Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Pop Goes the Library

In 2008, Sophie Brookover and I wrote a book.

And it's still available for purchase: Pop Goes the Library.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Review: Genesis Begins Again

Genesis Begins Again Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genesis, thirteen, seems to always be beginning again. Beginning again after her family has been evicted. And it's tough, making new friends, never knowing when they may be out on the street, staying in a friend's basement, moving into her grandmother's for a night or two.

The book starts with the most traumatic eviction yet. Genesis has finally, finally, made friends, and they are coming over to her house after school. They may not always be the nicest. And when they get to her house, that not nicest comes out in full -- because all of their belongings are on the yard, with the doors locked against them. To make it worse, the furniture was set up as it was in their rooms.

So, yeah, that is pretty terrible.

But then the next house her father rents is wonderful: a great neighborhood, a great school, and Genesis begins to make friends and to find her voice. I mean that literally, as she starts singing in the chorus at school.

All this, while Genesis is full of dislike for herself. In particular, her dark skin. She yearns to be lighter, like her mother, like her grandmother. She wishes she was not as dark as her father. Part of this is society, part is her family, part is her friends, and all have been internalized. She goes to extremes to try to lighten her skin. This is a nuanced, heartbreaking look at colorism.

This also has one of the best portraits of an alcoholic parent I've seen in a while. All too often, an abusive parent in a book is so full on awful that you spend half the book frustrated at the other parent, for staying with them, and at the child, for loving the abuser.

Here, the father is an alcoholic and a gambler. The reason for the evictions is he keeps gambling or spending the money away. And when he drinks he can be a mean drink: it's things he said, while drunk, that is part of the reason Genesis wishes she were lighter, like her mother, even half-thinking that if she were lighter, her father wouldn't drink and wouldn't be a mean drunk.

Her father can be mean. But he's not physically abusive. And what I like about this book is that her father is portrayed as a whole person. When sober, he's loving and does things like cook Genesis's favorite foods. He's charming enough that even with their history of evictions, he sweet talks a landlord into renting to them. And we also learn his own background, and that in many ways he's just doing what was done to him.

Let me be clear: this is not an excuse, it's not saying it's OK. But in making the father whole like this, it's understandable why Genesis's mother fell in love with him. It's understandable why she stays with him. It's understandable why Genesis loves him. The reader wishes, like they do, that he will stop drinking.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: Some Places More Than Others

Some Places More Than Others Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amara lives in Beaverton, Oregon and is about to turn 12 and honestly, she is living a great life. Her mom owns a boutique and designs clothes, including ones for Amara. Her father works for Nike and she has early access and employee discounts for sneakers. Her parents are expecting a much wanted baby. She has a great best friend.

What Amara wants more than anything: to go to New York City to meet her father's family. Her mother is an only child, and both her parents died before Amara was born. In New York City are her paternal grandfather; her aunt; two cousins. People she knows mainly from phone calls. FAMILY. Amara craves family; when her father makes the recipes his mother made, Amara thinks how great it would be to be making those recipes, eating that food, in the kitchen where her grandmother cooked, where she taught her son.

After much (much) pleading and begging, Amara gets her birthday wish. When her father next goes to NYC on business, she's going to go with him.

I LOVED this story. I love how Amara doesn't realize, until her mother points it out, that her father and grandfather don't speak to each other. (Before you think she's clueless, think: if all your contact is by phone and the phone getting passed around, you're not going to notice that.)

So, there's a family mystery: why doesn't her father and grandfather speak? But there is also the mystery of family, of discovering these people who look like her; of learning more about her father as a boy, a teen, a young man, realizing that before he was a business man he was a kid.

I love how sometimes things don't work out as you think; at first, her older cousin sees Amara as more of a nuisance than anything else. I love that the rich cultural history of New York City is shown, and how excited Amara gets about exploring the African American history of the city.

I love even the side things that are there, for a reader to pick up on, or not - -things aren't overly explained. For example, Amara discovers that her father had a passion for poetry as a child. Now, he's a businessman. But, and this is important: he loves what he does. I think it's great that a book shows that. Another is how Amara isn't sure about the new baby sister because her mother has had three miscarriages. There's a lot to unpack there, but this is Amara's story so it's about her, her feelings, her fears, not her parents' story.

My only quibble: part of what drives Amara's look into her family history is a school assignment. It's actually pretty well handled in the book, and I enjoy it, but the adult part of me always cringes at assignments about family because that is such a source of potential anguish and loss and exclusion for kids.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Review: Other Words for Home

Other Words for Home Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Verse novel about a young girl who has to move from her home to a new place, and how, and when, and if, that new place can ever be "home."

Read because it was a Notables and Newbery Honor.

Jude, twelve, lives in a beach side town, popular with tourists, with her older brother and parents. Her best friend lives just across the way. The first part of the book is about home, and friendships, and food, and movies, and dreams -- dreams of acting, like the people in her favorite movies. Her older brother, Issa, is getting involved in politics, loudly protesting the current president, and wanting to live in his own apartment.

Jude lives in Syria. The politics are against the Syrian president. The civil war means that well off tourists may no longer be coming to their town. Every day, the violence is growing closer, the danger getting closer, so, the family makes the heart breaking decision to send Jude and her mother to the states, to visit with her mother's brother, until things calm down at home.

The next part is that move: how Jude goes from thinking her English is good to realizing it is not. She misses her family and her best friend. Her uncle and aunt make an effort to be welcoming, but her uncle married an American and neither his wife nor his daughter speak the Arabic. His daughter, Sarah, comes across as almost indifferent to her aunt and cousin.

Jude adjusts to her new life, and starts at a new school, where there aren't many people who look like her, but there are people from all over the world. Her ESL class has students from Somalia, Korea, and China. She sees only one other girl who wears a headscarf.

And yet, there is happiness, as Jude makes friends and discovers that her school has a play, and that maybe her dream of acting is something that can be made real.

This book was so good! I felt for Jude, and for her mother, their loss and confusion and both wanting this new place to be home but also not wanting to give up on their home. And I loved how this didn't give any unrealistic endings. There is sadness but not tragedy, if that makes sense.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

So, folks, I have some amazing news!

I am a member of the 2021 Newbery Award Selection Committee.


I am excited and scared and over the moon.

What this means for this blog:

I will not be writing about any 2021 titles that are eligible for the Newbery, due to the rules, regulations, and policies of ALSC.

I will have very little time to read anything that is not being read for the committee, or time to write about what I am reading that is non committee related, so there won't be much happening here.

Some things I will be posting:

Brief mentions of adult books I am reading.

Short reviews of books from the 2020 Notables List from ALSC.  If you're a librarian in New Jersey, you know that am part of panels that do presentations on the Notables List; and I use this blog to record my reviews, and use those reviews when I am part of such presentations. Do not assume anything from the books I review here. First, they are 2020 titles, not 2021. Second, they will be recaps with what I liked about it, not critiques and serious evaluation. Third, the reasons for what I read from that list are simple: I need to have read at least 15 to 18 for the presentations, and I read what is easily available to me to read.

So, nothing about the current books I'm reading for Newbery.

Anyway, off to start reading! If you do have questions about the Newbery, take a look at the manual. Yes, it really is that long.

A not quite realistic photo of me reading:

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Review: The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The short version: Loved it

The slight longer version: A young woman gets a dream nanny job. The pay check is unbelievable. Well, yes, the family has gone through several nannies in the past years, but Rowan is sure it's not because of ghosts but because of the remote location: in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. But once she gets there, she begins to believe something odd is going on . . . .

And the reader knows that something terrible happened. Because Rowan is in jail, desperately writing to a lawyer, hoping to clear her name, insistent that she did not kill that child.


So Rowan is telling the story, and you know she isn't the most reliable narrator, and there are hints and clues that she's not been entirely honest or straightforward. For example, she was desperate for the job and so instead of being herself, became who she thought the family wanted to hire, so no messy hair and jeans, but, rather, nice hair and smart clothes.

And you also know the family and the house has something odd going on. Rowan only meets the wife when she interviews, and some of the daughters; the husband is away on business. This one interview gets her hired -- she never even meets the father! And then, when she starts, both parents have to go away on business so almost from day one, she is alone with these small children who she has barely met.

What parent does that, leaves their children with an almost stranger?

And the house: the house is amazing and wonderful and scary. The parents are architects and the house is old manor in the front, modern glass in the back, and all of it is "smart technology". So smart that it's next to impossible to figure out how any of it works.

There is also a poison garden.

So: which child died? Who killed them? Was it Rowan? What are Rowan's secrets? What are the secrets of the house?

So so good. But the ending.... I'm still not sure what I think. And it comes down a bit to "glass half full" in terms of what one believes happens next.

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