The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glasser



The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
(HMH Books for Young Readers ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Vanderbeekers are guaranteed to steal the heart of every single reader who picks up this book, children and adults alike. This is one of my top feel-good and huggable middle grade novels of 2017!

Thank you to the author for providing Kid Lit Exchange with a review copy of this title.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home. 

Review

Okay, so this is one of those emotional reviews for me – one where I really don’t tell you much about the book but just rave and rave and tell you how much I loved it. The Vanderbeekers instantly brought me back to reading the Melendy Quartet series as a child, books about a quirky and loving family that I read over and over and over and over, and have just recently returned to as an adult. The Vanderbeekers are just as timeless, and just as loveable. I was absolutely, 100% utterly enchanted by this book.

This story is set in Harlem with an incredibly diverse cast of characters about a family who lives in an amazing home in an amazing neighborhood with a fabulous sense of community. She describes the children and their features in beautiful ways that make it clear that they all look very different from one another, and connects them to their parents’ features through those descriptions. The relationships between the children and their family are realistic but also written in such a playful way – the language in this book is perfection. I love the storyline, I love the characters, I love the problems they have to solve – I just love it all.

Verdict: Required purchase for all middle grade classrooms and libraries. I just pre-ordered copies for both of my libraries as well as for my own family. Stay tuned for the next story about the Vanderbeekers coming in 2018 – I can not WAIT for this!

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Picture Book Roundup September 2017

Wow, this month just FLEW by!

Since there aren’t enough days or time for a blog post for each picture book I reviewed for publishers this month, I’m doing a short and sweet round-up of my Goodreads reviews. To keep up with all of my picture book and lower middle grade reads, check out my brand-new Instagram account dedicated just to these genres ~ @littleloudlibrary.

Enjoy!


The Little Book of Little ActivistsThe Little Book of Little Activists by Anonymous
(Penguin Young Readers ~ September 26, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy!

I absolutely love this little book that shares photos of children at the Women’s March on Washington, along with quotes from kids and explanations of words such as “feminist” and “democracy”. This is an important title for home bookshelves and libraries.


Roar and Sparkles Go to SchoolRoar and Sparkles Go to School by Sarah Beth Durst
(Running Press Books ~ June 6, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a cute story!

Thanks to Running Press Books for this review copy.

Roar is worried about his first day at school and his big sister Sparkles makes sure that he feels okay about things and then is rewarded with Roar’s brotherly appreciation at the end of the school day. These dragons are adorable and my 5 yo loved listening to it! I will be sharing this as a kindergarten read aloud soon


LeosGiftLeo’s Gift by Susan Blackaby
(Loyola Press – October 11, 2017)

My Rating: 3.5 / 5 STARS

I’ve had this one since this summer and have been thinking about it for months now!

Thanks to the book’s publicist for the review copy.

LEO’S GIFT is a very powerful and detailed story about a boy working toward his musical dreams, and it is absolutely full of piano and music-specific terminology. There is also an excellent message about perseverance that I would love to share with my students as we talk about growth mindset. The illustrations are bright and textured with a playful feel and I love the variation on text placement.

There is a Christmas program theme that in my opinion could have been substituted for a secular program since it was barely referenced throughout the book until the last few pages and then was all of a sudden VERY Christmas – it just limits the timeliness of the book for read alouds, etc. This doesn’t take away from the story at all, but from this librarian’s viewpoint it presents a cultural/religious aspect that doesn’t tie in with the rest of the story and could be eliminated, or could have been woven in through the story more. I recommend this to music classrooms and piano players, who will surely appreciate the rich musical storyline. I will be consulting with my music teacher to see if she would like this purchased for our library for her to use in her classes and share with students.


Draw the LineDraw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi
(Roaring Brook Press ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title.

This wordless picture book will be a great one for sharing with children in lessons on conflict resolution. The artwork is excellent and perfectly conveys the emotion and events of the story.

I withheld the 5th star simply because I reserve those for guaranteed story time read-aloud success, and with large groups, wordless books can be challenging if students can’t see the details of the story.


After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)After the Fall by Dan Santat
(Roaring Press Books ~ October 3, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title.

This follow-up to the classic nursery rhyme is a perfect picture book to use when teaching about Growth Mindset and perseverance. The pictures are perfectly representative of the changing mood of the story, and the text is simple enough for the youngest students while the message is deep enough for middle grade. This is a required purchase for elementary school libraries


Fort-Building TimeFort-Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd
(Knopf BFYR ~ October 10, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing me with a review copy of this title.

FORT-BUILDING TIME is an absolutely delightful and lyrical story about the fun of creation and playing outdoors throughout the seasons. The illustrations are whimsical and filled with detail, and the text itself is artwork in itself. This title is a required purchase for elementary libraries and will be a perfect storytime read for primary grades.


School DaySchool Day by Carolyn J. Morris
(Railfence Books ~ August 17, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for providing me with a review copy of this title.

Another delightful and adorable addition to the Railfence Bunch stories for our youngest children! In this adventure, Chick and Duckling go to school! “A-B-C I can read, 1-2-3 we’re up to speed! Wheee!”
I just straight up love these sweet books with their rhyming text and beautiful illustrations. This one definitely has a Canadian flair with the flag on the front and the mention of French lessons.


I Speak PeaceI Speak Peace by Kate Carroll
(Ferne Press ~ March 1, 2016)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you to the author for providing me with a review copy of this title.

This book is an essential read aloud in classrooms and in our homes to help spread the message of kindness, openness and peace. I SPEAK PEACE denounces violence, racism, judgment, ignorance, hurting and hate and promotes working together instead of against. There is a song included at the end of the book, as well as a Peacemaker Pledge. The text is minimal, but packs a very large message in a book fit for children in wide range of ages.

I will be purchasing a copy of this book for my elementary library’s social-emotional lesson collection to share with teachers and our guidance counselor.


When Rosa Parks Went FishingWhen Rosa Parks Went Fishing by Rachel Ruiz
(Picture Window Books ~ August 1, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for sharing this title with the Kid Lit Exchange network for review purposes.

Leaders Doing Headstands is a superb new picture book biography series focusing on famous figures in their youth. They are presented in a large-form picture book format that will be appealing to younger learners. WHEN ROSA PARKS WENT FISHING tells about Parks’ major civil rights victory, but does not make it the highlight of the book – instead she is shown as a young girl and readers learn about her family, schooling and formative years. The illustrations are gorgeous and are sure to captivate during read alouds.

I will be purchasing the entire series for my elementary school library.


When Hillary Rodham Clinton Played Ice HockeyWhen Hillary Rodham Clinton Played Ice Hockey by Rachel Ruiz
(Picture Window Books ~ August 1, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for sharing this title with the Kid Lit Exchange network for review purposes.

Leaders Doing Headstands is a superb new picture book biography series focusing on famous figures in their youth. They are presented in a large-form picture book format that will be appealing to younger learners. WHEN HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON PLAYED ICE HOCKEY tells about Clinton’s major political moments, but does not make them the highlight of the book – instead she is shown as a young girl and readers learn about her family, schooling and formative years. The illustrations are gorgeous and are sure to captivate during read alouds.

I will be purchasing the entire series for my elementary school library.


Animal EncountersAnimal Encounters by Agnes Bellegris
(Archway Publishing ~ January 25, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written in careful verse, Bellegris highlights a variety of animals in this self-illustrated picture book.

Thanks to the author for providing Kid Lit Exchange with a copy of this title for review.

Each page spread in this book features a painting of an animal with a description and narrative about the animal written in a whimsical and sometimes playful manner. The illustrations are vivid and lifelike, but with a soft and textured style. The vocabulary is rich and would invite further discussions about meaning and how we describe nature. I can definitely see this book being appealing to children and moving off the shelves in my library. I would use it for read alouds with my younger classes.


Milky WayMilky Way by Mamta Nainy
(Yali Books ~ September 25, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A sweet tale of friendship and dreaming infused with Himalayan culture, MILKY WAY is a story sure to delight young readers who have ever wondered about the moon and its phases.

Thanks to the publisher for providing Kid Lit Exchange with a review copy of this book.

Tashi and his friendship with the moon could be a story about any boy in any part of the world, but is made so much richer because the story is set in such a unique location and share so many pieces of Himalayan and Tibetan Buddhism culture. The illustrations are bold and playful, and the text is perfect for read alouds. As a school librarian, I am always looking to diversify my collection to include representation of global cultures and religions, and this title will make a perfect addition. I will be purchasing this for my library.


From Dark to LightFrom Dark to Light by Isabella Murphy
(Pink Umbrella Books ~ August 15, 2017)

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

What a cute story! And it was written by a 5th grader!

Thanks so much to the author for sharing this title with Kid Lit Exchange for review.

The story of a pumpkin who wants a family is very cute and would make a good group read aloud for grades 1 and 2 or younger in a one-on-one environment, simply due to the fact that the pages are rather text-dense and littles need quicker page turns in large groups. However, the illustrations are vivid and engaging and the story is delightful, especially from such a young author. I will be purchasing this for my library to prove that kids CAN publish books!


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Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo

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Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth A. Odhiambo
(Carolrhoda Books ~ September 1, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Haunting but inspirational, AUMA’S LONG RUN reminds readers that the world is bigger than what we can see, and that challenges are profoundly different throughout the world.

Thanks to the publisher for the signed galley of this title provided through a giveaway.

Book Description

Auma loves to run. In her small Kenyan village, she’s a track star with big dreams. A track scholarship could allow her to attend high school and maybe even become a doctor. But a strange new sickness called AIDS is ravaging the village, and when her father becomes ill, Auma’s family needs her help at home. Soon more people are getting sick even dying and no one knows why. Now Auma faces a difficult choice. Should she stay to support her struggling family or leave to pursue her own future? Auma knows her family is depending on her, but leaving might be the only way to find the answers to questions about this new disease.

Review

Set in 1980’s Kenya during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Odhiambo draws on her own experiences living in a village such as Auma’s to highlight the way that the disease completely ravaged the country, and still continues to do so.

This is a vitally important story, and written in a way that makes it accessible to teens. However, this is very much a middle SCHOOL book rather than middle GRADE. I would not recommend this for grades lower than 7th, based on the sexual content addressed throughout the story. As a school librarian, I would recommend this book for grades 7-12, placing it the YA category. It is NOT a book I would purchase for my elementary school library. In addition, this is a book that may not fly off shelves but requires teacher introduction and would be an incredible whole class read aloud.

Verdict: Heartbreaking and required reading, but may need adult urging to get it into the hands of kids. Recommended purchase for upper middle school and high school classrooms and libraries.

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Mikey and Me by Teresa Sullivan

Mikey and Me: Life with My Exceptional Sister by Teresa Sullivan
(She Writes Press ~ August 29, 2017)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A heartbreaking memoir of growing up with an exceptional sibling in the 1950s , 60’s and 70s – a time when institutionalization was the norm and there was no support for or knowledge about the disabilities that Mikey lived with.

Thanks to Book Sparks and She Writes Press for the review copy of this book – all opinions are my own.

Book Description

A riveting memoir about growing up as a typical sibling in a family of four, Mikey & Me is Teresa Sullivan’s tribute to her beloved older sister Mikey, who was blind and developmentally disabled. 

When Mikey is young, the Sullivans are a closely-knit unit, devoted to caring for her. But as Mikey grows older, and increasingly violent, it becomes impossible to keep her at home. At twelve, institutionalization is the only option. Without the shared purpose of caring for Mikey, the family begins to unravel. Seeking comfort and connection, Teresa navigates the border between the mainstream and the 1960s and 70s countercultures. Still, the Sullivans are united by their love and concern for Mikey, visiting often and sometimes bringing her home. Sometimes sweet and touching interludes, these visits also reveal evidence of the abuse that Mikey experiences. 

Writing with clarity, eloquence, and poignancy, Sullivan shines a light on the complicated issues involved in caring for a special needs child. Even young siblings must become honorary adults and caregivers, grappling with the same conflicting emotions their parents experience. 

As she interweaves her exceptional sister’s journey with her own, Sullivan affirms the grace and brutality of Mikey’s life, and its indelible effect on her family.

Review

Teresa Sullivan has shared an incredibly moving and personal story with the world, and it is a story that both enlightens and shocks. Her accounts of Mikey’s challenges and the treatment her and her family were given by the medical community are simply heartbreaking, but also imperative for today’s parents, teachers and medical professionals to witness as the mysteries of autism are being unlocked. We need to know how far we have come in this journey to maintain hope, but we also need to know that the challenges are still there.

As a former special education teacher, and current school librarian, I have seen over and over again the agonies faced by parents and siblings of children with exceptional needs – especially when there are violent tendencies. Sullivan provides a great service with this book by letting families know that they are not alone in their journey, and also provides a list of resources at the end of the book for families.

I highly recommend this book for fans of memoir and anyone involved in the care of our more vulnerable citizens, including the elderly. This story will stay with me for a very long time.

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Author Q&A with Susan Holloway Scott

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Remember my gushing review of I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott? Well, we ended up chatting on Twitter and Instagram so much that we decided an author Q&A post was necessary! This book releases TODAY and I am so excited for Hamilton and history fans to get their hands on it! Also, don’t forget to check out the author’s blog – it’s a treasure trove for history buffs and has a ton of great expanded material on this book.

From Susan: These photos are of portraits that you do not usually see; they’re pastel profile drawings, drawn by the English artist James Sharples around 1794. The Hamilton family thought they were both good likenesses. Alexander is in the collection of the New-York Historical Society, and Eliza is in a private collection.

Here we go with my questions and Susan’s answers ~ enjoy the conversation!

How long has this story been in the works? I know that you told me you were already writing it before the musical came out – is that correct?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when an idea for a book appears. Stories tend to take root and grown in my imagination long before I’m entirely conscious of them, and certainly long before they’ve earned a file on my computer. I grew up in the New York metropolitan area, in the thick of Revolutionary War history, so it feels as if I’ve always known about Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. I do know, however, that I’ve been considering Eliza’s story since at least 2011, because I recently stumbled across an old blog post that I’d written about them. So yes, Eliza and I have been acquainted for some time.

How did you decide on Eliza Hamilton as the subject of a novel?

Sometimes I’m drawn to a historical person because there’s a wealth of information about them – letters, diaries, journals – but with Eliza, it’s quite the opposite. There’s almost nothing left of her side of her younger life, when she was married to Alexander Hamilton, and most likely that was intentional.

While the idea of Eliza burning her letters after the Reynolds scandal resulted in one of the loveliest songs in the Hamilton musical, I don’t think it happened then, but much later, after Alexander’s death. This wasn’t unusual among 18thc women living in the public eye. Martha Washington destroyed her correspondence with George, and Abigail Adams considered doing the same with John’s letters, but in the end couldn’t. It was the only way a widow could be sure personal letters would never fall into unsympathetic hands. Destroying the evidence, she could preserve her privacy, and protect her late husband’s reputation as well as her own. (I’ve also wondered if it wasn’t Eliza who destroyed her letters, but her son, John Church Hamilton. While organizing his father’s papers for publication and writing a biography, he did his share of “editing”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided his by-then-saintly mother’s earlier letters might have revealed an uncomfortable degree of emotion and intimacy that he judged unseemly for posterity.)

Still, it was the fact that Eliza’s voice wasn’t there that attracted me to her. She must have been such a strong woman, especially in the face of almost unbearable tragedy. I wanted to know her side of the Hamilton story: what she thought, believed, felt – despite her having left so little record of herself. I know I’m not alone among writers who feel that some characters choose us, rather than the other way around. That was definitely the case with Eliza.

This is an incredibly detailed book, covering a large swath of early American history – can you explain a bit about your research process and how you go about researching this time period?

I have to admit that I didn’t start from scratch with this book. Eighteenth century America has always fascinated me, and it’s a time and place that feels very comfortable for me. I didn’t have to research all the little details of daily life – such as clothing, hygiene, food, transportation – because I’d already absorbed that somewhere else along the line. I try to write about the past as my characters would have experienced it, and not stop the story for the dreaded history lectures. I’ve spent as much time in living history museums like Colonial Williamsburg as I have in libraries, hunting for the little things that will help bring the past to life.

But while I might have already had the 18thc world in my head, I did have to do considerable research to populate it. Eliza’s letters may be lost, but Alexander’s still exist by the thousand, as well as letters from Eliza’s older sister Angelica. Not only did I read these, but I also traveled to historical societies and libraries to read the originals whenever I could. With handwritten letters, there’s just so much more that can be learned from an angry, sputtering slash of ink or an extra flourish than the words alone can express. And how much I love reading original letters – especially Alexander’s earlier love letters – knowing both he and Eliza held that same sheet of paper in their hands! That said, however, I’m not among the historical fiction writers who choose to incorporate parts of letters into dialogue (it always sounds stilted to me), but I do try to absorb the style and spirit of the letters, and be inspired that way.

Eliza and Alexander lived primarily in New York and in Pennsylvania, crossing back and forth over New Jersey. I’m fortunate to live outside of Philadelphia, and so was able to visit nearly all of the surviving places that were important to them. It wasn’t just being able to describe these houses and public buildings; I also was hunting for whatever essence of Eliza and Alexander might still remain in them. Yes, I know that sounds very woo-woo, but in many ways writing fiction is a completely illogical, woo-woo process.

I know you have already shared with me your thoughts on historical fiction and the integrity of maintaining accuracy, but can you share this with our readers here as well?

Sure. I take writing historical fiction based on actual people very seriously. IMHO, I owe it to their memories to try to make my interpretation as accurate as I can. If another writer wants to make the British win the Revolution, or invent a Hamilton sister, that’s fine, but readers deserve to know up front that the story is more of a fantasy or alternative version of the past. Don’t pretend that it’s otherwise. Of course, none of us were “in the room where it happened,” so all fiction is going to have its share of, well, fiction. But I try to stick as closely to the facts as possible, as a matter of respect for the people who’ve become my characters.

What are your thoughts on our nation’s current obsession with Alexander Hamilton – does he deserve all of this fuss?

It’s been great for me – without the buzz from the show, no publisher would have been interested in Eliza’s story. 🙂

More seriously, I love how the musical has created a renewed interest in early American history, particularly among young people. When I’ve been visiting places with Hamilton connections – Washington’s headquarters at Valley Forge, or Independence Hall – I’ve overheard kids in school groups spontaneously start singing songs from the show. They’re really excited to be there, and to be visiting a part of their history, and that’s all thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s personally responsible for inspiring an entire new generation of history lovers.

As for whether Alexander Hamilton deserves the fuss: yes, he was a brilliant, innovative man who was a crucial part of the founding of America. But like every one of the Founders, he wasn’t perfect, and he wasn’t always quite as heroic as he appears in the play. But the play is making people seek out more information about him (I’m sure Ron Chernow never expected his Hamilton biography to become a bestseller all over again), and learn for themselves what a complex man he was. And that’s great.

I really still can’t get over Alexander’s affair – how much evidence of this did you find in your research about Eliza’s reaction to it?

Very, very little. There is, of course, the reaction from Alexander’s friends – most of it of the “What WAS he thinking?” variety – and a great deal of pity for Eliza, but as to what she thought when she read the Reynolds pamphlet, or even how or when she read it, there’s nothing. It does appear that right before it became public, she retreated to her parents’ house in Albany to avoid the inevitable public scrutiny, but whether he sent her away, or she fled, or gave him some sort of ultimatum isn’t known.

Unless some forgotten letter turns up (which is always possible), Eliza’s initial reaction – and her inevitable shock and pain –  will always remain a tantalizing mystery. In time she returned to their home, bore more children with him, and fiercely defended him against his critics for the rest of her life. Ultimately she must have forgiven him, despite the inevitable pain of his very public infidelity. The story of their marriage may have begun like a romance, but it became a more serious story of love tried and tested that somehow survived, and grew stronger.

What are some of the most fascinating things you found during this research? I know you have had the opportunity to actually see many artifacts of Eliza’s!

Ooh, I did! Thanks to the generosity and assistance of a great number of curators, historians, and archivists, I was able to see some truly wonderful things connected to Eliza and Alexander. (See my blog for lots more Hamilton-inspiration.) As a writer, I found a genuine connection to Alexander’s small, worn, portable writing desk – the desk on which he wrote so many of his most important papers and letters, and the 18thc counterpart of my own laptop. As a needleworker myself, I was touched by the surviving examples of Eliza’s embroidery, especially the pieces she worked while waiting and praying for Alexander to return from the battlefield to marry her. Imagine what must have been going through her thoughts with every tiny stitch she took!

But most emotional of all for me was seeing Eliza’s wedding ring. It’s called a gimmel ring: two separate gold rings that fit together like a puzzle. One ring is engraved with her name, and one with his, and when properly aligned, the two rings come together to make a single band. It must have been a costly war-time purchase for an impoverished young officer like Alexander. The ring is tiny, thin from all the years Eliza wore it and a little misshapen as well, and yet I can’t think of a more perfect symbol of her love, and his.

And yes, when I touched it, my eyes filled with tears.

Thank you, Susan! Happy release day!

The Copenhagen Affair by Amulya Malladi


The Copenhagen Affair
by Amulya Malladi
(Lake Union Publishing ~ September 26, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A spot-on look at modern marriage and depression, THE COPENHAGEN AFFAIR enlightens and entertains readers against a beautiful European background.

Thanks to Lake Union Publishing and Goldberg McDuffie Communications for the review copy of this novel – all opinions are my own.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Sanya was always the perfect wife, but after a breakdown at her office, it’s her husband Harry’s turn to step up. His proposal? A temporary move to Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital city. He needs to be there to close a business deal and figures the change of scenery will do her good. Soon Sanya goes from hiding under her duvet to hiding in plain sight—a dark-skinned Indian American in a city of blondes.

Within Copenhagen’s glamorous high society, one man stands out—not only because of his intriguing scar but because he sees Sanya in a way Harry hasn’t for years. Anders Ravn owns the company Harry wants to acquire, and soon Sanya begins to fall for him. As allegations of white-collar crime arise, she learns of Harry’s infidelity, and having an affair with Anders seems ever more tempting. Surrounded by old money, smoked fish on dark breads, and way too many bicycles, Sanya slowly moves from breakdown to breakthrough, but where will she end up—and with whom? 

Review

I first encountered Malladi’s work when I read her last novel, A HOUSE FOR HAPPY MOTHERS, earlier this year, and was ecstatic to receive another of her titles. This is an entirely different kind of book (except for the female protagonist being of Indian descent and having a home in California) but equally compelling.

In THE COPENHAGEN AFFAIR, Sanya is a 40-something finance executive, wife and mother who suffers a nervous breakdown and subsequent deep depression. Her husband believes that the best thing to do is relocate to Copenhagen for work, so off they go ~ into a world of expats and intrigue, and a whole new Sanya. The author lived in this city for over 10 years, and the narrative and descriptions wholeheartedly reflect that experience.

I absolutely fell in love with this book and it’s sharp wit combined with an incredibly thoughtful look at marriages that have lasted 20+ years. What is love? And what keeps a marriage together? What is depression? How does depression change the core of the depressed? The absolute icing on the cake for me was the Q & A at the end of the book between the author and her husband – they reflect on their marriage, time in Copenhagen and her depression.

Highly recommended for fans of smart contemporary women’s fiction and House Hunters International aficionados itching to get more insight on this European city.

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Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

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Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her LifeDear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence
(Flatiron Books ~ September 26, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The perfect read for any book lover, but an incredibly special book for all librarians! Buy this one for a librarian in your life TODAY.

Thanks to Flatiron for the review copy – all opinions are my own

Another gushing review from me ~ this is one of those books I just want to hug and keep on my forever bookshelf with all of my other books about books. My librarian and book nerd books. Spence has infused this book just the right amount of sass and profanity to prevent it from being preachy, and even when I’m gasping at her judgements of some books (how DARE you speak like that of TWILIGHT?? I mean….?!?) I’m laughing at the same time. I will be starting a journey of attempting to read all of her recommendations because she speaks so passionately about them – just like I tend to when talking about my favorite titles. The library and weeding references are amazing and will resonate with librarians of all types. And honestly, I just want to ask Annie to join my book club and be my best friend. LOVE.

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I, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott


I, Eliza HamiltonI, Eliza Hamilton by Susan Holloway Scott
(Kensington ~ September 26, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Required reading for Hamilton fans, and highly recommended for all historical fiction fans and history buffs in general!

Thanks to Kensington Books for this review copy – all opinions are my own.

Let’s start out with the fact that I am a major Hamilton geek. My kids and I have the complete soundtrack to the musical memorized, and we have spent hours and hours discussing the musical itself, as well as the Revolution book and numerous other titles about Hamilton’s life. When I reviewed a young adult title last winter about Alex and Eliza I actually had Chernow’s biography of Hamilton open next to me to fact-check that title (and it didn’t match up, by the way). All of this means that my review is either incredibly biased, OR it just means that I have a lot of background knowledge to use in my review – you choose.

Scott manages to include incredibly detailed historical narrative along with her telling of Eliza’s story, beginning with the events where Eliza and Alexander meet. The romance and relationship are compelling enough on their own, but this book also serves as a primer on much of the Revolutionary War, sure to satisfy even the most stickler of history buffs. At over 400 pages, this novel is NOT a light romance story despite what the cover may convey – it is a political tome that absolutely fascinated me, especially the medical details (I’m a medical history fan – give me a book about Bellevue Hospital and I’m in heaven). Fans of Hamilton the musical will be compelled to have the soundtrack playing at all times during the reading of this book, and will then be forced to compare the differences between these two accounts of events – for readers like me, that’s a dream job!

Scott wowed me with this book – she chatted with me numerous times on Instagram about Eliza while I was reading it and I can not say enough about her devotion to historical detail and this story – she is amazing! We chatted about how this book is not at all inspired by the musical and is in no way fan fiction, but the musical has definitely helped bring attention to this title. Her website provides such wonderful details about her research and additional historical background on the events and places in the book – it’s a treasure trove for history-lovers and gives such a rich extended reading experience. I highly recommending checking out her blog along with this title.

If you love US history and can’t get enough of Hamilton in your life, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you are expecting a frothy romance, however, this will surely surprise you with its academic nature.

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Caroline: Little House Revisited by Sarah Miller

I am so very excited to share with all of you a conversation with the author of the brand-new historical fiction title Caroline: Little House Revisited ~ Sarah Miller very graciously agreed to answer all of the questions I had for her about Caroline Ingall’s prejudices toward American Indians. This is one of my very, very favorite things about being a book reviewer – getting to go deeper into stories and actually have these conversations with authors!

Please head over to Goodreads to check out my 4-STAR review of this novel – it was out on September 19th, 2017 from William Morrow!

Author Q&A With Sarah Miller

We decided to leave this conversation pretty much intact from our email back-and-forth since I love how Sarah takes my initial rambling thoughts and massively expands upon them. So many things for us all to think about on this topic! Okay, here it is:

KATE:

Hi Sarah!

I am so so happy to have had a chance to read an early copy of Caroline – thanks again! And thanks for being willing to discuss with me.

I’m really in the pondering stages with my thoughts on the racism angle, and have you to thank for inspiring me to do a LOT of additional reading this morning!

In my professional life, I read deeply on #ownvoices and the accurate representation of marginalized groups for children’s literature, and have read a lot about Little House on the Prairie as it pertains to children – my very long thoughts on this can be condensed into this very simplistic paragraph:

The books were written by a person of that time period raised by people with certain racist beliefs that were common in that time period – we know now that the beliefs were misguided and that the entire situation involving the removal of American Indians from their lands was wrong. It’s fine for children to read these books with appropriate context given by adults, and questioning encouraged, as these discussions spark greater dialogue about racism and what is right. We also need to be sure to include counterpart texts written by people of these marginalized groups showing their stories.

It’s interesting reading Caroline because I see how well you wrote the context surrounding Caroline’s reactions, and made it apparent to readers that she was misguided and felt differently than Charles did. Adult readers understand the historical aspect and understand the true situation involving American Indians, so I don’t have the same concerns as I have with kidlit.

I guess what I’m struggling with in my attempt to promote accurate representation and diversity, is the romanticism surrounding this story, and if it were a man would we be more quick to judge him harshly? If this were a white woman in a story set in the antebellum south and the “others” were black, what would we think? Please know that this is not in any way a criticism of your work or the book, but just my general professional ponderings and my quest to understand the great big world of history, context and interpretation as we move through time and the general cultural belief systems shift.

SARAH: Thank you for broaching this topic! It’s something that’s been very much on my mind as I worked, but until you asked I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to try to articulate my thoughts into a cohesive whole. I had a lot more to say than I anticipated.

One of the best pieces of advice I received while working on this book was to NOT explain/excuse Caroline’s racism. Racism is the default in 1870. Even if she hadn’t been aware of the so-called “Sioux Uprising” of 1862 that likely fueled her darkest fears, she would have been prejudiced against American Indians. That fact makes people uncomfortable, and I am a-OK with readers experiencing that kind of discomfort.

Note —

My usage of Ma, Mrs. Ingalls, and Caroline is not arbitrary. For clarity within my own mind, I established distinct definitions between the three as I researched and wrote Caroline: Little House, Revisited, and those distinctions have stuck.

Ma: The matriarch of the fictional Ingalls family, invented by Laura Ingalls Wilder and modeled closely on her own mother.

Mrs. Ingalls (also Caroline Ingalls): The actual living, breathing woman who was born in Brookfield, Wisconsin in 1839 and died in De Smet, South Dakota in 1924.

Caroline: My own fictional hybrid of the two.

KATE: It’s interesting reading Caroline because I see how well you wrote the context surrounding Caroline’s reactions, and made it apparent to readers that she was misguided and felt differently than Charles did.

Thank you! But did Pa actually feel differently? Once I really started to ponder this, a whole bunch of new thoughts happened. (See below.)

KATE: I guess what I’m struggling with in my attempt to promote accurate representation and diversity, is the romanticism surrounding this story —

What I see people struggling with when it comes to racism and Laura Ingalls Wilder is this idea:

If her writing is racist, and I love her books, what does that say about…me?

Who wants to acknowledge that? I’m not sure which is harder, acknowledging racism in a beloved author, or in yourself.

One curious work-around I’ve noticed is the habit of assigning the novels’ racism entirely to the characters rather than Laura Ingalls Wilder herself. When the narrator says in The Long Winter that Ma “looked as if she were smelling the smell of an Indian whenever she said the word,” that’s Wilder’s racism on display as much or more than Ma’s. Granted, Ma apparently turned her nose up at the very mention of Indians, a blatant reaction of distaste. But it’s actually Wilder who’s spoon-feeding us the more distasteful idea that Indians stink. Similarly, despite popular belief to the contrary, Ma is not the one who says “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” in Little House on the Prairie. That vile remark comes from Mr. & Mrs. Scott — fictional characters likely invented by Wilder. (I haven’t been able to figure out how that statement got attributed to Ma. Maybe in the TV show?) How many times does a person get to make you wince before you have to concede, Yep…that’s some racism right there.

Have you seen the video Grace Lin did on this topic? It’s terrific.

I love what she says, and I love that it specifically addresses Ma Ingalls. Shouldn’t we also apply the same thinking to Laura Ingalls Wilder? You still get to love her, even though she’s flawed. I mean, if you’re not allowed to love flawed people, you pretty much can’t love anybody.

KATE: — and if it were a man would we be more quick to judge him harshly?

That is such an interesting angle to ponder.

The more I think about it, the more I think the opposite might be true. Consider that it’s Pa, not Ma, who refers to the Osages in demeaning terms: “screeching devils” and “common trash.” It’s Pa who deliberately settles his family on other people’s land in hopes that they will be displaced so he can take possession of it. (Don’t fall for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s excuse about “blasted politicians” upending Pa’s good intentions, by the way. Charles Ingalls could not have been ignorant of the fact that he settled several miles within the Osage Diminished Reserve. Almost the whole of Montgomery County was within the Diminished Reserve’s boundaries.) He doesn’t appear frightened of the Osages, but he has very little regard for them as people. Yes, he calls them “peaceable,” and maintains that if they’re not provoked, they’ll do no harm. But just now for the first time I’m thinking to myself, Wait a minute — listen to that again. That’s the kind of thing you’d tell your child when you find a bees’ nest in the yard: If you don’t poke it, they won’t sting you. Underneath his cavalier tone I’m hearing a subtext of, They’re dangerous and unpredictable and we can’t reason with them. Remember how he reacts when he finds out Laura and Mary almost turned Jack loose on the first two Osage men to enter the cabin? I think he’s a lot more wary than he appears. If he believes they’re so friendly and peaceable, why does he tell Ma, “We don’t want to make enemies out of any Indians”? It goes without saying that nobody wants to make enemies — of anyone. What is it about the Osages that makes him feel the need to state the obvious?

And yet it’s Ma who has the reputation of being the biggest racist in the Ingalls family — bigger even than Jack the bulldog, who “all the time…lay and hated the Indians.” In Little House on the Prairie, Ma is characterized as fearful rather than hateful. She feels more vulnerable than Pa because she’s a woman. In her mind, Indians are a threat to her safety, and her daughters’ safety. Does she also see Indians as less than human? Very probably, but without being privy to the real Mrs. Ingalls’s actual thoughts, I can’t be sure what the answer to that question is. All we’ve got to go on is the fictionalized, secondhand word of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who saw her mother only once after leaving South Dakota at age 27. Ma certainly sees American Indian culture as less civilized, which lends her an unmistakable air of superiority that makes modern readers squirm. The fact that she doesn’t want her daughters to mimic Indians’ appearance or (stereotypical) behavior by getting tanned in the sun, or yelling, sure doesn’t bode well.

So yes, Ma’s negative reactions are much more overt than Pa’s, but I’d be sorely tempted to argue that Pa’s veiled prejudice is more harmful to young readers (maybe even readers of any age) than Ma’s fear. The irrationality of her fear is so easy to see nowadays that we pity Ma even as we condemn her prejudice. Meanwhile, Pa’s insidious attitudes fly so far under the radar that he gets a proverbial cookie for being more progressive than his wife.

Personally, I can’t help wondering if Mrs. Ingalls truly hated Indians. That’s certainly how Laura Ingalls Wilder interpreted her mother’s reaction toward them. Yet I can’t recall an instance in the Little House series where Ma Ingalls exhibits hatred rather than fear. Fear is still racism, of course, but it feels more…dare I say palatable somehow?…than hatred. There’s a moment in my novel where Caroline does realize, briefly, that her perceptions have been distorted by fear. It would have been immensely satisfying to a modern reader if I had turned that moment into a larger epiphany. But that option simply was not available to me. You can’t impose current sensibilities onto an historical figure, especially when there’s evidence to the contrary. Laura Ingalls Wilder said her (fictional) mother hated Indians, and I have no choice but to take her at her word, regardless of how I want to view Ma’s behavior. Maybe I ask this question because I love Mrs. Ingalls, and so deep down I do secretly wish I could exonerate her racism somehow. She is such a good woman otherwise that it’s difficult to reconcile.

That’s something white folks often fail to admit — that racists are not all terrible human beings. I’m becoming more and more aware that in books and in movies, characters who are racist are almost always people you wouldn’t want to spend time with in the first place. Think of Kirsten Dunst’s character in Hidden Figures, for example. Everything she says to Dorothy Vaughn/Octavia Spencer is tinged with snottiness and superiority. That’s because for the most part, racists in fiction are also all-around jerks. That is just not true to life. I’m convinced it’s a story white people keep telling so that we can feel good about ourselves: If we are not jerks, then we can’t be racists. In reality, I know nice people who are also racist — perhaps not overtly or even consciously, but racist nonetheless. It’s difficult not to be racist at last once in awhile when you’re part of a society where racism is institutionalized and endemic. (In that sense, you could perhaps argue that Laura Ingalls Wilder is more honest about racism than we are today.)

I almost always bring up my grandpa in discussions like this. He was born in Nebraska in 1915. My understanding is that until he moved to Detroit as a teenager, he’d never heard the word negro. Where he grew up, a different word that starts with N was in vogue. He also didn’t know that the proper usage of jew is as a noun — where he came from, it was a verb. He grew up using racist vocabulary because those terms were the default. But once he learned better, he did better. He lived to be 100 years old and I never in my life heard him speak disparagingly of black or jewish people.

Point being? You can do/say/think racist things without being a capital-R Racist. You can unconsciously perpetuate racism without being a Racist. Progress might advance much more quickly if white people could get accustomed to that fact, instead of reacting like someone’s found a white hood in the back of the coat closet when we get called out. Everybody gets it wrong sometimes, and some mistakes are more cringe-worthy than others. But if you learn better and then consciously refuse to do better? Well, then you’ve probably just exposed yourself as a Racist.

Caroline Ingalls — the real Caroline Ingalls — undoubtably said and did and thought racist things. Was she a Racist? I don’t know. I’d like very much to think not, but again, how many times does she have to make *me* wince before I’ve got to concede the point? I can’t imagine Mrs. Ingalls supporting the Klan, for instance, but on the other hand I don’t much want to contemplate what her opinion of Indian boarding schools might have been. I’d like to think that if she learned better, she’d have done better. She died in 1924, though. I’d hazard a guess that there weren’t many opportunities to get woke in her lifetime.

If this were a white woman in a story set in the antebellum south and the “others” were black, what would we think?

I suspect we would be much quicker to condemn her racism in that context. Why is that? Is it more “ok” to be prejudiced against American Indians than African Americans? Of course it’s not. But as a society we do seem less attuned to discrimination toward Native people. People just don’t see/recognize racism against American Indians as readily as other kinds of discrimination. There are still plenty of folks who will argue that Laura Ingalls Wilder was not racist, simply because fictional-Laura questions Pa about why the Osages have to leave their land. These folks are entirely willing to overlook her degrading descriptions of the Osage men who enter the cabin, and the “Indian War-cry” chapter which has no basis in reality. Nor do they recognize the stereotype of the noble savage in Soldat du Chene. And that business with the Indians wearing “fresh” reeking skunk skins? That’s crazytalk. People accept that kind of nonsense because Laura was there, and Laura was nice.

I used to be one of those people. I learned during the course of my research to pay attention to more than what the characters say and do, to pay as much or more attention to what the narrative voice — the author’s voice, in the case of Laura Ingalls Wilder — says about Native people. What can be more telling than Wilder’s description of Indian Territory in the first edition of Little House on the Prairie as a land where “there were no people. Only Indians lived there.” When the implication was pointed out to her in 1952, Wilder admitted it was a “stupid blunder” and said she’d never meant to suggest that Indians were not people. With her consent the text was changed to “there were no settlers.” But intent is irrelevant. The fact remains that for twenty years, one of the most widely read children’s books of a generation did not recognize Osages as humans.

When I began to recognize Wilder’s racism, I realized that one of my biggest challenges with Caroline would be to convey the characters’ fears and prejudices without allowing my own narrative voice to succumb to any racist attitudes and descriptions. I hope and pray I’ve been successful.

THANK YOU, SARAH!

We would love to hear your questions and thoughts on this in the comments below!

Falcon Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson


Falcon Wild by Terry Lynn Johnson
(Charlesbridge – September 19, 2017)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FALCON WILD is the must-read middle grade adventure story of fall 2017!

Thanks to the #kidlitexchange network for the review copy of this book.

Book Description (from Goodreads)

Thirteen-year-old Karma is lost in the backcountry of Montana with her falcon, Stark, and a runaway boy named Cooper. She ‘s desperate to find help for her dad and brother after they find themselves in a terrible accident on a back road.

Karma wouldn’t be in this mess if her parents hadn’t insisted on returning Stark to the bird’s original owner. Life at her father’s bird sanctuary–and Karma’s dreams of becoming an apprentice falconer–will never be the same now that she has to give Stark back. Lost in the wild, her bond with the tamed falcon only grows stronger. All the while, Cooper gets his own lessons on how to trust in newfound friendship.

Both Karma’s and Cooper’s mettle is tested by mountain terrain, wild animals, severe weather, injury, and their own waning hope as this edge-of-your-seat adventure story vividly portrays the special bonds that can form between humans and animals.

Review

What a fabulous adventure story! I love everything about this book – female protagonist, unique premise, cliffhanger chapter endings, manageable length for middle grade readers, and most of all, the absolute perfection it will be for a whole class read aloud in any middle school classroom. As a school librarian, I can’t keep Gary Paulsen books on my shelves, and I just know this is going to be a huge hit with those readers. I will be purchasing copies for both of my libraries.

Required purchase for middle grade libraries and classrooms – recommended for grades 4 and up as a read aloud.

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