Jenny's Library

cover image for Up Against ItUp Against It by M. J. Locke

When disaster strikes the asteroid colony of Phoecea, it’s up to Jane Novio, manager of the Resource Commission, to figure out the logistics of how the colony is going to survive. With Jane soon dealing with a rogue AI, probable sabotage, and the Martian mob – all on top of a colony threatening water crisis and the aftermath of a tragic accident – the question quickly becomes if Phoecea will remain intact and functioning, not how.

This wasn’t a book that I fell into quickly, but when I did fall, I fell hard.  It’s not just that Jane is both competent and interesting, and old enough to have experience and history.  I also desperately loved how much the story was aware of how vital many of the mundane things we take for granted are.  Living in California, especially now, the importance of access to potable water is something that is increasingly hard to ignore, and so I found the underlying crisis both relevant and believable.  The supporting cast is great as well, and I’m realizing that I’m a sucker for good AI stories.

cover image for Let's Play HouseLet’s Play House by Emma Quay, illustrated by Anna Walker

In very few – but well chosen – words and with soft but expressive pictures, Quay and Walker show the ups and downs of playing with friends, and the joys of playing pretend.

I don’t know if I’m just looking in the wrong places, but I have a hard time finding books for children that focus on the dramatic play they engage in every day.  With the exception of Antoinette Portis’ excellent picture books, the act of imaginative play almost feels like the preschool set’s version of Fight Club: first rule of playing pretend, don’t talk about playing pretend.  Which is very odd, not only because I have memories of picture books and easy readers that talked about it when I was young (perhaps it’s just books for toddlers in which the topic is lacking?), but also because it’s extremely common for young children to preface their play with “but just for pretend.”

Which is a very long winded way of saying: when I saw this book, I had to grab it.   Short and cute, it’s perfect for older toddlers and exactly the kind of book that I’ve been looking for to add to my “imagination” story time.

cover image for The End (Almost)The End (Almost) by Jim Benton

A blue bear named Donut has a story he wants to share with you!  But when the story is over, will Donut be ready for the book to end?

I could tell you how silly and hilarious this book is, but since it’s written and illustrated by Jim Benton – creator of Dear Dumb Diary, Frannie K. Stein, and the Happy Bunny – do you really need me to? More seriously though, Benton did a great job adapting his humor to a younger set of kids than his books usually target. It’s not quite There is a Bird on Your Head levels of funny, but it is definitely entertaining.

cover image for HippoppositesHippopposites by Janik Coat

This is, indeed, yet another board book about opposites for young children. Coat’s book is worth highlighting, however, because of it’s uniqueness and memorable design.

This particular concept book doesn’t feature a popular character or only make use of the typical pairings for such titles.  Instead, the pages inside use a (often) red hippopotamus to illustrate the difference between heavy and light, in front and behind, etc.  By using the same basic shape for each page (the red hippopotamus has a very geometric design to it) Coat’s book is able to present concepts (like “transparent”) that would be much more difficult otherwise  This is also one of those board books with the extra thick and glossy pages, and several of the shapes on the pages are raised or indented, making the pages easier and more interesting for little hands.  Not every pair works as well as it could, but it’s well done overall. Highly recommended.

 

inside pages of Hippopoositesinside pages for Hippopoositesinside pages of Hippopposites

 

cover image for The Juvie ThreeThe Juvie Three by Gordon Korman

Gecko, Arjay and Terence have all been given a second chance.  Pulled from juvenile detention, an adult prison, and a reform school in the middle of farm country, the three boys have been selected to instead live with the idealistic Douglas Healey in New York City as part of a special probationary program.  While Gecko and Arjay are determined to do whatever it takes to make sure they aren’t sent back, Terence is only concerned with making money (illegally, if needed) no matter the consequences.  When Terence tries to sneak out one night, Arjay and Gecko go to stop him, and Healey comes in during the chaos and is knocked unconscious, and sent to the hospital as a John Doe, in the process.   Prompting all three boys to make a pact and work together to keep their school and social worker from finding out that anything has gone wrong.

Yeah, that look on your face right now? Is probably the same one I had while reading this book. The Juvie Three is a good example of the narrative supporting bad decisions, versus bad decisions simply being something that people do.  It’s not that the boys make a mistake that ends up hurting someone, but rather that the boys never even discuss how their continuing actions may harm Healey.  The book acknowledges the mistakes they make, but it never acknowledges the reasons why they were bad decisions.  This lack of nuance, ironically, actually makes the boys decisions harder to understand, as it makes the whole story feel shallow and lacking in internal logic.

(This is also where I feel like Young Adult books do have a responsibility to bring up issues that younger readers may not think of themselves: leaving Healey as a John Doe not only leaves Healey without support, it deprives the medical professionals of the information they need to treat him properly. Healey isn’t merely a broken lamp that can be hidden in the closet; the boys continuing silence places him in danger every moment they stay silent. I was extremely disappointed that none of the adults brought this up once the truth came out.)

Korman’s jocular and irreverent style, which I loved in Son of the Mob, does not work well here it all. It is possible to write funny books about serious and dark subjects, but that isn’t what Korman has done in The Juvie Three. Instead, he has taken a serious subject and watered it down, and the book inevitably suffers for it.

cover image for Once A WitchOnce a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Tamsin Greene is determined to find her own path in life, one far from the family that seems to pity her.  It’s not easy living in the shadow of a perfect older sister.  It’s even harder when you’re also the odd one out in a very close knit extended family, the only one who can’t do magic.  But when a stranger walks into her grandmother’s bookstore one night while Tamsin is working, she finds herself inexplicably pretending to be her perfect sister.  And promising to help the stranger with the kind of task only someone with Talent could manage.

I really enjoyed this book – up until about the last third of it, when it felt like all of the revelations were just a bit too recycled.  Especially for a young adult fantasy novel published post-Twilight.  The writing was not spectacular, but it was engaging enough.  I’ll likely give the sequel a try, but my expectations won’t be very high.  Perhaps it will surprise me?

cover image for The Lost SteersmanThe Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein

Following the devastating and tragic events of The Outskirter’s Secret, Rowan and Bel have temporarily parted ways.  Bel is staying behind with her own people, to do what she can to keep them safe, and to help maintain peace between the Outskirts and the  Inner Lands.  Rowan, after informing the Archives of what she has learned, has settled for a time in Alemeth, hoping to find some clues as to the location and identity of Slado in the disordered records there.  While there she runs into Janus, the lost Steersman, and is faced with the dilemma of wishing she could trade information with him while he remains under the Steerswomen’s ban.  When Outskirter demons begin attacking Alemeth, and it becomes clear that Janus is no stranger to dealing with them, Rowan knows that she must learn his secrets, no matter the cost.

There’s a definite shift in tone in this book, largely due to Bel’s absence.  As much as I missed the banter and teamwork between the two women, this is still an amazing book.  Kirstein’s ability to explain things scientifically and clearly, and with prose that remains imaginative and engaging, is used extensively here.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else writing scenes like the ones in which Rowan investigates the demons, especially while also maintaining such a clear point of view and tight but logical control over how much is being revealed.

cover image for The Language of PowerThe Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein

Rowan continues her quest to track down Slado, and this time her investigation has brought her to the town of Donner.  Bel is with her once again, as is William, the magician’s apprentice the two women met and fought beside in The Steerswoman.  They are hoping that investigating the succession change from the current wizard, Jannik, and the one before him, Kieran – to whom Slado was once an apprentice, may yield some useful clues as to Slado’s identity and location.  But time is quickly running out for the trio, as the threat of the remaining Guidestars’ destructive power grows with every day that passes.

It may seem from the synopsis that Rowan’s search is going painstakingly slowly, but I assure you that’s only because discussing the extent of the progress she’s made would involve revealing major spoilers for all of the books. The overall search does take time, as such investigations almost always do, but that’s largely because each new bit of information Rowan finds prompts even more questions.  Rowan’s real progress is in learning to ask better questions, something that’s especially evident in this, the fourth book.  There’s much that Rowan is able to do and figure out in this book that she wouldn’t have been able to in the first, simply because what she has learned in the meantime about the jewels, the Guidestars, demons, magic, and the differences between the Inner Lands and the Outskirts.  All of her discoveries have fundamentally changed Rowan’s perceptions about the world around her, and her actions, decisions, and inner dialogue in The Language of Power makes that extremely clear.  This entire series is amazing for the ways that it shows how research, science, and logical thinking really work to change how we understand things, which is a big part of why I love it so.

cover image for The Rainbow FishThe Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (board book version)

Rainbow Fish was beautiful, too beautiful to play with the other fish.  Only, now Rainbow fish is lonely. What will he do?

That first sentence up there is almost exactly what the first page says.  Which tells you all you need to know about this book.  I suspect that there’s more text in the picture book version of this story, and perhaps the extra words are an improvement. But yikes! I think the moral of the story was supposed to be about sharing or being considerate, instead the lesson seems to be that you should give away parts of your body so that people will like you.

cover image for SnowSnow by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

“I have always loved the snow.” Page by page, a young bunny talks about all the things she loves about snow and winter.

I always have such high hopes for Wallace’s books; she’s done so many on the kinds of topics that make for great preschool themes.  And yet…the text is always matter of fact, there’s no rhythm or elegance to it, and the illustrations are readable but lack inspiration or harmony.  They’re always just serviceable enough, but never really well done.

cover image for National Geographic Look and Learn: Opposites!Look and Learn: Opposites by National Geographic

Despite the page layouts being slightly busier than they ought to be for a board book, this is an excellent concept book for little ones.  National Geographic’s stunning photographs are put to good use (badly photoshopped cover notwithstanding), as they always are.  It also goes beyond the typical set up for such books; after each type of opposite is introduced in the traditional way (an image illustrating that particular pair, and the accompanying text) it doesn’t immediately move onto the next pair.  Instead, the following pages then present a similar, but more complicated picture, as well as questions that invite parents and toddlers to have deeper conversations about the concept.  The layouts on these pages could use some cleaning up, but they do an excellent job modeling for parents how to engage their children in dialog about the books they are reading.

cover image for My Lucky Little DragonMy Lucky Little Dragon by Joyce Wan

I adore Joyce Wan’s You are My Cupcake and We Belong Together, so I was very excited to stumble across My Lucky Little Dragon on display at the bookstore.  Just like the other two board books, My Lucky Little Dragon features a different endearment on each spread, this time focusing on the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.  Wan’s illustrations are just as adorable as always and full of personality.  They also feature a variety of colors that pop! off the page, yet remain soft and almost pastel, rather than being limited to high contrast primary colors.

cover image for Curious Baby Curious George:  My First Words at the FarmCurious Baby George: My First Words at the Farm by Greg Paprocki

Just as the title says, this board book is about farm related words, consisting of illustrations and the names of various nouns included in the pictures.  The illustrations themselves will likely delight it’s target audience, but the choice of font and words are questionable.  It’s not an awful book, but there are much better books out there available for the same price.

cover image for Baby ColorsBaby Colors by Rachel Hale

If you recall, Hale is also the author/illustrator of Baby Giggles, which was cute, adorable, and well put together – but extremely homogenous, in terms of the kinds of babies being photographed.  Baby Colors still treats white as the default, but manages to have closer to a quarter or third of the children pictured be children of color.  The rhyming text works, although the colors being discussed aren’t always as prominent as they could be.  Overall, a good book to have in the collection, despite it’s flaws.

cover image for The Day I Had to Play With My SisterThe Day I Had to Play With My Sister by Crosby Bonsall

A young boy and his even younger sister attempt to play hide and seek, but the younger sister doesn’t quite understand how to play.

For some strange reason I remember liking this book as a kid. Which makes me wonder about the overall quality of easy readers available at the time. To be fair, there is humor here, and it’s the kind of humor that your average seven year old with a younger (or older) sibling can relate to.  The illustrations in particular haven’t aged well though, and it’s a meaner type of humor than, say, what readers find in the Piggie and Elephant books.

My senior year of high school, I spent a good chunk of my spring semester doing what many middle class high school seniors with good grades do: I visited the colleges I’d been accepted into.

There were overnights in dorms and sitting in on classes and campus tours and social events.  The usual.

One such social event involved heading over to a dorm other than the one we were staying in and standing at an upper window while some of the boys at the school serenaded us from the ground below.  This was an annual event of some sort, the point of which I never quite figured out.  It sounded like not my kind of thing, but hardly an awful experience.

Until our host (it was was prospectives week, there were three of us staying with the same hostess that night) warned us that the year before it had turned into the boys shouting obnoxious, insulting, graphic, and profane things at the women they were supposedly meant to be complimenting.  Our hostess seemed cool about this possibility, she just wanted to let us know because it had upset some prospectives last year, so if we’d rather stay behind she’d understand.

I knew that if this happened just like she described, I would be pissed and miserable and either be seething silently the whole time, start crying, or start yelling back.  Or, more likely, start throwing shit down at the obnoxious assholes.  So I claimed I had homework to do and said I would stay behind.

Needless to say, I wasn’t in the mood to deal with people that night, so when the rest of the women came back into the room, I feigned being asleep so that I wouldn’t have to answer any annoying questions about my decision.

Instead, it turns out, I got to listen to the other girls gossiping about me.* Not our hostess, I would like to point out. I don’t remember where she was, but she wasn’t part of this conversation, just the other two prospectives.  But it was clear from the conversation that one of the other applicants did not think much of my decision.  A topic that she went on about at length.  And while she has the right to her own decisions and opinions, just like I do, there is a difference between disagreeing and having a hard time accepting that other people make choices different from yours.  Especially when those choices involve them wanting to avoid having insults hurled at them.

Until this point, this school was my top choice.  They had also offered me a scholarship – it didn’t pay for everything, but it was a decent chunk of money.  The problem was that the woman who kept rudely talking about my choices was also talking about how much she really wanted to go there.  And then there was the fact that the incident that our hostess had warned us about had not only happened in the first place, but also hadn’t resulted in any effective discipline or changed peers expectations of each other’s behavior.

So, I suppose you could say that I disagreed with the school’s and student’s decisions, and made my own choices accordingly.

For me, in the end, it worked out all right. Because I fell in love with the school that became my alma mater, and they offered me even more money than the first school did.

But not every situation like this has a happy ending.  So I think it’s important to think about what it means for people “to make [their] own choices accordingly.”  Because I could have easily had to choose between a better school, complete with scholarship, and a school that was more expensive (for me) and not as good, but at least felt safer.

For Elise Mattheson,this kind of decision has meant an almost certain loss to her yearly income.** This is not a unique situation that she finds herself in, either, it just happens to be more well known than most.  (And I appreciate her willingness to talk about it, and Natalie Luhrs for linking to her post and keeping the topic on my radar.)***

For a great many readers and viewers and creators and fans of sff, it means not going to (certain) conventions, losing out on opportunities to grow friendships, network, make sales.

Making my “own choices accordingly” is not a decision without cost.  We need to ask ourselves: “who are we asking to make these kinds of decisions, and what are we really asking them to give up?”

* Yes, I realize that this is what one gets for eavesdropping.  But still, there is a difference between trying to eavesdrop, and these other women not considering that I may not be sleeping all that soundly and TALKING ABOUT ME IN THE SAME ROOM I WAS IN.

**If you would like to help offset this loss, she currently has items up for sale, and they are gorgeous, as always.

***And to Rosefox, for bringing my attention to this latest incident via twitter.

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