Wednesday, February 29, 2012

February Reflections

I read 60 books in February 2012!!! True, fourteen of them were picture books and early readers. And yes, The Scrapbook of Frankie Platt had more images than words...but still I'm pleased with the way this year is going so far!

I've decided to bold the titles that are published in 2012. I'm hoping that this will make it easier on me when it is time to make 'best of 2012' lists and nominate books for Cybils.

Favorite Middle Grade Historical: Crow. Barbara Wright.
Favorite YA Realistic Novel: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. Jordan Sonnenblick.
Favorite Fantasy-AND-Science-Fiction Novel:  Enchantress from the Stars. Sylvia Louise Engdahl.
Favorite Animal Fantasy:  Dominic. William Steig.
Favorite "Bleakity-Bleak" Survival Novel: The Way We Fall. Megan Crewe.
Favorite Apocalyptic Novel: Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank.
Favorite Vintage Sci-Fi Novel: The Demolished Man. Alfred Bester.
Favorite Science Fiction Novel by Robert Heinlein:  Time for the Stars. Robert A. Heinlein.
Favorite Picture Book To Read Aloud: Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners. Judy Sierra.
Favorite Picture Book That Made Me (Almost) Tear Up:  My Heart Will Not Sit Down. Mara Rockliff.
Favorite Early Reader:  Listen to My Trumpet. An Elephant & Piggie Book. Mo Willems.
Favorite Short Story: "Intolerable Stupidity" by Laurie Viera Rigler from Jane Austen Made Me Do It. 
Favorite Nonfiction Picture Book: Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade. Melissa Sweet.
Favorite Nonfiction:  His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II. Louise Borden.
Favorite Out-of-My-Comfort Zone:  Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis. Pete Nelson.
Favorite Poetry:  The Great Migration: Journey to the North. Eloise Greenfield.
Favorite Christian Nonfiction: Loving the Way Jesus Loves. Phil Ryken.
Favorite Charles Spurgeon Book: Grace God's Unmerited Favor. Charles Spurgeon.

Board Books, Picture Books, Early Readers: 
  1. Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners. Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. 2012. Random House. 40 pages
  2. My Heart Will Not Sit Down. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Ann Tanksley. 2012. Random House. 40 pages.
  3. Listen to My Trumpet. An Elephant & Piggie Book. Mo Willems. 2012. Hyperion. 64 pages.
  4. Tales For Very Picky Eaters. Josh Schneider. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 50 pages.
  5. 14 Cows for America. Carmen Agra Deedy. In collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. 2009. Peachtree. 32 pages.
  6. Pinkalicious. Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann. 2006. HarperCollins. 40 pages.
  7. Purplicious. Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann. 2007. HarperCollins. 40 pages. 
  8. Goldilicious. Victoria Kann. 2009. HarperCollins. 40 pages.
  9. Silverlicious. Victoria Kann. 2011. HarperCollins. 40 pages. 
  10. Pinkalicious: Pinkie Promise. Victoria Kann. 2011. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
  11. Pinkalicious: Pink Around the Rink. Victoria Kann. 2010. HarperCollins. 32 pages. 
  12. Pinkalicious: School Rules. Victoria Kann. 2010. HarperCollins. 32 pages.
  13. 10 Hungry Rabbits. Counting & Color Concepts. Anita Lobel. 2012. Random House. 24 pages. 
  14. George Washington's Birthday: A Mostly True Tale. Margaret McNamara. Illustrated by Barry Blitt. 2012. Random House. 40 pages.

Middle Grade and Young Adult Novels:
  1. Crow. Barbara Wright. 2012. Random House. 304 pages. 
  2. Enchantress from the Stars. Sylvia Louise Engdahl. 1970/2003. Penguin. 304 pages. 
  3. Dominic. William Steig. 1972. FSG. 150 pages. 
  4. The Way We Fall. Megan Crewe. 2012. Hyperion. 320 pages.
  5. Tankborn. Karen Sandler. 2011. Lee & Low Books. 384 pages.
  6. All Good Children. Catherine Austen. 2011. Orca. 300 pages.
  7. Cinder. (The Lunar Chronicles #1). Marissa Meyer. 2012. Feiwel & Friends. 400 pages.
  8. Crossed. Ally Condie. 2011. Penguin. 368 pages.
  9. Awaken. Katie Kacvinsky. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages.
  10. Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. Jordan Sonnenblick. 2012.  Scholastic. 304 pages.
  11. Rasco and the Rats of NIMH. Jane Leslie Conly. 1986. HarperCollins. 280 pages.
  12. Cleopatra Confesses. Carolyn Meyer. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.
  13. The Friendship Doll. Kirby Larson. 2011. Random House. 208 pages.
  14. Sylvia & Aki. Winifred Conkling. 2011. Random House. 160 pages.
  15. Bud, Not Buddy. Christopher Paul Curtis. 1999. Random House. 245 pages.
  16. The Mighty Miss Malone. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2012. January 2012. Random House. 320 pages.
  17. Tuesdays at the Castle. Jessica Day George. 2011. Bloomsbury. 254 pages.
  18. Catherine, Called Birdy. Karen Cushman. 1994. HarperCollins. 212 pages.
  19. The Name of the Star. Maureen Johnson. 2011. Penguin. 384 pages.
Adult Books:
  1. The Demolished Man. Alfred Bester. 1951. Random House. 245 pages.
  2. Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959/1999. HarperCollins. 325 pages.
  3. The Worthing Saga. Orson Scott Card. 1990. Tor. 465 pages.
  4. Earth Abides. George R. Stewart. 1949/2006. (Introduction to this edition by Connie Willis!) Random House. 368 pages.
  5. Time for the Stars. Robert A. Heinlein. 1956. Tor. 244 pages.
  6. The Puppet Masters. Robert A. Heinlein. 1951. Del Rey. 340 pages.
  7. The Door Into Summer. Robert A. Heinlein. 1957. Del Rey. 300 pages.
  8. Double Star. Robert A. Heinlein. 1956. Del Rey. 245 pages.
  9. Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Edited By Laurel Ann Nattress. 2011. Random House. 464 pages. 
  10. The Mistress of Nothing. Kate Pullinger. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 272 pages.
  11. The Stars My Destination. Alfred Bester. 1956. My edition, published in 1996, has an introduction by Neil Gaiman. Knopf Doubleday. 272 pages. 
  12. We. Yevgeny Zamyatin. Translated by Mirra Ginsburg. 1921/1972*. HarperCollins. 233 pages.
  13. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. A Novel in Pictures. Full-Color Vintage Memorabilia On Every Page. Caroline Preston. 2011. HarperCollins. 240 pages.

Nonfiction Books:
  1. His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II. Louise Borden. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages.
  2. Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis. Pete Nelson. With a preface by Hunter Scott. 2002. Random House. 224 pages.
  3. How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: Child-Raising Discoveries from Around the World. Mei-Ling Hopgood. 2012. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 304 pages.
  4. Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade. Melissa Sweet. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages.

Poetry:
  1. The Great Migration: Journey to the North. Eloise Greenfield. Illustrations by Jan Spivey Gilchrist.  2011. HarperCollins. 26 pages. 
  2. Never Forgotten. Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. 2011. Random House. 48 pages.
Christian Fiction and Nonfiction:
  1. The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World. Michael Horton. 2009. Baker Books. 272 pages.
  2. Loving the Way Jesus Loves. Phil Ryken. 2012. Crossway. 224 pages.
  3. Grace God's Unmerited Favor. Charles Spurgeon. 1996. Whitaker House. 175 pages.
  4. The Practice of Praise: How To Develop the Habit of Abundant, Continual Praise In Your Daily Life by Charles Spurgeon. 1995. Whitaker House. 170 pages.
  5. Power in the Blood. Charles Spurgeon. 1996. Whitaker House. 190 pages.
  6. Being God's Friend. Charles Spurgeon. 1997. Whitaker House. 175 pages.
  7. A Suitor for Jenny. Margaret Brownley. 2010. Thomas Nelson. 315 pages.
  8. The Toddler's Bible. V. Gilbert Beers. 1992/2012. The 2012 edition is illustrated by Claudine Gevry. The 1992 edition is illustrated by Carole Boerke. David C. Cook. 432 pages.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Name of the Star (YA)

The Name of the Star. Maureen Johnson. 2011. Penguin. 384 pages.

The eyes of London were watching Claire Jenkins. She didn't notice them, of course. No one paid attention to the cameras. It was an accepted fact that London has one of the most extensive CCTV systems in the world. 

Considering the genre, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this one. I wouldn't necessarily say I loved it. But. If you judge a book based on your need to finish it, then it was well worth it!

The heroine of The Name of the Star is Rory, a teen girl from Louisiana, who decides to give an English boarding school a try when her parents get an offer to go to Bristol for a year to teach American law. Rory chooses a London boarding school. She never could have predicted--who would have?!--the danger she'll face in that particular neighborhood. For around the time she arrives, there are a series of murders in the style of Jack the Ripper. The murderer is obviously duplicating almost every little thing about the murders, and so the murders follow a certain pattern, a certain schedule. But that doesn't make the neighborhood any "safer." As Rory learns when she catches a glimpse of the killer.

So The Name of the Star isn't quite my genre. It's a paranormal horror novel! And I still am not a fan of the genre. I'm not. It's just not the way I like to spend my time. But this novel kept me reading.

Read The Name of the Star
  • If you love ghost stories, OR I-can-speak-to-ghost stories
  • If you love horror novels or thrillers. This one isn't so much a mystery--although I suppose it has mystery in it--but it's more of a chasing novel where the heroine is at risk of becoming a victim than a detective novel with a mystery to solve. I prefer mysteries.
  • If you are interested in anything/everything Jack the Ripper
  • If you like stories with a boarding school setting



© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip (MG/YA)

Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip. Jordan Sonnenblick. 2012.  Scholastic. 304 pages.

The first picture is a wide-angle shot, taken through the chain-link fence of the backstop behind home plate. There's a boy standing on a pitcher's mound in full uniform: green and gold. His cap is pulled low over his eyes, and his unruly black hair sticks out below the brim in all directions. He leans in toward home plate, his throwing arm dangling loose at his side. He must be looking in to get his sign from the catcher.

I expected Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip to be good--really good. Why? Well, Jordan Sonnenblick rarely--if ever--disappoints. He's an amazing writer; he's great at writing characters that I just love. His stories tend to be emotional and compelling. Though almost always they have a lightness to them as well. Curveball The Year I Lost My Grip did not disappoint. While I'm not sure that it is my favorite, favorite Sonnenblick novel--he's written so many that I just love!!! It is easy to recommend this one.

The hero of Curveball is Peter Friedman. The summer before his freshman year in high school, he plays his last baseball game. The injury in his arm is so severe that doctors tell him he'll never, ever be able to play the game he loves so much. So who is he if he's not a great pitcher and catcher? Who is he if he's not a great athlete? Well. He'll have plenty of time to figure that all out.

One of the main characters in Curveball is Peter's grandfather. I just LOVED him. I think there aren't enough--could never be enough--YA books that highlight the special relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Inter-generational stories make me happy, very happy. Even when they're sad. Even when they're bittersweet. Peter and his grandfather are incredibly close. And so it's not all that surprising that Peter's interest in photography becomes all that much stronger. (His grandfather was a professional.)

So Peter's interest in photography leads him to take a class where he meets a girl that wows him...

This YA book has it all. Great characters, good storytelling. It's just an enjoyable read!

Read Curveball The Year I Lost My Grip

  • If you're interested in baseball
  • If you're interested in photography
  • If you like realistic romances
  • If you're a fan of Jordan Sonnenblick
  • If you like coming-of-age stories with a strong emphasis on friendship

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Awaken (YA)

Awaken. Katie Kacvinsky. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages.

My mom gave me an old leather-bound journal for my seventeenth birthday. At first the blank pages surprised me, as if the story inside was lost or had slipped out. She explained sometimes the story is supposed to be missing because it's still waiting to be written. Leave it to my mom to give me something from the past to use in the future.

Is Awaken a science fiction novel? Perhaps if you consider all books set in the future to be science fiction. Awaken is set in 2060. If I were to tell you the novel reads more like social commentary, would that frighten you away?

The premise of Awaken is simple. Maddie, our heroine, lives in a world where EVERYTHING is digital. Everyone--no matter your age--is always plugged into technology. If you're going for a walk with a friend--chances are, it's not a real walk, and you're not seeing your friend face to face. If you're meeting your friends at the coffee shop--same thing. And book club. And on those rare occasions when you do leave your house, when you do meet people, your technology isn't all that far away from you. You can be in the same room with someone and still be miles away from them--if your focus remains elsewhere.

The premise of Awaken is that people have forgotten how to LIVE their lives. They have forgotten what it was like to really feel, to really experience, to do. People have gotten comfortable--too comfortable choosing what is convenient, what is safe, what is known.

So the novel focuses on what happens when Maddie decides to start living life, what happens when she chooses to go out of the house, to start meeting people, to start hanging out with others. Of course, it's a bit more complex than that! Maddie's father isn't just anybody. He's SOMEBODY. And the strict rules are there for a reason--even though readers may not learn that for quite a while.

Read Awaken
  • If you like reading novels set in the future--like Rash, like Scored, like Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083.
  • If you like reading books that challenge you to think
  • If you like your dystopia with a focus on education
  • If you like your dystopia with a hint of romance

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Salon: Watching In Name Only

In Name Only is a 1939 black and white movie starring Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, and Kay Francis. Morally--or ethically speaking--the movie isn't perfect.

Cary Grant plays Alec Walker a man trapped in an oh-so-loveless marriage. Before meeting the actual woman of his dreams, a Miss Julie Eden, a widow with a young daughter, he is quite happy to just flirt, flirt, flirt and ignore his wife, Maida. But when he falls in love--deeply in love with another woman, a pure(r) woman, he tells his wife he wants a divorce so he can remarry.

What can I say about Maida?! What can I really say?! If I said she was mean and cruel and hateful, would you believe me? Would it matter?! She is mean, cruel, a bully. You could almost imagine her being manipulative even when she's sleeping because essentially that is all she knows how to do. It's not easy to sympathize with a woman who doesn't show any signs of having a heart. BUT. At the same time, morally speaking, does it matter? Does his wife being truly, truly awful justify him falling in love with another woman?

Julie Eden didn't leap into Alec's arms. Even after he told her he was getting a divorce so he could be with her. But. The thought of living life without him proved too difficult. So she does agree to marry him...once his divorce becomes finalized. But when will the divorce come through?!

So In Name Only has a handful of scenes that--at least out of context--work really well. There are some scenes that are just giddy-making...because of Cary Grant, because of how charming he is, because of how he delivers his lines. But. I can't help thinking that these scenes really work best only out of context.

I have two favorite scenes. One in which Cary Grant goes to get the girl--goes to propose--and he's the "census man."

The conversation goes a little something like this:
Alec: Evening, Miss Eden.
Julie: Alec, what are you doing here?
Alec: I am the census man. I have to find out a few things. May I come in? Thank you.
Julie: Alec, I told you not to come.
Alec: I've got to take the census. Now, how long have you lived in New York? One day? How many females in the family? Three? That's wonderful. How many males? None? That's bad. Have to do something about that. Hmm. Now look can you cook? can you bake? can you take care of a man in a style that he's not been accustomed to? I have to know that before I can give you the license...
Julie: What?
Alec: The license. No, not the dog license. The other kind.
Julie: Alec, will you please...
Alec: And by the way will you marry me?
Julie: I can't.
Alec: Oh, come on Julie, that's all changed...Maida's agreed to a divorce so you and I can get married. And I can move in here and watch you work your fingers to the bone for me.
The second scene is when he takes her to look at a house he's just purchased for them...



Watch In Name Only
  • If you're a fan of black and white classic movies
  • If you're a fan of Cary Grant, Carole Lombard, or Kay Francis
  • If you're a fan of love dramas with love triangles (although this isn't so much a true triangle)


© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Library Loot: Fourth Trip in February


 New Loot:
  • The List by Martin Fletcher (historical fiction)
  • Until the Dawn's Light by Aharon Appelfeld; translated from the Hebrew by Jeffrey M. Green (historical fiction)
  • Hellie Jondoe by Randall Platt (historical fiction)
  • The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (historical fiction)
  • The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott (historical fiction)
  • The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry*
  • Defiance by Nechama Tec*
  • All That I Am by Anna Funder (historical fiction)
  • Abe's Story: A Holocaust Memoir by Abram Korn; edited by Joseph Korn*
  • Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain by Michael Farquhar*
  • A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous*
  • Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell (historical fiction)
  • By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism by Bill Griffet*
  • The Great Awakening: A Brief History with Documents by Thomas S. Kidd*
  • Your Jesus Is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior by Jared c. Wilson*
  • Lord, Teach Us To Pray: Sermons on Prayer by Alexander Whyte*
  • Daughters of War by Hilary Green (historical fiction)
  • The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley (historical fiction)
  • The First World War by John Keegan*
  • Elsie and Mairi Go To War: Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front by Diane Atkinson*
  • Little Holocaust Survivors: And the English School That Saved Them by Barbara Wolfenden*
  • No Time to Wave Goodbye by Ben Wicks*
  • Fever by Lauren DeStefano (YA dystopia)

Leftover Loot:
  • Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
  • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
  • Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child
  • The Cult of LEGO by John Baichtal, Joe Meno*
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
  • The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman *
  • Truth by Julia Karr
*nonfiction

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.    

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: Child-Raising Discoveries from Around the World. Mei-Ling Hopgood. 2012. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 304 pages.

I'm sitting on a patio in Buenos Aires, nibbling on cinnamon cake, talking with a group of friends about the way local parents raise their kids.

If you were fascinated with the movie, Babies, then you HAVE to read Mei-Ling Hopgood's How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm. This nonfiction book is just SO FASCINATING. There are many parenting books out there that offer tips and advice on how to best raise babies, toddlers, kids. But how many offer a global perspective? A cross-cultural perspective? How many refrain from saying that their way is the best way, the only proper way?

I thought I would share the chapter titles to give you an idea of what this one is all about:

How Buenos Aires Children Go To Bed Late
How The French Teach Their Children to Love Healthy Food
How Kenyans Live Without Strollers
How the Chinese Potty Train Early
How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers In the World
How Lebanese Americans Keep Their Families Close
How Tibetans Cherish Pregnancy
How the Japanese Let Their Children Fight
How Polynesians Play Without Parents
How Mayan Villagers Put Their Kids to Work
How Asians Learn to Excel In School

Each chapter discusses a culture or two and their perspective(s) on a particular subject (potty training, picky eaters, sleeping, etc.), she often shows how Americans can then adapt this--in varying degrees--for their own families. For example, in the first chapter, the lesson 'learned' is that socializing can be as important as keeping to a routine. For special occasions, including the kids can be the right thing to do...even if that means a later bedtime. She's not saying to completely eliminate bedtimes and schedules, just to consider being more flexible if something special comes up.

A chapter title that intrigued me was How the Japanese Let their Children Fight. In that chapter she discusses how adults don't necessarily intervene at the first sign of conflict between youngsters. They wait...and watch...to see if kids can solve their own conflicts or problems. If they can work it out on their own, if they can learn to get along on their own without adults telling them what to do, what to say. 

Overall, I found this one very interesting!



Read How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm
  • If you're a fan of nonfiction
  • If you're a fan of the film, Babies
  • If you're interested in reading about different cultures, thinking globally
  • If you're looking for a different kind of parenting book

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Two on Compassion

My Heart Will Not Sit Down. Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Ann Tanksley. 2012. Random House. 40 pages.

Kedi hurried down the dusty path, her bare feet moving the call drum's quick, sharp beat. She did not want to be late to school. She wanted to get a good seat, close to Teacher. All the children liked to sit near Teacher, so they could look at his strange black shoes and watch the way his yellow mustache turned up when he smiled. But teacher was not smiling today. He sat on a log, holding a paper, looking sad. "Bad news from America," he said. "The Depression is getting worse."

Oh, how I loved, loved, LOVED My Heart Will Not Sit Down. This picture book which is based on a true story just had me at hello. It was simply beautiful and touching. I wouldn't necessarily say that it has to bring readers to tears. Though if you amended it to sensitive readers, it might just hold true. This one makes me emotional just talking about it--or should I say gushing about it?!

The heroine of this historical picture book is a young girl named Kedi. When her beloved teacher tells of "his village" (New York City) experiencing much hardship due to the Depression, "her heart stood up for them in sympathy" for she knows what it is like to be hungry, to be without. The book shows Kedi on her quest. She is telling practically everyone, urging them to stand up with her, to do something, to help. But at first she doesn't seem to be making an impact on her audience. How can the villagers make a difference, how can they help people who live far away "across the great salt river"? But Kedi was heard. And starting with her very own mother, people are showing they do care.

My Heart Will Not Sit Down is the story of how one African community raised $3.77 to send to New York City to help feed the poor. 

I loved everything about this one!!! I definitely recommend it!

Read My Heart Will Not Sit Down
  • If you're interested in great picture books
  • If you're interested in books based on true events
  • If you're interested in showcasing compassion and generosity
  • If you're interested in stories with great depth, stories with the power to touch the heart
14 Cows for America. Carmen Agra Deedy. In collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. 2009. Peachtree. 32 pages.

The remote village waits for a story to be told. News travels slowly to this corner of Kenya. As Kimeli nears his village, he watches a herd of bull giraffes cross the open grassland. He smiles. He has been away a long time.

If I'd read 14 Cows for America first, perhaps, I could stop myself from making comparisons between the two books (My Heart Will Not Sit Down). They do have a few things in common. Both books illustrate compassion and generosity. Both show that you don't have to have "a lot" to give something back, to make a difference in the world. Both have African settings. Both are based on true events.

14 Cows for America is set after 9/11. It is about one community responding to the tragedy by giving something that means the most to them. To this community, it is cattle. It is the story of how they arrange to give these 14 cows to the American diplomat in Nairobi. There are passages in 14 Cows for America that are beautifully written--or crafted. "Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort." But the real strength of this picture book is in the illustrations.

Personally, I love My Heart Will Not Sit Down more than 14 Cows for America. But both books are good books.

Read 14 Cows for America:
  • If you're interested in great picture books
  • If you're interested in books based on true events
  • If you're interested in showcasing compassion and generosity
  • If you're interested in stories with great depth, stories with the power to touch the heart
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II. Louise Borden. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages.

Look closely
at this faded school picture from Sweden.
Find the student whose number is 19
and match 19 to his signature.
Read it aloud. Let it echo.
Raoul Wallenberg.
It's a name for the world to remember.
Now you,
and others,
can become the storytellers
of this boy's remarkable life...

Read. This. Book. It is just amazing, powerful, compelling, and all sorts of wonderful! It is a nonfiction book written in verse. The verse makes it read very quickly. And the verse helps the story resonate even more, in my opinion. Though to be honest, prose or verse, I'd be caring about this story anyway. Yes, I do have a special interest in almost anything connected to World War II. But I think this story isn't just for those that already care, that are already fascinated by the subject. I think this is a book that can bring awareness or new awareness to the subject.

This book was very fascinating, very emotional. The heart of this one focuses on his time in Hungary during the end of World War II. He was a Swedish diplomat sent to Nazi-occupied Hungary to help as many Jewish people as he could. He issued special schutzpasses. What is a schutzpasse? Well, it was an "official" or official-looking document that promised Swedish protection to the person(s) listed. And at least for a time--it worked. It was saving lives. It was making a difference. Of course this project took the work of many, many individuals. But Raoul Wallenberg was the leader, the one who made it all work. As the end of the war drew nearer, as the government changed, as the threat of Communists increased, much did change and would continue to change as the Communists did indeed liberate Budapest. But with the Communists came the mystery...

I'd definitely recommend this one!

Read His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg
  • If you are interested in World War II,
  • If you are interested in learning more about Gentiles rescuers during the Holocaust
  • If you are interested in Sweden or Hungary
  • If you like compelling nonfiction

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Left for Dead

Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis. Pete Nelson. With a preface by Hunter Scott. 2002. Random House. 224 pages.

From the preface: I was standing in front of my history fair project, surrounded by a cluster of men in their mid-seventies and eighties. Their families, children, and grandchildren were also gathered around. These men had one thing in common: They were all survivors of the USS Indianapolis. I had developed a special appreciation for these men and what they had done in World War II. I had learned to appreciate these veterans who had sacrificed so much to ensure that a generation that had not been alive when they served could enjoy liberty.

From chapter one: The sailor finds himself swimming in the open ocean, wondering in shock how it came to this so suddenly. 

I am so glad I went outside my comfort zone and read this book!!! It was so compelling, so addicting. It wasn't always an easy (emotional) read. Especially chapter seven which details the time--at least four days--the men spent in shark-infested water, in the ocean, waiting, hoping, praying for rescue. But the book is so very good at detailing everything--the events leading up to the tragedy, the sinking of the ship itself, the time the survivors spent in the water, the rescue, the return back home to the United States, the court-martial of the ship's captain, etc. Probably half the book is devoted to Hunter Scott's mission for justice, to see the ship captain's name and reputation restored, to "prove" that the court martial against him was absurd and unjust. There are several chapters discussing how he got important people to pay attention to the new facts and work together to bring this before the House and Senate and pass legislation that would help restore the truth.

I enjoyed this one. It was just a fascinating read!

Read Left for Dead
  • If you're interested in history; if you're looking for proof that historical research is important
  • If you're looking to read a good human-interest story
  • If you're interested in World War II
  • If you're looking for a compelling nonfiction read

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Never Forgotten

Never Forgotten. Patricia C. McKissack. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. 2011. Random House. 48 pages.

Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack won a 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Honor. It is a picture book for older readers, a collection of poems focused on the slavery experience from Africa to the Americas. While the book addresses, in a way, slavery as a whole, it is also a personal narrative in that it focuses on one young man--taken from his family, his community. The book has folklore elements to it as well, as several of the poems are narrated by wind, water, fire, etc.

I definitely liked the text more than the artwork, but that is just me. (Judging illustrations is so subjective--or it seems that way to me.) I liked the personal aspect to it--tracing the loss in his family, in his community. The always-wanting, always-missing, always-wondering aspect of it. This one is more a story about those left behind. So it is unique, in my opinion.

Read Never Forgotten
  • If you're a fan of poetry
  • If you're a fan of multicultural poetry
  • If you're looking to read Coretta Scott King winners/honors
  • If you're a fan of folklore
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Enchantress from the Stars (MG)

Enchantress from the Stars. Sylvia Louise Engdahl. 1970/2003. Penguin. 304 pages. 

From the prologue: The planet shines below us, cloud-flecked, dazzling against the dark backdrop of space. Down there it is cool and green and peaceful. In a little while we will take the ship out of orbit and leave this world behind, a mere speck in the vast currents of the universe. This world, which we call Andrecia--the third planet of a quite ordinary yellow sun...but that's just coincidence, of course. What difference does it make that just such a planet was my own people's ancestral home?

From chapter one: At the edge of the Enchanted Forest there lived a poor woodcutter who had four sons, the youngest of whom was named Georyn. They were able to earn a meager living by selling wood to the folk of the village, and although there was seldom more than dry bread or thin gruel on their table, they were not miserable.

Oh, how I LOVED Enchantress from the Stars. It was one of those oh-so-magical-practically-perfect-in-every-way books for me. I know not every reader will feel the same connection, the same adoration for this as I do. But. It's one of those books that I could just gush on and on about!!!

What did I love about this one? Everything! I loved the premise. Just loved it! I loved the world-building, the setting, the atmosphere. I loved the storytelling. I loved the characterization!!! I loved Elana. I loved Georyn. I loved Jarel. I even cared a great deal about the Starwatcher and Evrek. I thought this book was just so well written.

Enchantress from the Stars is narrated, primarily, by a young woman named Elana. The novel is reflective, in a way, because the novel is an account of her first 'adventure' on another planet. She's writing her report, giving her side of the story. But this novel is more than just her side of the story. It ventures to include the perspectives of two others--a young man, the woodcutter's youngest son, Georyn, and a young medical officer named Jarel. Both Georyn and Jarel are from Youngling cultures. Georyn is a native to Andrecia; Jarel is from another planet, a planet in a different stage than Georyn's, but a great deal less advanced than Elana's. (He is with the Imperial Exploration Corps). Jarel is just one of many in the first ship sent to "colonize" this planet.

Elana is on a ship with several other agents--including her father--when they learn that Andrecia is being invaded, and a Youngling culture/civilization is being threatened. They can't directly intervene. And they definitely can't reveal themselves. But they can try to influence things subtly, indirectly. Elana is chosen--with some reluctance--to interact with the natives. Well, she's to interact with two brothers--Terwyn and Georyn. These two are on a quest--along with their older brothers--to KILL A DRAGON. Yes, they are on their way to get the king's blessing, the king's permission to enter the Enchanted Forest. They don't know what dangers they'll face, but they know the fiery dragon must be stopped. These brothers see Elana an an enchantress, a faery perhaps. They see her as having great power, great wisdom, great magic.

So Enchantress from the Stars reads as a fantasy novel--a fantasy novel in the style of a fairy tale. But. Of course it also reads as a great science fiction novel with space ships, etc.

Enchantress from the Stars won a Newbery Honor in 1971.

Read Enchantress from the Stars
  • If you love science fiction
  • If you love fantasy
  • If you love fairy tales
  • If you love adventures and quests
  • If you love great writing
  • If you love bittersweet love stories
  • If you're looking for a Newbery Honor

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Mighty Miss Malone (MG)

The Mighty Miss Malone. Christopher Paul Curtis. 2012. January 2012. Random House. 320 pages.

"Once upon a time...."
If I could get away with it, that's how I'd begin every essay I write.
Those are the four best words to use when you start telling about yourself because anything that begins that way always, always finishes with another four words, "...they lived happily everafter." 
And that's a good ending for any story.

The Mighty Miss Malone is in a way a companion novel to Bud, Not Buddy. It is set during the same time period, the late 1930s, during the Great Depression. Deza Malone does get a brief mention in Bud, Not Buddy--she's the young girl that gives Bud his first kiss. But. For the most part, The Mighty Miss Malone does stand alone.

The first chapter introduces readers to the Malone family. Deza takes great care in showcasing her family's strengths. She praises her brother's singing voice, noting how his singing wows just about everyone. And how his gift makes up for some of his faults. She also praises her mom--who works as a maid--and her father. The chapter also shows readers just how well Deza thinks of herself. She WANTS to be a writer so badly, she tries SO HARD to better herself, to learn as much as she can, but sometimes she tries a little too hard. Sometimes she just needs to be herself. As her teacher--who is retiring--tells her. She thinks Deza has great potential. That she could really do so much if she holds onto her dream. But she doesn't lie to Deza either, there will be tough times ahead.

As I mentioned, this novel is set during the Depression. And readers follow Deza on a tough, tough journey. The difficulties begin when her father and his friends go missing from their fishing trip. Days pass. No word. Bodies are found--but not his. And then--a miracle--of sorts. He's returned to them. Broken, bruised, changed in oh-so-many-ways, but alive. But his road to recovery won't be an easy one. And it may separate him--physically and emotionally--from those he loves best...

The Mighty Miss Malone is a bittersweet novel. It's a hope-filled novel, in my opinion. BUT. It is a novel that makes your heart ache. It just does. Some of the things that happen to the Malone family, well, they're crushing. But the Malones are resilient. And love and kisses and hope do seem to make a difference. I think the novel is very realistic and very well-written.

I would definitely recommend this one.



Read The Mighty Miss Malone
  • If you're a fan of Christopher Paul Curtis (he's written some GREAT books including Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963)
  • If you're a fan of historical fiction
  • If you want to read about the Depression (Bud, Not Buddy and The Mighty Miss Malone are much more reader-friendly than some other titles I could name)
  • If you are interested in seeing poverty realistically portrayed (this novel felt very authentic)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bud, Not Buddy (MG)

Bud, Not Buddy. Christopher Paul Curtis. 1999. Random House. 245 pages.

Here we go again. We were all standing in line waiting for breakfast when one of the caseworkers came in and tap-tap-tapped down the line. 

Some novels have me at hello. Bud, Not Buddy wasn't like that--for me. It was a novel that had to grow on me. It was a quiet novel, in a way, that in the end proved most satisfying. Chapter by chapter I came to know Bud Caldwell better, and I started to care about him. By the end, the novel felt just right, so perfectly right. It is easy to see why this one won awards!!!

Bud, Not Buddy is set in the 1930s during the Depression. It is set in Flint, Michigan, for the most part. Though this novel will see Bud setting out on quite a journey. He's an orphan, just eleven, in search of one simple thing: a father, a family, he's never known, never hoped to know. So what led him to begin this journey? Well, he had to run away from his last placement in a foster home. The family had a son who was a few years older, and, this boy was cruel and mean, and his parents were stupid enough to believe their son an angel. Could he have gone back to the Home? Maybe, maybe not. But isn't this ending worth it?!

Read Bud, Not Buddy:
  • If you are looking for a historical read with plenty of heart and a good, satisfying ending
  • If you are looking for books set during the Depression that are realistic but not depressing
  • If you are looking to read a great Newbery winner with memorable characters

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Catherine, Called Birdy (MG)

Catherine, Called Birdy. Karen Cushman. 1994. HarperCollins. 212 pages.

September 12,
I am commanded to write an account of my days. I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.

This children's book set in 1290 (1291) won a Newbery Honor in 1995.

I wanted to like it more than I did. But. It just didn't quite work for me. Why? Well, I found the heroine, Catherine, annoying. I think readers are supposed to like her for her spunky independence. I think readers are supposed to admire her stubbornness and rebellious attitude.

I am NOT saying that Catherine's arranged marriage to a much, much older man, a man who disgusted her, was a good thing. I am not saying that I wanted her to just mindlessly say yes to the marriage just because it is what her father wanted for her. But I couldn't help finding Catherine just a tiny bit obnoxious. She was just so disrespectful, so disobedient, so strong-willed. It was just so draining to listen to her whine in each and every entry.

I'm also not sure how realistic the novel is. I'm not sure how many daughters were that educated. I'm also not sure how many girls kept diaries during that time period. I'm not saying that it was impossible, just that it was convenient. Speaking of being convenient, the ending, well that was extremely convenient. 

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Sunday Salon: Watching The Help

Today I'm sharing with you my thoughts on The Help. I read and absolutely LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the book. (I read it in December). At first I was hesitant to watch the movie. Simply because how it could even come close to getting it right? BUT. I really, really, really enjoyed the movie adaptation. I did. It wasn't the book. It couldn't cover as much of the characters' private lives as the book could. I doubt there is a way it naturally could have fit every single little thing into the film version.

The movie was so compelling, so emotional. It was practically perfect in every way. I mean everything that I loved from the book was still in the movie. The book was absolutely great--I felt so very much while reading it. But the movie wowed me just as much if not more. The end in the book was good--really good. But seeing the end of this movie, well, it had me in tears...and then some. And they're the exact same ending. It's not like the movie changed the ending to be manipulative.

I would definitely recommend the book to those that have seen the movie and enjoyed it. I think you'll discover there is more to the story. And I would also recommend the movie to those that have only read it. Don't expect it to be everything the book was--to capture every little detail of the book. But I think you'll be surprised at how good it actually is.

Watch The Help
  • If you want to watch a really, really good drama set during the Civil Rights movement
  • If you are a fan of the book, The Help
  • If you want to watch an oh-so-amazing movie

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Three 2012 Picture Books

George Washington's Birthday: A Mostly True Tale. Margaret McNamara. Illustrated by Barry Blitt. 2012. Random House. 40 pages.

When George Washington went to sleep Friday night, he was six years old. When he woke up on Saturday, he was seven. It's my birthday, he thought. Happy birthday to me. 

The premise of this fictional picture book starring a young George Washington is simple. It imagines one day in his childhood. It asks two questions: What was George Washington like as a young boy--say, a seven-year-old boy--and what was his home life like, how would his birthday have been remembered?

In this picture book, George Washington gets more than a little grumpy when his family seems to forget his birthday. If only there was a way for everyone to always, always remember it.

Read George Washington's Birthday
  • If you like fictional picture books based on real people (though so much of this one is fictional)
  • If you like historical picture books
  • If you are teaching George Washington in your classroom and other books are too wordy.
10 Hungry Rabbits. Counting & Color Concepts. Anita Lobel. 2012. Random House. 24 pages.

Mama Rabbit was sad. "I have nothing to put in my soup pot for dinner," she sighed. "But. Mama," whined ten little rabbits. "We are very, very, VERY HUNGRY!" "There is the garden," said Papa Rabbit. "You are sure to find good things for Mama's soup pot there." Ten little rabbits agreed, and off they hopped.

This concept book presents colors (purple, white, yellow, red, pink, orange, brown, blue, green, and black) and numbers (one through ten). The "story" in this one is that a family of rabbits is foraging in the garden looking for things to add to the family's soup pot. Each rabbit is successful, though some more successful than others. (I'm not sure I'd personally want to add blueberries to a soup, especially if the soup had cabbage.)

Read 10 Hungry Rabbits
  • If you are looking for a counting concept book to share with young ones
  • If you are looking for a color concept book to share with young ones
  • If you want to encourage a love of vegetables
  • If you like reading bunny stories
Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur: A First Book of Manners. Judy Sierra. Illustrated by Tim Bowers. 2012. Random House. 40 pages

You're shopping at the grocery store.
Surprise!
You see a dinosaur.
This doesn't happen every day.
So, what are you supposed to say?


Hello. I'm pleased to meet you.


Imagine that the dinosaur
Is standing by a bathroom door.
You have to pee! She's in your way.
Quick! What's the proper thing to say?


Excuse me.


Commotion in the produce aisle!
The dinosaur upsets a pile
Of apples, and they roll away.
If you pick them up, what will she say?


Thank you.

This book surprised me. It really, really surprised me. Why? Well, I'm not a big fan of dinosaur books. In fact, I typically avoid reading them completely because I just don't want to bother reading them, and if I read them, I feel like I should say something about them. And also because I'm not a huge fan of Judy Sierra's rhyming. At least I'm usually not. So I liked this one. I really liked it. I'm not saying I love, love, love it or anything. I'm not saying that I could gush about it for hours or anything. But. I liked the narrative format. I liked how it was all pretend: suppose this, suppose that. I liked how it was addressed straight to the reader: what would you do, what would you say, etc. I liked how sometimes readers were asked what they should say, and sometimes asked what the dinosaur should say. It was a playful concept book.

Read Suppose You Meet A Dinosaur
  • If you're a fan of dinosaur books
  • If you're looking for concept books that teach manners
  • If you're a fan of Judy Sierra
  • If you like silly, imaginative stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in February

New Loot:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child
A Lifetime of Wisdom by Joni Eareckson Tada
Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox
The Cult of LEGO by John Baichtal, Joe Meno
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929 by Karen Blumenthal
14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy in collaboration with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
America's Doll House: The Miniature World of Faith Bradford by William L. Bird, Jr.
Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis by Peter Nelson
His Name was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue, and Mystery During World War II by Louise Borden
Who Was First? Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman
The War to End All Wars: World War I by Russell Freedman

Leftover Loot:

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans words and paintings by Kadir Nelson
The Dark City by Catherine Fisher 
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty Birney
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
Always Neverland by Zoe Barton
Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey
The Boneshaker by Kate Milford
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool
King, Kaiser, Tsar: Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World To War by Catrine Clay

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire and Marg that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.   

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon. Pat Frank. 1959/1999. HarperCollins. 325 pages.

In Fort Repose, a river town in Central Florida, it was said that sending a message by Western Union was the same as broadcasting it over the combined networks. This was not entirely true. It was true that Florence Wechek, the manager, gossiped. Yet she judiciously classified the personal intelligence that flowed under her plump fingers, and maintained a prudent censorship over her tongue. The scandalous and the embarrassing she excised from her conversation. Sprightly, trivial, and harmless items she passed on to friends, thus enhancing her status and relieving the tedium of spinsterhood. If your sister was in trouble, and wired for money, the secret was safe with Florence Wechek. But if your sister bore a legitimate baby, its sex and weight would soon be known all over town.

Alas, Babylon was an apocalyptic novel written in 1959 during the Cold War. It imagines the ultimate what-if of the time. What if the USSR used nuclear warfare and took out all our bases and major cities?

Mark Bragg is in the know. He's received just enough warning to send his wife, Helen, his son, Ben Franklin, and his daughter, Peyton, to his brother, Randy, in Fort Repose, Florida. Of course, he doesn't know for sure that Fort Repose will be safe enough, but it has to be safer than Omaha. He knows his own fate all too well. His will be among the first hit--or targeted. This isn't Mark's story. And readers only catch a glimpse of his story through his brief conversation with Randy--and through what Randy chooses to reveal about him. 

Randy Bragg is the hero of Alas, Babylon. He is our narrator. He receives a telegram from his brother that reads "Alas, Babylon" and he knows it's just a matter of time. Will it be today? Will it be tomorrow? How soon is 'the end'? He learns that his brother is sending his family to him, that he is to protect them to the best of his ability. But how do you really, truly prepare for something like this? How can you know exactly what you'll need? He does go to the store, he does go shopping, he does try, but he's just not able to comprehend what the loss of most (if not all) major cities in Florida will mean.  (The loss of electricity, no gasoline deliveries, no food deliveries, no mail, no radio, no television, no newspapers, no way to learn what is happening on any street but you're own). And of course, it's not just Florida. Other states, other cities, will be effected as well.

For an apocalyptic novel, Alas, Babylon is rich in hope. I'm not saying that it's not a serious novel with a serious subject. I'm not saying that it's not bleak either. Bad things do happen. And life does change...seemingly forever. There are no easy answers on what to do next. I'm reminded of a scene from Babylon 5, season two, "Confessions and Lamentations" in which Delenn and Lennier learn that "faith manages." But there is much to admire in Randy Bragg and the other men and women we meet in Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon. Like their courage, their resourcefulness, their determination, etc.

While part of the novel is spent on politics--the right and wrongs of it--and war--the right and wrongs of it--much of the novel is focused on surviving, on moving forward. Part of the novel also has to do with race relations as well. Randy was not elected before "the day" because he was too open-minded and not quite Southern enough. In other words, he was not a racist. In other words, he didn't think integration was the work of the devil. (Half of the characters in Alas, Babylon are black. And I don't think it's unfair to conclude that without the help of his black neighbors, Randy Bragg wouldn't have managed as well).

There were many, many memorable scenes in Alas, Babylon. My personal favorite may just be this commentary from librarian.
Alone of all the people in Fort Repose, Alice continued with her regular work. Every morning she left the Wechek house at seven. Often, ignoring the unpredictable dangers of the road, she did not return until dark. Since The Day, the demand for her services had multiplied. They slowed when they overtook her, shouted a greeting, and waved. She waved back and pedaled on, a small, brave, and busy figure. Watching the car chuff past,  Alice reminded herself that this evening she must bring back new books for Ben Franklin and Peyton. It was a surprise, and a delight, to see children devour books. Without ever knowing it, they were receiving an education. Alice would never admit it aloud, but for the first time in her thirty years as librarian of Fort Repose she felt fulfilled, even important.
It had not been easy or remunerative to persist as librarian in Fort Repose. She recalled how every year for eight years the town council had turned down her annual request for air conditioning. An expensive frill, they'd said. But without air conditioning, how could a library compete? Drugstores, bars, restaurants, movies, the St. Johns Country Club in San Marco, the lobby of the Riverside Inn, theaters, and most homes were air conditioned. You couldn't expect people to sit in a hot library during the humid Florida summer, which began in April and didn't end until October, when they could be sitting in an air-conditioned living room coolly and painlessly absorbing visual pablum on television. Alice had installed a Coke machine and begged old electric fans but it had been a losing battle.
In thirty years her book budget had been raised ten percent but the cost of books had doubled. Her magazine budget was unchanged, but the cost of magazines had tripled. So while Fort Repose grew in population, book borrowings dwindled. There had been so many new distractions, drive-in theaters, dashing off to springs and beaches over the weekends, the mass hypnosis of the young every evening, and finally the craze for boating and water-skiing. Now all this was ended. All entertainment, all amusements, all escape, all information again centered in the library. The fact that the library had no air conditioning made no difference now. There were not enough chairs to accommodate her readers. They sat on the front steps, in the windows, on the floor with backs against walls or stacks. They read everything, even the classics. And the children came to her, when they were free of their chores, and she guided them. And there was useful research to do. Randy and Doctor Gunn didn't know it, but as a result of her research they might eat better thereafter. It was strange, she thought, pedaling steadily, that it should require a holocaust to make her own life worth living. (187-188)

Read Alas, Babylon
  • If you're a fan of apocalyptic fiction
  • If you're a fan of science fiction and are looking for a classic 
  • If you're a fan of survival stories
  • If you're a fan of compelling thrillers
  • If you want to know the fate of armadillos in Florida
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Balloons Over Broadway

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade. Melissa Sweet. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages.

From the time he was a little boy, Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move. He once said he became a marionette man when he was only six years old. 

Balloons Over Broadway is a picture book biography of Anthony "Tony" Frederick Sarg. Perhaps a more apt description would be a picture book about Tony Sarg and his larger-than-life hobby. True, his hobby of making things move--marionettes especially--didn't start out big or larger-than-life. But by the end, when he was making-designing balloons for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, well, it doesn't get much bigger than that!!! I found this nonfiction book to be oh-so-fascinating. I just LOVED how detailed it was.

Balloons Over Broadway won the 2012 Sibert Medal and the 2012 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children.

Read Balloons Over Broadway
  • If you love reading fascinating nonfiction, even in picture book format.
  • If you love picture book biographies or picture books for older readers.
  • If you love watching Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
  • If you love history.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Listen to My Trumpet! (Elephant and Piggie)

Listen to My Trumpet. An Elephant & Piggie Book. Mo Willems. 2012. Hyperion. 64 pages.

Gerald! Sit! Sit! Sit! Do not move! I HAVE A TRUMPET!!! Do you want to listen to my trumpet?

I absolutely love and adore (in every way) Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books. I do. (Some people anticipate YA releases, for me, it is all about Mo.) I just love, love, love these two characters. I love Gerald, the elephant. I love Piggie, the pig. I love the way these two animals interact. I love the way their friendship is depicted. I love the humor, the emotion. I love the way the emotion is illustrated--the facial expressions, the body language. I just find this series of books for young readers to be practically perfect in every way. These books are just too much fun to be missed. So the newest release in the series is Listen to My Trumpet! It did not disappoint. I just loved it!!!

In this one, Piggie is oh-so-happy to share her "music" with Gerald. Is Gerald equally happy to hear his friend's "music"? Well, Gerald is tactful, I'd say. (An elephant (or a person) with less restraint might have said much, much more.) And I do like the fact that Gerald doesn't hesitate to be honest with his friend, all the while being thoughtful and considerate. Of course, there's a twist to this one--like so many others in this series--and I won't spoil it for you.

The illustrations are so much fun in this one!!! I mean the text is good; the text is funny. There is much to love about it. But the illustrations really steal the show in this one!!! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED all the illustrations of Piggie trying her best to play the trumpet. (For example, page 11 and 16). And I loved the illustrations of Gerald trying to listen to Piggie play her trumpet. (For example, page 20 and 21).

Other books in the series:

I Will Surprise My Friend
Can I Play Too?
Elephants Cannot Dance
I Am Going
Pigs Make Me Sneeze
Watch Me Throw The Ball
Are You Ready to Play Outside
I Love My New Toy
I Am Invited to A Party
My Friend is Sad
Today I Will Fly
There Is A Bird On Your Head
We Are In A Book
I Broke My Trunk!
Should I Share My Ice Cream? 
Happy Pig Day

Read Listen To My Trumpet
  • If you love Mo Willems
  • If you love Gerald and Piggie, if you think Elephant & Piggie is one of the best series ever!
  • If you love elephants or pigs
  • If you are looking for the best of the best in early readers
  • If you like funny books

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tankborn (YA)

Tankborn. Karen Sandler. 2011. Lee & Low Books. 384 pages.

Kayla hunched on the bank of the Chadi River while below her, Jal, her slender, black-skinned nurture brother, skipped from one deep pool of the river to another, searching for sewer toads. 

What I liked best about Tankborn was the world-building. Sandler challenges readers with it in places, which I thought was a good thing. The society and culture, the vocabulary, it took work. Both to read and to create. But that is one of the more enjoyable elements of speculative fiction (both in science fiction and fantasy) visiting a place--a world--so unlike our own.

Tankborn is set on another planet. And our heroine(s) are two young women that have been genetically engineered. (Their genes have been spliced--animal DNA has been added to human DNA. One of our heroines "sket" is nurturing (I believe the book mentioned this coming from dolphins?) and the other heroine's strength is strength (I can't remember which animal this comes from.) In this society, those that are 'tankborn' are called GEN. The "N" stands for non-human, or does it?! So these GENs aren't even worth being the lowest of the low in the caste system. They're bred--artificially, of course--for servitude, for slavery. They are raised by nurturers. When they're fifteen, each receives an assignment.

Kayla and Mishalla are our two heroines. The story begins with Kayla's story, but soon Mishalla's story becomes an essential element.

I do NOT want to say too much about this one!!! I thought it was a compelling read, and as is often the case with science fiction, it is best to read this one without knowing too much.

Read Tankborn
  • If you're a fan of science fiction, particularly if you're interested in genetic engineering
  • If you're a fan of books set on another planet
  • If you're interested in social development, the development of different cultures, societies, caste systems, etc.
  • If you're a fan of dystopias
  • If you like a little romance with your science fiction (while romance doesn't dominate the story, it is definitely present)
  • If you're looking for multicultural science fiction (POC characters) 
  • If you don't mind new (created) vocabulary in your science fiction

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Rasco and the Rats of NIMH (MG)

Rasco and the Rats of NIMH. Jane Leslie Conly. 1986. HarperCollins. 280 pages.

Mrs. Frisby, a brown field mouse, hummed softly to herself as she folded her son Timothy's clothing: a sweater, a jacket, a red scarf. 

I really LOVED Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Which is why I was so excited to discover there was a sequel written by the author's daughter. I'm not sure I loved Rasco and the Rats of NIMH more than the original novel--it's been too many years since I first read it. But I definitely loved it. I just LOVE the world she has created. I loved the community--society--they've built in Thorn Valley.


This book just made me happy. It was purely satisfying. Granted, not everything that happens in this one is happy. There is a problem to be solved, a crisis to be averted. It will take a community working together--thinking together--to save Thorn Valley from a very human threat: progress. But. It was just a great little novel to spend an afternoon with.

Read Rasco and the Rats of NIMH

  • If you love animal fantasies
  • If you love stories starring mice and/or rats
  • If you love Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • If you want to revisit the 80s--through a rat's perspective!
  • If you love adventure stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dominic (MG)

Dominic. William Steig. 1972. FSG. 150 pages.

Dominic was a lively one, always up to something. One day, more restless than usual, he decided there wasn't enough going on in his own neighborhood to satisfy his need for adventure. He just had to get away. 
He owned an assortment of hats which he liked to wear, not for warmth or for shade or to shield him from rain, but for their various effects--rakish, dashing, solemn, or martial. He packed them, together with his precious piccolo and a few other things, in a large bandanna which he tied to the end of a stick so it could be carried easily over a shoulder.

Read this book. Trust me. It's worth it. It is such a delightful book. It's got adventure and charm. And it's full of quirky characters. And the writing, well, it's just SO enjoyable! So unique!

Dominic wanted more from life, so this dog sets out to have quite an adventure. He knows he made the right decision when he encounters an alligator-witch soon after leaving home. He does NOT want to have his fortune told to him, however. But he does choose to listen to her advice on taking the road to the left...

Who will he meet on the way? Who doesn't he meet?! This is quite a fun little story. A very quick read that just worked really well for me!

Read Dominic
  • If you love delightful children's books; quirky books with plenty of heart
  • If you love adventure stories
  • If you love animal-fantasies
  • If you love satisfying, feel-good stories
  • If you usually hate dog stories because you're worried that the dog will die
  • If you love books with happy endings

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tales of Very Picky Eaters

Tales For Very Picky Eaters. Josh Schneider. 2011. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 50 pages.

"I can't eat broccoli," said James. "It's disgusting." 

The hero of this early reader is a young boy named James. He has definite opinions on what he will eat and on what he won't eat. And he won't change his mind...or will he?! In five very short chapters, James is tested. The five chapters are: "Tale of Disgusting Broccoli," "Tale of the Smelly Lasagna," "Tale of the Repulsive Milk," "Tale of the Lumpy Oatmeal," and "Tale of the Slimy Eggs." At least four of the five are silly and over-the-top adventures in eating...or non-eating...as the case may be. How silly is silly?! Well, how about a troll living in the basement that cooks lasagna...or...growing oatmeal that will overrun the house if it doesn't get eaten every day?! Yes, these stories can be very, very silly indeed.

Read Tales for Very Picky Eaters
  • If you have a picky eater of your own
  • If you enjoy sharing early readers with the young ones in your life
  • If you like funny stories

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. A Novel in Pictures. Full-Color Vintage Memorabilia On Every Page. Caroline Preston. 2011. HarperCollins. 240 pages.

The Girl Who Wants To Write
A Corona at last --
I've always wanted one!


How this story begins...
Scrapbook was a high school graduation present from mother.
I found Daddy's old Corona portable in the cellar. Mice had chewed the case but it still works.
I sent away for a free instruction booklet on how to type. I will type one page every day.

I don't think I've ever read a novel quite like this one. This 'scrapbook' tells the story of one young woman's life in the 1920s. It starts with her high school graduation and ends with her marriage...almost a decade later. It follows her from her small town to New York...and later Paris. It is a novel about family, friendship, love, and expectations. What does Frankie really want from life? Who does she want to be? What pressures does she face? What obstacles must she overcome...

Read The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
  • If you're a fan of historical fiction
  • If you're a fan of romance
  • If you're a fan of graphic novels
  • If you're looking for a good, quick read
The book trailer:



© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pink, More Pink, Even More Pink

Pinkalicious. Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann. 2006. HarperCollins. 40 pages.

It was a rainy day, too wet to go outside. Mommy said, "Let's make cupcakes! What color do you want?"
"Pink!" I said. "Pink, pink, pink!"
Mommy put in some pink. 
"More!" I cried. "More, more, more!"
I gobbled up a couple of cupcakes while Mommy and I frosted them. They were so yummy--they were Pinkalicious! 

The star of Pinkalicious just LOVES the color pink. And in this first adventure, she is delightfully munching pink cupcakes. To her surprise--to everyone's surprise--eating so many pink cupcakes turns her to varying shades of pink. But when is enough enough?

I liked this book. I did. It was fun. It was clever. And I liked her little brother, Peter, too. I liked this one the best of all the series.

Purplicious. Victoria Kann & Elizabeth Kann. 2007. HarperCollins. 40 pages.

I was in art class, painting a picture.

In Pinkalicious' second adventure, she learns that kids can be very mean and bossy. It's no secret that the star of this book LOVES the color pink. So when the girls in her class tell her that pink is only for babies, well, it upsets her. She just CAN'T like black like all the others. It's black. But after a few days of this nonsense, she feels that pink is a lonely color.  Will the new girl--who loves purple--cheer her up and cure her blues?!

Goldilicious. Victoria Kann. 2009. HarperCollins. 40 pages.


I was putting flowers on the mane of my pet unicorn. "Pinkalicious, why are you dropping flowers on the rug?" asked Mommy. "I'm not dropping flowers. I am getting Goldie ready for the Unicorn Ball," I said, prancing around the room.
"What unicorn? I don't see any unicorn," said Peter.
"She's right here and she's not ANY unicorn, she is my unicorn. Her name is Goldilicious, Goldie for short. Oh, Goldie--you shouldn't have done that on the floor! You know better. Just neigh when you need to go potty. I'm sorry, Peter, but you are stepping right in it," I said.

This is the third picture book starring Pinkalicious. In my opinion, it is probably the weakest of the series. In this adventure, readers learn about Pinkalicious' (imaginary) unicorn, Goldie. Readers see the two have some adventures together. But these adventures aren't without their difficulties. Peter sees to that. (I would have liked this one more if it hadn't talked about wizards, casting spells, and crystal balls.)

Silverlicious. Victoria Kann. 2011. HarperCollins. 40 pages.


I had a wiggly tooth. It had been wiggling for days. 


In this adventure, Pinkalicious loses a tooth. But not just any tooth. She loses her sweet tooth. Ever since she lost this tooth, she's not been able to enjoy anything sweet. Her family has also noticed how losing this tooth has made her CRANKY and ungrateful. Can Pinkalicious learn her lesson and become a sweet little girl again?

I also read three I Can Read books starring Pinkalicious. I read Pinkalicious: Pink Around the Rink, Pinkalicious School Rules!, and Pinkalicious: Pinkie Promise. I found I actually preferred these early readers to some of the picture book sequels. For example, in School Rules! is an early reader about Goldie and Pinkalicious. Having her imaginary unicorn with her during the school day may help her behave herself because she's having to show him all the rules. Pinkie Promise shows Pinkalicious successfully resolving a conflict with her best friend. She promised her friend that she wouldn't use all her pink paint--she was borrowing her friend's paint--but not only did she use all the pink paint, she also used most of the red and white too. But there is hope for the friendship yet... And in Pink Around the Rink, Pinkalicious turns her new boring white ice skates into one-of-a-kind skates with the help of a pink marker...

Read Pinkalicious (and all its sequels)
  • If you are looking for a fun series to read aloud to little girls
  • If you love the color pink, cupcakes, unicorns, etc.
  • If you are looking for sweet picture books with family-friendly messages and themes 
  • If you like enthusiastic narrators
© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Jane Austen Made Me Do It. Edited By Laurel Ann Nattress. 2011. Random House. 464 pages. Featuring stories by Lauren Willig • Adriana Trigiani • Jo Beverley • Alexandra Potter • Laurie Viera Rigler • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Syrie James • Stephanie Barron • Amanda Grange • Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Carrie Bebris • Diana Birchall • Monica Fairview • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Myretta Robens • Jane Rubino and Caitlen Rubino-Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret C. Sullivan • and Brenna Aubrey, the winner of a story contest hosted by the Republic of Pemberley

Jane Austen Made Me Do It is a great, great short story collection!!! While I didn't LOVE each and every story in this one--some I merely liked--there were so many good stories in it, that it is definitely worth reading!!! This isn't one of those short story collections with one or two or even three good stories worth your time. No, this collection has MANY good stories to offer Austen fans. Granted, your favorites may not be my favorites, and my favorites may not be your favorites. There's just enough diversity in these stories to please everyone.

The collection begins strong with Syrie James' Jane Austen's Nightmare. In this story, Jane awakes from a nightmare. She shares it, of course, with her dearest companion. In her dream almost all of her characters were confronting her, challenging her. None of her characters were happy with how they'd been presented. Of course, not all of her characters were complaining--Jane, Elizabeth, Darcy, and Bingley have more than enough reason to thank their creator. But for readers who dare to question the text, this story is playful and fun. Was Jane Austen 'too mean' to some of her characters? Should some of her bad boys have been reformed? Were some of her heroines too good to be true? Did any of her characters deserve different fates?

"Waiting," "Heard of You," and "Love Letter" relate to Persuasion, my favorite Austen novel. "Waiting" by Jane Odiwe stars Anne and Captain Wentworth. "Heard of You" by Margaret C. Sullivan imagines the love story of Wentworth's sister, Sophy, and Admiral Croft. And "Love Letter" by Brenna Aubrey uses a page ripped from a novel--the novel--to reunite a couple after years apart.

"Nothing Less Than Fairy-land"  by Monica Fairview imagines just how tricky a happy marriage might prove to be for Emma and Mr. Knightley. How her father won't be the easiest person in the world to live with, and how their happily ever after will have to be fought for day by day, not that it's not possible to love someone, to stay in love with someone. But that it takes work, it isn't effortless by any stretch of the imagination.

"Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley is a nice addition to this collection because for once it is the mother (the widow with grown daughters) who wins the guy...

"Mr. Bennet Meets His Match" by Amanda Grange imagines the courtship of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet.

"Jane Austen's Cat" by Diana Birchall is a quirky story, it's true, it may not be for everyone, but it's fun for cat lovers.

But my favorite story, my FAVORITE, FAVORITE, FAVORITE story from the collection is "Intolerable Stupidity" by Laurie Viera Rigler. This story is amazing, witty, clever, joyful. It is a true must read!!! Every page of has sparkle, has wit. It just begs to be read aloud so the giggles can be shared. In this story, the authors who have dared to touch the Creator's works have been put on trial. For any author who has dared to adapt, retell, modify, etc. This includes those who have filmed adaptations--the wet Mr. Darcy scene, for example. This includes those who have dared to add vampires, zombies, mummies, and sea monsters. To those who have dared enter the bedroom... This is very much a trial--and it features many characters from the novels! Including Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, of course. And Lady Catherine!!! Anyway, it's a true delight!!!! I just LOVED it.

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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