last several years is “If women were in charge, everything would be different.” In THE POWER, Alderman disagrees. It’s not gender that creates abuses of power, it is the power itself. In fact, several characters respond with some version of “I do it because I can” when referring to actions both minor and horrific. The contrast between the build-up of power abuse and the thousands of years later mirror-image of today’s society is striking. And painfully familiar.

She also delves into both the supposed “burn it down” solution (epic fail) and the conundrum of armchair “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” claims, and that actions and decisions are less clear when in the midst of danger, fear, and hazy leadership motives. We would do well to at least consider this satire’s points about how we rationalize becoming what we hate before asserting greater virtue. For the opportunity to reflect on my own assumptions about gender and power alone, I recommend THE POWER.

For an interview with Naomi Alderman on BookPage, click here.

 

 

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Glad I Saw It: Lonely Dictator

I noticed this sticker on a local post box, and it made me stop and think. And as I’m trying to remain open-minded in a world that screams at me to further polarize, I snapped a photo to give myself time to ponder the art of it all.

How far does empathy extend? Does empathizing demand excusing or mitigating actions? Is there a line that, once crossed, removes our humanity forever? Can I truly empathize with someone I find reprehensible?

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Stalin was once a handsome, loving young husband. Hitler was a vegan and artist who wore bunny ears to amuse friends. Pol Pot had a love of music French poetry. Idi Amin was described as gregarious and charismatic.

But, no. I really don’t care if Stalin (et al) was lonely too. The people who deserve our empathy are those who don’t have access to public relations and wikipedia edits and charming stories of childhood foibles. The people who deserve a spotlight, if they want it, are those who made the best choice for us as a whole and suffer because others made a selfish or hateful choice.

All that said, I do believe that we all make mistakes in judgment and action. And I refuse to throw away those who are willing to learn and open themselves and show authentic remorse. But for those who callously dump on the vulnerable and easily stomped on, for those who are warned of heinous and harmful effects of policy and still move forward, for those who don’t use their privilege and power to stand in the way of inhumane policy: I really don’t care. Do you?

 

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Giveaway of Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds?

Extinction_CoverOne of my favorite book series for helping to address topics with kids is the Build It Yourself series from Nomad Press. The books are written in a simple and understandable style without being condescending or dry. And the projects are meaningful and accessible. With the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom this year, some households may be inundated with curious questions about dinosaurs and how they became extinct.

Discovering fossils, finding out and explaining the causes of species extinction, and looking at whether we are in the middle of a sixth mass extinction event is all included in Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds? This book has basic background knowledge and a timeline for young people new to the idea, but it also has a deep dive into “how scientists know what they know” and explanations of extinctions in each era.

There are several aspects especially appealing to families with motivated learners. One is the focus on primary sources. Each section has QR codes for easy online research and a list of resources for further learning. The inclusion of essential questions for focus and critical thinking will also challenge kids who want to learn more.

The 25 projects in Extinction are easily adapted for different ages and abilities. And while many use kitchen supplies, some will take kids outdoors and into parks. They range from simple and familiar projects to more complex activities that include record keeping and long-term observations.

Nomad Press continues its #SummerofBooks giveaway with Extinction: What Happened to the Dinosaurs, Mastodons, and Dodo Birds? If you want to win a copy of this book for your household, leave a comment naming your favorite dinosaur (or other extinct animal) by July 31st! One person will be chosen at random to receive the book straight from the publisher. Good luck!

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Giveaway: Explore The Oregon Trail with hands-on activities

Have a history buff at home this summer? For kids ages 9-12 who are interested in the issues surrounding western expansion and Manifest Destiny in United States history, there is The Oregon Trail: The Journey Across the Country from Lewis and Clark to the Transcontinental Railroad. As with other Build it Yourself OregonTrail_Cover-1-336x420books from Nomad Press, the book includes a detailed timeline, word cloud, and background information (including a map) to help readers familiarize themselves with what is to come.

The book addresses the impact on Native American tribes, and also highlights the presence African Americans had in westward expansion. However, at times it glosses over the more nefarious details, perhaps due to the intended age group. Still, questions about the legality of the Louisiana Purchase, the unfairness of colonization and homesteading, and the negative impact the railroad had on Plains tribes are detailed, including the Sand Creek massacre and the near extinction of the buffalo.

The projects in The Oregon Trail range from writing a treaty to mapping changes in the USA to preserving plants in the style of Lewis and Clark. There are even instructions for water purification and drying fruit, in case someone is inspired to set out on their own. Each project can be easily adapted to a child’s interest and abilities.

This summer, Nomad Press is hosting giveaways of some of their most popular titles, so you can explore a copy of The Oregon Trail yourself. Leave a comment below telling us why you want to win by Monday, July 16 at 3 p.m. and we will pick a winner at random. Enter below for your chance!

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SPEAK: The Graphic Novel is intense, relevant, and powerfully empathetic

SPEAK The Graphic NovelIn the late 1990’s, Laurie Halse Anderson’s SPEAK became an instant classic that broke ground in Young Adult literature. The novel gave voice to sexual assault and its aftermath via a raw and honest narrative that refused to talk down to readers who had experienced similar incidents of abuse. The book appears regularly on various “banned books” lists, while it has also continued to be reprinted and appreciated.

Now, Ms. Anderson has skillfully adapted SPEAK the novel into graphic novel form, and award-winning artist Emily Carroll gives the protagonist, Melinda Sordino, a vulnerability with a core of strength. The illustrations, which use silhouettes and shading liberally, hearken back to horror imagery, which is entirely appropriate for how Melinda feels about high school and the events that overshadow her freshman year.

Fans of the original novel will notice how the prose has evolved into a seamless tale of shortened descriptions made intense with imagery. This is especially true in Melinda’s descriptions of her inner fears, which suffocate her, and the scenes in which her attacker — IT — comes close to and interacts with her. It’s a powerful, visceral combination.

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The atmosphere around sexual assault and harassment has changed dramatically since SPEAK first came out in 1999, but the story and its impact on those involved are as relevant as ever. Anderson details the physical and emotional effects with honesty and a raw passion that will help those who have not experienced sexual assault first-hand to empathize. For teens who can relate all too well to the events, SPEAK: The Graphic Novel may be a salve and catharsis or a painful trigger of their experiences. Trusted adults in a young person’s life should keep this in mind.

I highly recommend that parents and teachers read this graphic novel to understand (or to remind themselves) what being a teenager in crisis feels like and looks like. This is a powerful, important book.

 

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