Friday, June 28, 2019

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black
By Marcus Sedgwick and Julian Sedgwick
Illustrated by Alexis Deacon
Walker Books, 2019

Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black is a book that defies categorization, and is one of the most unique and affecting books that I've read this year.

Harry Black is a conscientious objector to the war; he is also an artist. His brother Ellis is a soldier; he is also a writer. They don't see eye-to-eye, however, both risk his their lives for his country. Harry is a firefighter—tasked with responding to the fires that break out during the devastating air raids on the city of London. In a rare wartime opportunity, Harry and his brother meet up for a beer at a London pub. Soon after they separate, the block where the pub stood is bombed to obliteration. Harry finds himself in the hospital in a hazy, surreal state of shock. Ellis' whereabouts are unknown. There is also a curious young German girl in the hospital—Agatha. 

It is in this otherworldly scenario that Harry draws and thinks, and digs to the tune of an unknown musician who plays with great beauty amidst the horrors. The reader has the benefit of understanding the musician's purpose. The story is told in prose, in Harry's sketches, and in the haunting speech of the musician, whose words turn often to song,

I've a story to tell of Harry Black,
who went to the Underworld and how he came back;
of the love for his brother, who'd pushed him away.
Of London by starlight, under attack,
of bombs falling, of people calling
   through darkened streets,
of sirens and wayfarers, of lost souls,
of vicious women and mindless dogs.
These are the things of which I'll sing.

There are many books about WWII, the Kindertransport, the bombing of London. None are like this one. Read it.

My copy of Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black was provided by the publisher.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Convenience Store Woman - a review

I try to squeeze in a few adult books between reviewing for SLJ and AudioFile.

My two latest adult reads were Where the Crawdads Sing and Convenience Store Woman. I loved them both.  I won't post a review of Where the Crawdads Sing because it is wildly popular, and good reviews may be found almost everywhere. It has cross-genre appeal (nature, crime, mystery, society) and more than a few surprises.

Here's my short review of Convenience Store Woman, an homage to those who don't fit the mold.

Convenience Store Woman
By Suraka Murata
Grove Press, 2018

Convenience Store Woman will give you greater respect for the perceived "otherness" of others, and will compel you to examine the seemingly benign social mores to which you likely adhere. Short and thought-provoking.

Both books would make excellent beach reads!

Read an excerpt from Where the Crawdads Sing here.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Giraffe Problems - a review

Giraffe Problems

by Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Random House, 2018

Below is my review of Giraffe Problems as it appeared in School Library Journal. Oct 2018, Vol. 64 Issue 10, p55, 2 p.

PreS-Gr 2-In a follow-up to Penguin Problems, John and Smith team up again and bring their zany brand of comedy. Edward the giraffe has a problem with his neck—it's just too necky. Who wants such a long neck? "Everybody stares at it. This guy. That guy. Him. Her. Them. Whatever that is. Her again." Edward envies his fellow African animals, who generally respond unfavorably. When Edward admires the zebra's classic stripes, the zebra snaps, "Quit staring at me," but it takes a self-effacing turtle named Cyrus to convince him that his neck is just perfect. A foldout page reveals Edward using his neck for its intended purpose. In a beautiful introduction to the uniqueness of a giraffe's spots, Smith has created large, block-printed spots in natural colors to adorn the end pages. The textured print continues throughout, visible in the hides of animals, the bark of trees, and the textured ground of the African plain. Of course, there is the theme of self-acceptance and a bit of sublime silliness as well, especially in Edwards's fruitless attempts at camouflage and in the expressively simple eyes of Cyrus the turtle. VERDICT This book will appeal to older preschoolers as well as elementary school kids, and would lend itself perfectly to dramatic interpretation or an art lesson in sponge or block printing.

Copyright © 2018 School Library Journal, the property of Media Source, Inc.  Reprinted here with permission.

Peek inside Giraffe Problems.

My copy of Giraffe Problems was provided by SLJ.

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...