Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Lost Pianos of Siberia - a review

The Lost Pianos of Siberia

By Sophy Roberts

Grove Press, 2020


The Lost Pianos of Siberia is nonfiction with epic proportions. Spurred by a request from a Mongolian pianist and a dated photo of a piano outdoors in Siberia, British author Sophy Roberts embarked on a quest to find pianos in Siberia and document their provenance. Each of her artfully crafted sentences begs further thought or investigation—but on she goes, searching for pianos, while unearthing cultural, historical, artistic, political, and architectural details that captivate the mind. Just to consider the difficulty in transporting pianos across the frozen permafrost of Siberia in previous centuries is to bear witness to its people's love and appreciation of music. Consider that Tsar Nicholas and the entire Romanov family were transported from Moscow to Siberia, over one thousand miles, for execution, and yet, their piano was brought with them. During WWII, a later generation of Russians risked life and limb to save the Romanov's piano. Siberia's is an immensity of space, time, and misery—but also of music and endurance. To read this book and not pine to see Siberia will be a harder feat than finding the lost pianos of Siberia. 


Some facts about Siberia:
  • It comprises more than 55% of Russia's total size
  • It is roughly equal to the size of Canada
  • Its Lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake in the world and is about equal to the Netherlands in surface area


My copy of this book was provided by NetGalley.


Sunday, November 1, 2020

Every Second - a review

Below is my review as it appeared in the May, 2020 issue of School Library Journal.

 Every Second

By Bruno Gilbert

What on Earth Publishing

Gr 1–5—What happens in one second? More than one would think. Though a substantial 56 pages, the book consists primarily of two sentences. The narrative begins, "Every second, around the world 1 wedding is celebrated…" and continues until the summation sentence. Intriguing statistics about our world are interspersed throughout. The facts initially seem random, but they follow a loose pattern. For example, following a series of facts related to human dietary habits, readers learn the volume of human excrement and household waste produced each second (20,300 and 23,300 pounds, respectively) and the relatively paltry amount of recycling and replanting that humans do. The cartoon-style illustrations are in color but use muted tones. Gibert depicts people in a variety of shades including blue; and as illustrative statistics, they are representative rather than emotive. On one page, sand swirls in the sky above an expansive desert dwarfing the blue silhouette of a person on camelback. The text reads, "11,500 pounds of sand, carried by the wind, leave the Sahara Desert." No artwork details are included, but the colors appear porous, evoking newsprint, sponge, or screen printing. VERDICT This book will amuse and enlighten young or casual readers; more thoughtful readers will appreciate its global perspective and many ideas to ponder. 


Reprinted with permission. COPYRIGHT 2020 Library Journals, LLC. A wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. 

My copy of Every Second was provided by the publisher.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Canyon's Edge - an audiobook review

The Canyon's Edge

By Dusti Bowling

Read by Casey Holloway

Hachette Audio

Narrator Casey Holloway keeps you on the edge of your seat as Eleanor works through her present danger and her tragic past in this novel-in-verse adventure.

I reviewed this audiobook for AudioFile Magazine. Click the link for my complete review.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Dark was the Night - a review

Dark was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson's Journey to the Stars

By Gary Golio

Illustrations by E.B. Lewis

Nancy Paulsen, 2020


Little is known about musician, Blind Willie Johnson, but his unique style of blues and slide guitar made him a popular musician—at first in church, and then on street corners throughout Texas, and finally, with the advent of the phonograph, on records. His song, "Dark was the Night," was selected for inclusion on The Golden Record, sent into space on September 5, 1977.* 

He was not born blind in 1897, but lost his sight and his mother as a young boy. 

Gary Golio answers the questions he poses in the book, 

So how does a blind boy get along? 

How does he make his way in the world?

Willie Johnson's is a story of perseverance and the blues, and it offers a tiny glimpse of the African American experience at the turn of the turn of the 20th century. The inclusion of his music on The Golden Record is a metaphor for our humble beginnings, how far we've come, and how far we've yet to go.

Fitting with the vague details of Willie Johnson's life, E.B. Lewis' watercolor art is indistinct, allowing the reader to gather the feel and mood of the era, the place, the people, and the music—rather than a concrete rendering. The palette is dark, but sun and starlight signify the light of music that reaches all of humanity, even the blind.  

Dark was the Night is an ode with a musicality to it that evokes a bluesy mood. I defy any reader to read this book without seeking out Willie Johnson's music. It will call to you and you won't be able to resist.


* You can track the current location of  The Golden Record's copy of "Dark was the Night" on the Voyager spacecraft's website. []

My copy of Dark was the Night was a digital copy provided by the author.

Friday, August 7, 2020

24 Hours in Ancient Rome - an audiobook review

24 HOURS IN ANCIENT ROME: A Day in the Life of the People Who Lived There 

By Philip Matyszak

Read by Michael Page

Tantor Media, 2020

I absolutely loved this audiobook! Each chapter follows one person for one hour of one day in Emperor Hadrian's Rome (117-138 CE). It's wryly funny and surprisingly relevant. If history were taught like this, everyone would love it. Click to read my review for AudioFile Magazine. Thanks to for my copy. 👍👍 


If you're not an audiobook fan, find a print copy and tell me what you think!




If you're a librarian or educator, check out the Audiobook Listening Copy program.



Sunday, July 12, 2020

Stolen Justice - an audiobook review

Stolen Justice: The Struggle for African American Voting Rights
by Lawrence Goldstone | Read by James Shippy
Scholastic Audiobooks 2020

Following the Civil War, ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments was intended to guarantee civil rights to formerly enslaved people. It quickly became apparent, however, that many states were scheming to systematically erode these rights. Ironically, the justice system was the most effective instrument to dismantle African American rights.

I reviewed Stolen Justice for AudioFile Magazine several months ago, but because of current events, I'll post a link here now. You can read the entire review on the AudioFile Magazine website, but I will summarize and say,

If this audio book doesn't offend your sense of justice, you're not listening hard enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Where's Baby? - a review

Where's Baby?

By Anne Hunter
Tundra Books, 2020

Toddlers are one of the most difficult audiences to reach when writing or reading books. Anne Hunter makes it look easy in the charming book, Where's Baby?

Papa Fox looks high and low for Baby, calling out in a large word bubble each time, "Ba-by!"  He asks if Baby is up in the tree, inside the log, under the water, etc.  Each time, someone is there, but it's not Baby. Skunk replies, "I am inside the log, but I am not your baby. Go away!" 

Gentle illustrations in ballpoint pen and colored pencils make it easy to spot Baby hiding in each spread. Blues and grays dominate the color palette, but Baby's brown coloring will help even the youngest of listeners spot his hiding places. Readers will suspect that Papa knows all along where Baby is hiding, and they will be right.  Baby can't wait to play again!

Elements of grammar (location prepositions), fun (seek and find), and comfort (love of family) are all in Where's Baby? When this pandemic has passed us by and I can visit with toddlers again, this will be the first book that I read.

Look inside Where's Baby?

My copy of Where's Baby? was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Now You Know What You Eat - a review

Now You Know What You Eat

by Valorie Fisher
Scholastic, 2019

Below is my review as it appeared in the November, 2019 issue of School Library Journal.

FISHER, Valorie. Now You Know What You Eat. illus. by Valerie Fisher. 40p. glossary, photos. Scholastic/Orchard. Oct. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338215465. K-Gr 3--This vibrant book explains the provenance of many beloved foods (though meats are conspicuously absent). In addition to noting where ingredients such as maple syrup or chocolate can be found, the book delves into the science behind their extraction and creation into edible items. Fisher breaks down familiar foods like peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, and oatmeal raisin cookies into their most basic elements using photos, simple diagrams, and recipe-like instructions ("yogurt = milk + bacteria"). She also details the sources of milk and methods for procuring and processing it. VERDICT Browsers and those who enjoy almanacs and other nonfiction compendiums of miscellany will appreciate this work.

Reprinted with permission. COPYRIGHT 2019 Library Journals, LLC. A wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

It's already Week #2 of AudioFile Magazine's SYNC free summer audio book program—two free audio books each week. Details here.

Download now. Listen whenever. Keep forever (or 98 years anyway). 
Two new books every Thursday. Go get 'em!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

I Think I Can - a review

I Think I Can

By Karen S. Robbins
Illustrations by Rachael Brunson
Schiffer Publishing, 2019

Below is my review as it appeared in the June, 2019 edition of School Library Journal.

PreS-Gr 1-An aardvark and a mouse share a silly conversation that begins with a simple and positive pronouncement: "I think I can." In this easy reader designed for a shared reading experience, the aardvark's dialogue consists mainly of single sentence declarations. Mouse's responses are a bit longer and serve to further the story line, "You think you can what?" The book's layout and Brunson's illustrations make it easy to focus on reading. Aardvark's words are in a large, blue font, and Mouse's words are black. Aardvark always appears on the left page against a plain white background, and Mouse always appears on the right. Both are simple cartoon characters in soft, pleasing colors with expressive, happy faces. The story culminates in a song set to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." The rhythm of the song is a bit forced, but the joy of singing and reading a song will overcome any shortcomings in meter. Unlike other, wordier, "you read—I read" stories, this one is sweet and super short, leaving no excuse to forgo a quick, shared story. VERDICT Librarians can hand-sell this book to busy parents, grandparents, and caregivers. Teachers can use it to pair confident and emerging readers for a shared experience.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Bo the Brave - a review

Bo the Brave
By Beth Woollvin
Peachtree, 2020

Bo the Brave is a delightful tale of adventure and derring-do with a strong female protagonist. When Bo's brothers set off on a quest to catch a monster, Bo is left behind—too small, they tell her. Bo decides to go off on a quest of her own. Armed with an arrow, a net, or a sword, she approaches each beast with a signature catchphrase, "Get ready to be got!" But the monsters Bo encounters are not really monsters at all. In fact, they're quite kind,

"You simply MUST learn to swim," the creature bellowed, plucking Bo from the waves. "And me? A monster? Don't be ridiculous. I am the Kraken! I mean you no harm."

When Bo finally does find monsters, they're certainly not the type she'd been seeking.

This good-sized book has Beth Woollvin's signature style artwork (Little Red, Rapunzel, Hansel & Gretel).  Bo's hair and cape are lovely shades of pink and the creatures are sufficiently mythical without being scary. This is a longer read-aloud for attentive 4-year-olds and up. The suggested age range is 5-9. Bo is an enchanting adventurer.

On sale in April, 2020.  My copy was provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Nature's Ninja - a review

Nature's Ninja: Animals with Spectacular Skills
By Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook, 2019

Below is my review as it appeared in the October, 2019, edition of School Library Journal.

Gr 4-9–Animals are compared to Japan's medieval ninja warriors in this picture book for older readers. Nine chapters follow an introduction offering background information on the practiced arts of the ninja. Each chapter features an animal with natural abilities closely aligned to a particular ninja skill and begins with the skill highlighted in a stylized text box—"CHOHO: Spying—infiltrating an enemy's camp or society without being discovered." Rove beetles have the natural ability of a choho master. Amazingly, they look, smell, and even behave like army ants, living among the wellknown predators. They've even been seen eating army ant larvae! Geckos and sailfish are among the other featured creatures. In addition to a description of the animal's ninja- like skill, there is a section on each creature titled "The Science Behind the Story." Photographs and scientific graphics illustrate each comparison. Back matter is comprehensive and includes a glossary, index, and "Meet the Scientists." VERDICT Both the premise and execution of this title are intriguing. Steer older students toward this book; they will not be disappointed.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Freedom Soup - a review

Freedom Soup

by Tami Charles
Jacqueline Alcántara
Candlewick, 2019

A young girl and her Haitian grandmother joyfully cook Freedom Soup in this story of Haiti's successful struggle to end slavery.

"Know why they call it Freedom Soup?" Ti Gran asks.
"Because it's free?"
It is the same answer that I always give. Ti Grans laughs her loud, belly-deep laugh.
"Oh, Belle. Nothing in this world is free, not even freedom."
She begins to tell a story, the same one she tells every year. A story of the place she was born: Haiti.

The illustrations, created with gouache, pencil, and marker, are alive with color, joy, music, and dance. Ti Gran wears a brightly colored yellow dress and matching headwrap, and Belle wears long cornrows and an apron to match her grandmother's dress. Both Belle and Ti Gran move expressively and dance while cooking and storytelling. The extended family that gathers to enjoy their traditional Freedom Soup on New Year's Day is large, happy, and celebratory.

The triumph of the historical revolution is not depicted with blood and misery, but rather with proud Haitians boldly marching to war with bare feet and makeshift weapons.

A Freedom Soup recipe and Author's Note round out this wonderful picture book suggested for Grades K-4.

My copy of Freedom Soup was provided by LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

A Fire Story - a review

 A Fire Story
by Brian Fies
Abrams Books, 2019

In graphic novel format,Brian Fies tells his own personal story as well as those of others who lost everything in the devastating Northern California fires of 2017. Their stories highlight the more mundane aspects of a living through a natural disaster—the bureaucratic red tape, the small things that trigger immense emotion, the weird sense of living as a displaced person in your own environs. Having experienced two devastating hurricanes myself, I can attest that Fies has accurately captured the moods and experiences of survivors of catastrophe. Some photos are also incorporated into the dramatic illustrations. This affecting book will stay with you much longer that the short time it will take to read it.

Originally published online, A Fire Story was recreated (the original web comic is included in the print version) and enhanced for print publication.
Read the original web-based version here.

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 ...