Jenny's Library

Archive for February 2015

cover image for The Freedom MAzeThe Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman

Thirteen year old Sophie longs for an adventure like the ones she reads about in books. But instead, she’s stuck spending the summer of 1960 with her aunt and bedridden grandmother, in a smallish house at the edge of what was once a grand sugar plantation.  So she passes time reading books and exploring the bayou, waiting for fall to come.  Until the day she attempts to find her way through the once magnificent hedge maze, and finds something unexpected at the other end.

This is not a book that I can be objective about, in any way.

My maternal grandfather’s family comes from Georgia.  My mother grew up in the south – the deep south – in the 1950s and 1960s.  Until she turned 13 and her family moved to California, finally to stay.

In the Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman has written a story that doesn’t often get told. A story about family ties denied and forgotten – and others that are unbreakable even against the greatest of odds.  About what the antebellum south was really like – and about what it means to be nostalgic for a time when owning other people was legal.

I feel like she’s telling me the story of my family that no one ever admits to.

My uncles will joke about being taught about “the War of Northern Aggression.”  And my mother has rarely ever looked as sad as she did when I asked her, incredulously, if her hometown had separate water fountains when she was growing up.  But it always feels like there’s so much missing.  So much left unsaid.

My family would not find it flattering that I see us in these pages, but oh how I do.

It’s true that in making this story about Sophie, Sherman has centered Sophie’s point of view and growing awareness of her privilege over the the experiences and courage of her newly discovered family.  Which is frustrating for obvious reasons.

And yet…

And yet I know that this is a story that needs to be told as well.  My niece needs to grow up understanding what it means that her family is from the south.  It’s not enough that she maybe sort of learn it once she’s an adult.

And I don’t know how to explain it to her, in large part because I don’t really have that understanding myself.

But I can give her this book.

cover image for Waiting is Not EasyWaiting is Not Easy by Mo Willems

Piggie has a surprise for Gerald.  The only problem is that it’s not ready yet, and waiting isn’t easy.  But some surprises are worth waiting for.

Another wonderful Piggie and Elephant book from Mo Willems.  I especially liked the way the word balloons grew so big that they became part of the action, rather than just text.  And, of course, Willems’ ability to surprise us all with the unexpected, even when we know it’s coming.

cover image for AlwaysAlways by Emma Dodd

Whether sad or happy, naughty or nice, a small elephant is always loved.

This is hardly a unique premise, but it’s not like there’s never a demand for new books for parents to give their little ones, telling them they love them. Dodd’s illustrations are adorable and the sparkle throughout the book – ranging from a few glittering stars to a large shiny lake – help make it memorable. Which is exactly what one looks for in this kind of book.

cover image for MirrorMirror by Suzy Lee

A sad little girl finds something surprising in her reflection.

The blurb on the back of the copy I read claims that the ending to this story “provides a gentle reminder that every action has consequences.”

My friends, the twist at the end of this story is no “gentle reminder.”  It’s a bit of a mind bender actually, seeing as how [spoiler alert! – it’s unclear if it’s the original little girl or her reflection that pushes the mirror over and makes the other disappear].  All of which makes Mirror a great example of why I love Suzy Lee’s books AND why I think they are a fantastic example of speculative fiction in picture books.  (Yes, these two opinions are very related).

cover image for Is There a Dog in This Book?Is There a Dog in This Book? by Viviane Schwarz

Having established that There Are Cats in This Book (or wait, are there????), Schwarz and her feline creations must now determine if this new book also contains…a dog!

These books are so clever and funny, and do such a great job of breaking the fourth wall, that it makes me incredibly sad that they are not all still available to order for the library.

It’s been a while, yes?

In the past 6 months, I’ve managed to graduate with my Masters (in Library Science), get a new job, and move 600+ miles.

Which means I’ve been rather busy.

My desktop computer also decided to fail on me during this time, and so I still don’t have access to a great many of the mini-reviews that I’ve already written for books that I read in 2014.  Which in turn means that I’m not sure when I’ll get the rest of the reading round-ups from 2014 posted. But I do hope to do so eventually.

In the meantime, I’m moving forward, getting a new start for the new year, and switching things up a bit.

To make things easier for me, and more logical for the few of you still following me, I’m going to post monthly – rather than weekly – reading round-ups, divided up by book type.  I’ll still post every week or so, the posts will just look a little bit different. The first one (board books I read in January) is down below.

cover image for In My ForestIn My Forest by Sara Gillingham

designed by Sara Gillingham

illustrated by Lorena Siminovich

The deer finger puppet in the center, and the over widening cut-outs around the deer, are what first catch little ones’ attention. (And mine, I must admit.) But Gillingham and Siminovich have managed to create a book that is much more than just that.  The text is simple and straightforward, but never awkward, and the illustrations are full of texture and interest, yet soft and sweet.  Most notable is the sense of place that Gillingham has managed to create simply by emphasizing the location of the deer as being in the forest, in winter, and combining that with the puppets and cut-outs.

Highly recommended.

cover image for Bringing in the New YearBringing in the New Year by Grace Lin

A young girl and her family prepare to celebrate the New Year.

What makes this book remarkable is all the ways in which it isn’t – all the ways that it treats celebrating the Lunar New Year as important and special, but also just as normal or typical as any Western holiday.  There’s no introductory explanation of who this family is or where they live or when the Lunar New year is in relation to the Western calendar.  It’s simply a listing of all the things that make this holiday special.  Just as one might find in a typical (US) book about Christmas or Thanksgiving.  By centering the experience of the family in the book, rather than the experiences of others, Lin fosters connection and recognition rather than distance and detachment.

Lin’s brightly colored illustrations fit the celebratory tone of the story.  They also help to explain and define terms and actions that might be unfamiliar to some readers – without requiring awkward pauses that would interrupt the flow of the story, or a scholarly tone that might depersonalize the festivities.

Highly recommended.

cover image for Baby Loves Winter!Baby Loves Winter! by Karen Katz

“It’s winter! What will Baby see?”

All kinds of wintry things, underneath large flaps.  Good book, and large sized flaps are the best, but there’s nothing super memorable here, and I’m getting a little annoyed with the fact that, in this particular series by Katz, “Baby” is always white.

Recommended, with reservations.