Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: El Deafo

el-deafoStraying a bit from highlighting nominations to the NH Isinglass Teen Read Award list to mention El Deafo, written and illustrated by Cece Bell, that is nominated for the NH Great Stone Face Award for 4th through 6th graders and a recent winner of a Newbery Honor Award.

El Deafo is a graphic novel loosely based on Cece Bell’s own childhood growing up hearing impaired after a bout of meningitis left her severely to profoundly deaf at the age of 4.  Cece’s characters are all drawn as rabbits, because, as she says, rabbits are known for their ears, and when she was growing up, she felt like the only rabbit whose ears didn’t work.  Cece gives herself the superhero name “El Deafo” after she begins using a Phonic Ear device to better hear the teachers in school…and she discovers she can still hear the teachers if they’re not in the same room…provided they’re still wearing their piece of the Phonic Ear device.  

This is a truly wonderful, well-written story, with compelling characters.  Cece’s friends initially struggle with understanding her need to use the hearing device and accepting her as she is.  Cece wants to be treated like anyone else but the Phonic Ear distinguishes her as different.  The artwork is charming and the graphic format enhances the story beautifully. My 8 year old grabbed this book from my reading pile when she saw it was a graphic novel and devoured it…and we were both delighted when we found it at a Scholastic Book Fair soon afterward and snapped it up.  It’s a wonderful example of why telling our own stories are so valuable – we have deep truths that we can share that really do resonate with others even though the details of our story are what make us unique.


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Book Review: Under the Overpass

under the overpassWhen Mike Yankoski was a college student, he was met with a radical idea one Sunday while attending church –  “What if I stepped out of my comfortable life with nothing but God and put my faith to the test alongside of those who live with nothing every day?” The image that accompanied that question was one of the many homeless and hungry Americans he passed every day.

So began Yankoski’s plan to live for 5 months on the streets of a handful of U.S. cities and embrace Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:11-12, “I have learned what it means to be content in all circumstances, whether with everything or with nothing.”  Regarding the year’s worth of planning, which included convincing his parents and friends and finding a traveling partner in Sam Purvis, Yankoski writes that he and Sam “understood that we would not actually be homeless.  We’d only be travelers through the underworld of need-privileged visitors, really, because any time we wished, we could leave the streets and come home. Most people on the streets have no such option.”  Even with an escape plan, Yankoski and Purvis tough out life in the open and experience what it means to be one of the invisible homeless population – seen and not seen. And their notions of faith and the faithful are shattered.

“God probably isn’t calling you to live on the streets like He did Sam and me, but He is calling you–like He does each of His children–to take important risks of faith that are unique to you and your opportunities….” Yankoski writes of Christ’s call to his disciples as read in Matthew 16: 24-25, Then Jesus said to his disciples,’If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’  and poses this challenge: How will you walk off the edge with Him?


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Book Review: The Art of Asking

theartofasking_imageHappy Interweb rabbit trails brought me to Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.  Palmer is a performer, musician, blogger, crowd funder and –how she crossed my path — wife to author Neil Gaiman.  Shallow, I know, but that’s kind of the only introduction I needed.

I’m glad I caved to my shallow fan-girling, because Palmer rocks.  She gets it. If you’re seeking truth talking and unveiling and creating art in a busy life and creating real connections in this bizarre Interwebby world, Palmer has much fantastic stuff to say that is worthy of pause to hear.  The Art of Asking is an expansion of her TED Talk from 2013, when she describes a series of incidents – starting with her post-college gig as a living statue to the controversial act of crowd sourcing her albums – that led her to the epiphany of transforming the act of asking from a mindset of guilty begging to the realization that asking is a fair exchange of money for goods – goods that can include music or performance, but in reality, deep at its core, for connection and help.  Artists need to realize that their art is a valuable commodity that fills a void in the audience or consumer and becomes the bridge across which people connect.

“My music career has been trying to encounter people on the Internet in the way I could [as a living statue] on the box…I think when we really see each other, we want to help each other. I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question which is  how do we make people pay for your music. What if we started asking, How do we let people pay for music?”

Palmer’s words really resonated with me.  It reminded me of a camping trip we went on a few years ago with my brother and his family, during which my sister-in-law provided all of the food and then asked for reimbursement (which would have been much less awkward if these arrangements had been made prior to the trip, but she had declined my help when I had initially asked, so there’s one Ask) so I remembered thinking that the only thing my husband and I had contributed was entertainment.  Music and stories around a campfire…oh, and laughs. Lots of laughs.  This was a stressful trip (granted, the stress was unneccessarily fabricated IMHO because my SIL could have asked for help with everything) and we provided much needed relief. But we didn’t ask for reimbursement for that because when you witness the connection happening you’re realizing the payment is in joy.  That’s valuable. So there’s the second “Ask”.

I think a lot about “The Ask” because I work in a library. I have several circles of influence where I perform The Ask that includes various boards, volunteers, and staff but ultimately my local taxpayers and in order to do The Ask (for help, for funds) I need to believe in the value of the library and our services and I do, so The Ask really has become more of an invitation rather than a hand out.  (imaginary high five with Palmer!) Secondarily, I think a lot about The Ask because I’m a writer.  While I’m not asking for funding just yet, I am asking for time and that’s just as valuable a commodity at this point. Sometimes it’s asking myself for time and sometimes it’s asking my family for quiet space, but it’s still a need to see value in creating, in an intangible or unconventional commodity.  An artist developing a value of their own art is crucial to be confident enough in the art to share it with the world.

Read more about Amanda Palmer on her blog.

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Book Review: Texts from Jane Eyre

textsfromjaneeyre“Texts From Jane Eyre And Other Conversations With Your Favorite Literary Characters” is the first publication by Mallory Ortberg, co-founder of highbrow humor site The Toast.  If you’re already familiar with Ortberg, you’ll know she’s hilarious; if this is your first contact, you’re in for a wonderful, wicked surprise.  For me, this was a random grab from the library’s audio shelf because I needed something for a longer trip.  Oh my.  My only complaint is that the book was only 2 discs!  More more more!

Ortberg imagines texts between characters from literary classics such as Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice and Moby Dick…as well as from newer classics and popular material including Harry Potter and The Babysitter’s Club.  Here’s an excerpt:



And here’s an audio review from 2014 by NPR.

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Book Review: Well Fed – Paleo Recipes For People Who Love to Eat

wellfed_cover-book-paleoA bit of a mash-up today….who likes food?  who likes books?  Who likes books about food? Yay!

My husband’s cousin Taz is a trainer in NYC, and asked for guinea pigs to beta test his eating and exercise program for eight weeks in a virtual group.  Long story short, I’m at the end of week 4, have started running again, got oriented to my local Y’s weight room and have totally flipped my eating habits. That was a challenge, because I’m a long-time yo-yo dieter (maybe just yo) and stress eater still trying to lose some baby weight. On this program, rather than counting calories, I’m trying to hit macro guidelines – consume so many grams of fat, fiber, carbs and proteins – and tracking what we eat on My Fitness Pal, a free food maintenance app I’d never heard of a month ago.

When Taz has described his program, he’s said “clean eating” or “flexible dieting” with hints of “paleo eating” so, being the good librarian research junkie that I am, I put down my whoopie pie and headed off to the stacks to read up on some of these new vocab words. That’s how I found this gem, Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love to Eat by Melissa Joulwan.  It’s by far the most attainable cookbook yet that I’ve read. Joulwan is not a celebrity chef; rather, she’s a real world cook who created these recipes while working with Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, founders of Whole9.  My biggest food challenge (after dealing with the keto-flu) has been trying to hit my protein macros without getting ridiculously bored by eating so many grams of plain tuna day in or day out. My first week I had a terrible day of choking down half a can of refried beans in desperation and confusion…oh…no…I’ll never have to go back to that!


Pad Thai from Well Fed: Paleo Recipes For People Who Love To Eat

A few tidbits that I am eager to try from Well Fed: Pad Thai (no, those are not noodles, but a very thin scrambled egg, cut into noodle-width strips)…Chocolate Chili…Fried Apples with Bacon and Pecans…  Joulwan includes grocery lists for stocking your pantry with seasonings and paleo-friendly substitutes and guidelines about doing some cooking prep before the week actually starts and your life gets busy with kids, work, after school activities, etc., so that you don’t get sidetracked from your goal of cooking healthy, yummy food.  She unpacks the terms and the paleo-theory, but writes that her “mission is to inspire you with stories and tempt you with recipes that will make you want to smash in your face with joy.”  Who doesn’t want to experience that level of joy??

For more on Melissa check out her blog The Clothes Make The Girl, another mash up of food, clothes and…roller derbys…(she says it was in a previous life…but she’s working on moving her blog to the more appropriately titled Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed.)


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Book Review: Over Under Sideways Down

OUSD2_0614The news has been filled with some pretty horrific images and stories about refugees escaping from the Middle East, but unfortunately this isn’t “new” news.  Hundreds of thousands of people are displaced from their homes and it can be difficult to explain this to kids.  The Red Cross has produced a web comic called Over Under Sideways Down that tells the true story of a young refugee called Ebrahim. He was just 15 years old when he fled Iran, fearing for his life – and completely alone.  He was interviewed by comic artist Karrie Fransman about his journey from Iran to the UK, and Fransman was able to successfully capture the events and emotions in this brief book.  So today’s entry isn’t so much a book review; instead it’s a resource for some resources if you’re struggling with how to help and how to talk about these events.

Here are some places to donate if you’re interested in helping:

Knights of Columbus  will be financing the delivery of one month’s supply of food for Iraqui Christians – that more than 13,500 displaced families from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains who fled to the Erbil area in Kurdistan.

The International Rescue Committee  – IRC teams provide health care, infrastructure, learning and economic support to people in 40 countries, with special programs designed for women and children. Every year, the IRC resettles thousands of refugees in 22 U.S. cities.

The Jungle Library was set up in Calais by the Big Green Bookshop in the UK and are taking book donations.


And here’s a list of other books from School Library Journal to help you talk about these current events with kids. 

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Book Review: Looking for a Harry Potter Read-Alike?

iron trialIsinglass Teen Read 2015-16 Nominee: The Iron Trial, Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

I recently came across The Iron Trial (2014) by YA powerhouses Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Sometimes, the teaming of two incredibly successful authors can backfire, but not in this case.

First in a series, The Iron Trial is a delightful fantasy for Harry Potter fans looking for a “read-alike.”  The magical school for gifted children is called the  Magisterium, located in underground caverns in Virginia.  The students are “mages” not wizards or witches, and enrollment is based on invitation only followed by an intense audition.  Our main character – Callum Hunt, a small, skinny 12 year old – is permanently lame from an injury that occurred mysteriously when Callum was an infant – is gifted.  However, he’s been raised to avoid the Magisterium because Cal’s father believes the mages there are responsible for his mother’s death during the war.  Despite Cal’s disastrous interview, he is chosen and placed with two other students to train under Master Rufus.

The magic focuses on elements – earth, air, water, fire and chaos – so it’s a very different kind of magic than what we’ve read about in Harry Potter.

I admit, as a HP fan, it’s comforting to read a book that shares the familiar and yet different magical boarding school qualities, but Iron Trial is just plain old good storytelling. It was difficult to tear myself away from reading this one and get back to real life.


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