Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The War I Finally Won

The War I Finally Won The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this is a good sequel to The War that Saved My Life, it was a bit less gripping for me. Ada's continued anxiety about her relationship to her mother and her difficulties in coming to terms with everyone got just a tad tedious for me after a while. And, sadly, I am not a horse person, so that part didn't move me either. Nevertheless, it is a good book, both about family relationships and about WWII. The characters are interesting an, for the most part, well developed. And, it doesn't shy away from the truth about relationships.

I still am thinking that Susan's relationship with Becky hints at a lesbian relationship, but it is never explicitly stated as such - just that they were good friends. In that era, my guess is that they would have described it as such.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Review: My Brigadista Year

My Brigadista Year My Brigadista Year by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent read and good view of history. I grew up during the Cuban missile crisis and it is interesting to me to see the other side of the story. This story does not focus on that, but there is a good timeline at the end of the book that goes into a bit more detail about the actual historical events. The focus of this story is the literacy campaign - and the methods used for its success. It is also a coming of age story, which seems to be a favorite theme for me.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: Goodbye, Mr Hitler

Goodbye, Mr Hitler Goodbye, Mr Hitler by Jackie French
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a powerful ending to the trilogy. It doesn't shy away from including some of the horrors of the Nazi regime, so it may be too much for younger and more sensitive teens. I have a slight issue with some of the resolution, which seemed a bit far fetched to me, but overall, the book has, as I said, a powerful impact.

(view spoiler)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World's Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very enjoyable light science book. The pictures of all of the pink animals are very engaging. It is a bit discouraging that so many of the animals are struggling with environmental challenges, but I am glad it is pointed out and not glossed over.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I were still teaching, I would add this to my collection of picture books for older students. It is a good introduction to the scientific method, as well as a very interesting introduction to how science was done years ago. An enjoyable and interesting read.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up by Julia Eccleshare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This isn't a book you actually read cover to cover; it is a reference book. That said, I have enjoyed looking through it and I am pleased that I have actually read a good portion of the books listed. Yes, there are some books that I would have love to have had included that aren't and some books I wouldn't have listed that are, but it is a good resource. I especially enjoy reading the books for the older children, so now I have an even longer To Be Read list.

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Review: Restart

Restart Restart by Gordon Korman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I wasn't completely convinced about the MC's amnesia, the book is still interesting and worth reading. The thing that I most question is whether someone's personality could change like that, but if you accept that premise, the rest of the book makes good reading.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: Train I Ride

Train I Ride Train I Ride by Paul Mosier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For some reason, the tone and the arc of this book remind me a lot of Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It is a touching, sometimes painful, sometimes resigned book. You sort of know what has happened and is going to happen, but the journey is worthwhile, anyway.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is actually a.re-read, too. I read it many, many years ago. It belongs to a group of books that I think of as realistic fiction / learning to deal with the world.

One of the things that was of particular interest to me in this re-read is the attitude toward the issues of the day. I took a college class that was big on talking about and doing the types of things the students did in "Smedley". This seems to be very out-of-date now. The issue about saying the pledge has been resolved in many cases (though certainly not all). It is interesting to see the focus on dress.

Two things are of particular interest. The attitude of the father - a sort of don't rock the boat - and his way of treating his wife and children seemed very negative to me. I wonder if books like this would even appear in the current culture. The father is a bully. And his wife and children suffer from it. Though there is a hint that the father will back off a bit towards the end of the book, it is an uneasy resolution - perhaps a foreshadowing of the rise (again) of feminism.

The other thing that is of particular interest to me is the attitude of everyone about the MC weight problem. I have a weight problem, so this particularly needles me. In this book, the mother does some of the same things that annoy me so in people who try to "help" me lose weight. Offering to buy new clothes. Smiling or extending approval when you pass up a dessert. Telling you that people don't care about your weight. These, and other things, were not helpful for me. It made me feel like others felt they owned my problem. That they felt that weight was something I needed help with. They felt that it was their right to give suggestions about how to deal with it. Weight, before shyness, before reaction to being bullied, before normal problems of growing up (dating). Weight tied into everything.

Positives: I liked seeing the kids deal with their situations. I liked the obvious emotional volatility of that age of children.

All in all: a bit dated, but still interesting.

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Review: Surviving the Applewhites

Surviving the Applewhites Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have just re-read this book. I was looking for another story to base a musical on, and this is not it, but I did find that I enjoyed the book again. It is a bit wacky and over the top, but it is good hearted and speaks to my interest in stories where kids find their way through some adolescent confusion to discover more about themselves.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review: The Sisters Impossible

The Sisters Impossible The Sisters Impossible by J.D. Landis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this one. It is a quick read, but there is a decent amount of substance. I liked the family interactions, especially, of course, the sisters, but also the father and the younger daughter. It might have bordered on the didactic a bit at the end, but that was OK.

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Review: A Murder for Her Majesty

A Murder for Her Majesty A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book and read it quickly. The characters are interesting. I got some of the Father WhatsHisNames mixed up, but that didn't seem to matter that much. Good story.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Review: Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 1

Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 1 Footrot Flats Collector's Edition 1 by Murray Ball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book a lot. I especially like the pictures that have baby animals in them - baby sheep, baby pigs, puppies. I probably don't get all the nuances of the sports references, or even some of the flora and fauna mentions, but it is fun, nevertheless.

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Review: The Essential Footrot Flats

The Essential Footrot Flats The Essential Footrot Flats by Murray Ball
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A while back, I owned a copy of Footrot Flats: The Dog Strips: The Ultimate Collector's Edition. Then I sent it, via USPS from Colorado to Alaska. 15 of my book boxes broke apart in handling and the contents were lost. That book, which is now selling on Amazon for more than $1,200, was one of the ones that was lost. I can't afford to replace it at that price, so I bought this book instead. This is a rather jumbled collection of some of the best strips from the entire collection of Murray Ball's work. The strips were selected as favorites by friends and family members, as I understand. The drawback is that individual story lines are lost. From what I can tell, the individual books follow the story lines more completely.

That said, I enjoyed this book. I grew up in Iowa (USA), in a semi-rural area, which has now been taken over by urban expansion. We weren't farmers, but my brother raised sheep as a 4-H project and we raised chickens and geese, so I know a little bit about those animals. And we had dogs and cats. So, some of the situations were familiar to me, and some definite were not. This is New Zealand, after all. And I love cartoons from other parts of the world. [Recommendations are gladly accepted. I read English, obviously, but also German, some Spanish, and a bit of French.]

I would have enjoyed following story lines more and I may actually get some of the individual smaller books. It is hard to know which ones to get, though, as there are at least 30 of them.

One advantage of this particular book is the full color art work in between two of the sections of the book. These are a group of larger, full page or two-page spreads, where the detail is more evident. With the smaller strips, I occasionally had problems deciphering parts of the drawings. Ball's drawings typically have a great deal of detail, which means that the size of the drawings is more important than some cartoon strips that are more simply drawn.

This book should actually have gotten 4 stars from me - with deductions for the lack of continuity of story lines and the confusion when there was too much detail for the size of the strips - but I appreciate so much the humor and unique perspectives of a culture different from mine that I bumped the stars up to 5, anyway.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: The Best Man

The Best Man The Best Man by Richard Peck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mild spoilers.

About half way through this book, I was going to complain that the student teacher was portrayed way too positively. Everything about him was perfect - good looking, military (therefore assumed to be patriotic), determined to be a great teacher, fun, good with kids, creative, etc., etc. It seemed to be the perfect set up for a gay character. And yep, he was gay. I am not sure why my opinion of this lessened toward the end of the book. He was still portrayed as too good, but it didn't seem to matter as much. Most of the other characters were portrayed as too good, too.

Gay characters and other important characters don't have to be superhumanly great, in order for them to be lovable or interesting or worthy.

One thing that rescued the book from being overly positive for me was the MC. He was pretty clueless for much of the book. I like the fact that as he got older, he started paying attention to people more.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: Amina's Voice

Amina's Voice Amina's Voice by Hena Khan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent book for exploring the transition to middle school and the relationships among girls of that age, but it is also a great book for affirming the importance of religious traditions, and tolerance. It is not great literature, but it is accessible and worthwhile.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: Du Iz Tak?

Du Iz Tak? Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My daughters would have loved this as kids. They thoroughly enjoyed confusing their mother with Spoonerisms, backwards words, words in other languages (predominantly German, Russian, Spanish, French, Italian) - all in the same sentence.

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Review: Hitler's Daughter

Hitler's Daughter Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is more interesting to me as an exploration of philosophy than as a good novel. It would make a good discussion book for middle school aged kids. The story isn't as strong as Pennies for Hitler, because of the narrative style - Anna is telling the story about someone else's story. That gives it a bit too much distance from the reader. The ending makes it more personal, but by then, it is a bit too late to get involved with the character.

Still, it has some interesting questions that are relevant even now with regard to various political situations. How much moral responsibility do we have for our parents' choices, our politicians' choices, our country's actions?

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Emily of Deep Valley

Emily of Deep Valley Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed the premise of this book, it doesn't particularly stand out for me. I have not read the Betsy-Tacy books, so I wasn't invested in the location or the characters. It was sweet and interesting, but it didn't grab me by the heart and refuse to let go like Anne of Green Gables does.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: Hello, Universe

Hello, Universe Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should probably give this book a higher rating. It held my interest long enough to finish it. The various children are unique and worth reading about. But, as a child, I would have been terrified by the problem situation. Even as a mature adult, it is scary to me. It is almost too real and too well written. That said, I am quite the wimp when it comes to scary situations. If realistic, scary situations appeal to you, the book is worth reading.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review: The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. Unlike some other reviews of it, I found the research aspect quite interesting and would have enjoyed even more detail about it. I didn't expect him to come to any absolute answers, and he didn't, but I did find the exploration of the topic through various and within diverse cultures interesting. Since there has been some discussion in the news right now of the differences between urban and rural living, I was glad he included side trips away from the big cities as well.

I agree with some of the answers he found: money matters, but only so much. Culture matters: it sets the stage. Community matters: it can change how we react to the places. Personal characteristics matter: they often mitigate what you might expect in those surroundings.

It would be interesting to do this on both a larger and smaller scale - more countries, especially including Africa and South America; and, on the other end of the scale, states within a large country, cities within large states. Even on the micro scale, I have seen differences. I have worked quite a few years as a substitute teacher. Some schools are definitely happy schools. Some made me anxious, just being in them. Intriguing.

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Sunday, January 15, 2017

Review: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am enjoying these illustrated versions. This one has some especially good pictures of Fawkes, the phoenix, plus some additional wonderful spreads of Diagon Alley. It is interesting to me that these illustrations don't seem to detract from my own imaged visions of the people and places in the books, but the movies did. I stopped watching the movies after the third one, because it was so unsettling to me to see the differences between my imaged HP world and the movies' imagined HP world.

It would be interesting to me to know how the illustrator chose which scenes to elaborate. He has chosen some that I would not have and omitted others that I would have included. Maybe I will go look that up.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Review: Calvin und Hobbes: Von Tigern, Teufelskerlen und nervigen Vätern

Calvin und Hobbes: Von Tigern, Teufelskerlen und nervigen Vätern Calvin und Hobbes: Von Tigern, Teufelskerlen und nervigen Vätern by Bill Watterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love Calvin and Hobbes above all of the comics I have collected. I am happy I am still able to read German well enough that I could understand almost all of this collection.

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