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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

For book club, I read The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. I did not love it. 

Addie LaRue is a young woman in a time that is unkind to young women. She has always loved the local unmarried woman and aspires to be her. However, her father arranges a marriage for her. In a last-ditch effort to avoid the wedding, Addie enters into an agreement with a higher power, agreeing to live a life where once she has gone out of sight of someone, she will go out of mind, too. She can move through life forever: immortality! But no one will remember her, even from one interaction to the next. 

The writing was good. The story really pulled me along! I enjoy high-concept books and movies, and this one did a particularly good job exploring at least one branch of "Hmm, what would that actually be like?" I just didn't like Addie. I found it pretty hard to relate to her in most cases. I vacillated between not really liking Addie and really not liking Addie. 

Clare and I tried on some clothes recently.
Addie LaRue steals all her clothes because ...she can? ...she has to? 
The book made for an interesting discussion, especially because Tara helped us along. She hadn't read the book but wanted to hear about it and form conclusions about it, so she asked lots of thoughtful questions. We discussed morality and relationships and mental health and more. 

So, I find myself ambivalent about the book. I was complaining about it to my husband Jacob about three quarters of the way through -- how the characters were all ridiculous and made the worst possible choices all the time. He reminded me that I didn't have to finish, to which I responded, "Yeah...but I think I want to." I knew that finishing the story via an online summary wouldn't answer my deepest questions about it, and that not finishing wouldn't either. I disliked pretty much all the characters and disliked the way the author seemed to buy in to what I consider Hollywood tropes: sex, drugs . . . rock and roll? But the author did raise interesting questions about time, morality, relationships, what people want out of life, etc. So, though I don't hesitate to put a book down when I hate it, this one walked right along that line, pretty much start to finish. Ha!

Have you read it? I'd love to know what you think. I'm writing this a few months after reading the book, so if it's been a while for you, too, tell me what stuck with you.



Two Recommended Native American Non-fiction Picture Books


Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Natasha Donovan.

This is a picture book biography of Mary Golda Ross, who grew up with a strong connection to her Cherokee tribe. As a woman in the 1920's who lived until 2008, her love of math and eventually engineering was uncommon, and she helped blaze a trail for other women and Native Americans. 

From the first page, Classified focuses in on four Cherokee values: gaining skills in all areas of life, working cooperatively with others, remaining humble when others recognize your talents, and helping ensure equal education and opportunity for all. I love how the material in the back of the book shows the syllabary, transliteration, pronunciation and English translation of each of these values. In my review here I thought of summarizing the four values, using one word each, but that doesn't really capture what the actual, translated values are. It feels more true to share the direct translation. 

Classified by Traci Sorell
Sprinkled with interesting truths about Mary Golda Ross, this biography tells us some of the work that Mary accomplished -- but much of it is still "classified." This made it a little bit difficult for me to remember the book, when I read it among a stack of contenders, and after it had been a little while between readings. What was it she did, again? There is no "one thing" that the book gives her complete credit for. However, this is the big truth -- our accomplishments are cooperative, and Mary Golda Ross apparently understood that well. Upon re-reading the book, I realized it's not the sort of picture book biography that is meant to tell you about one person so much as it is meant to teach you, through one woman's example, these four Cherokee values that she lived by. 

On my first read? Meh. On my reread? I like it a lot!

The illustrations are well done, and add to the understanding you get from the text. Simple, but not oversimplified, colorful yet still realistic, the art isn't showy, but it is solidly helpful. The backmatter of the book includes a timeline, source notes, bibliography, author's note, and the aforementioned four Cherokee values. 

This book was shortlisted for the Cybils Award in the Middle Grade Nonfiction (ages 8-12) category, and I think ages 8 and up is about right for it.  I would recommend it to kids parents and teachers who are interested in learning about other cultures and the core values that drive us! Bonus, you will also learn about women in STEM.


We Are Still Here: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac

Another Cybils nominee in the elementary nonfiction category, We Are Still Here reminds me of a young adult graphic novel I read for the Cybils called This Place: 150 Years Retold. This Place won the Cybils award (for Young Adult Graphic Novel) back in 2019. It was so good. I can't believe I didn't review it here! But I helped to write the review of it posted here. Anyway, We Are Still Here gives readers a lot to unpack, and I was grateful for the context that I had from previously reading This Place

The premise of the picture book, We Are Still Here, is that each page is the project that a student has created to teach classmates about some aspect of indigenous people's history that still affects life today. There are twelve topics covered and they range from assimilation and allotment to language revival and sovereign resurgence. The text of We Are Still Here has very high vocabulary and a lot of information on each page, but the repeating refrain "we are still here," ties each page to the next. 

Hand-painted art sets the scene for each "presentation" and features a lot people -- presidents of the United States, children at school, and people on the street just to name a few. 

Backmatter is robust in this book, and includes more information on each of the twelve topics, a timeline from the 1870s to the 2007, a glossary, sources, an authors note. While I feel like this book packs a lot of information in, it also gives readers resources for further learning so that they can delve deeper into each of these topics. 

I really appreciate that repeating refrain which titles the book: We are still here! The more I have learned and the older I've become, the more I realize the truth of this and the obstacles that indigenous people have faced. I still have a lot to learn. When we moved to Connecticut, I enjoyed learning that "The Last of the Mohicans" -- a movie/book I've never watched/read -- was wrong. The Mohegan tribe is still here! 

I recommend this book for older elementary school kids and as a great resource to older students and adults. I have to agree with the books subtitle, it contains history that everyone should know. 

Four Fabulous New Non-fiction Picture Books


Ok friends, get your library cards ready, because today I'm telling you about more of the awesome finalists for the Cybils award that I got to read this year! They're so good!



Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature by Kristen Nordstrom illustrated by Paul Boston

Mimic Makers was a big hit at my house. I think all four of my kids (ages 13, 11, 8, and 4) read all or part of it. 

I know that biomimicry is a topic discussed in first/second grade classrooms because I helped my daughter with a project about biomimicry when her school was online during the pandemic. So, when I opened this book, I hoped for some fresh examples. The shinkansen is a well-known example and I was starting to roll my eyes, but then every other example in the book was something I had NOT heard about and found absolutely fascinating.

The information is presented with a clear structure, with human interest elements, and is just so fascinating that I found myself bringing the inventions up in everyday conversations I was having. I love the way inventors from around the globe were interviewed! And, you can tell from the stories shared in the book (as well as her backmatter) that the author interviewed the inventors personally.

Meticulously researched! Fabulously written! Broad appeal! When I finished reading this book I immediately wanted to gift a copy to my daughter's teacher. (And don't tell all the other books, but I pitched this one as my personal favorite to our panel of judges.) 



I really enjoyed reading this book! Of the books on the Cybils Elementary Nonfiction shortlist this year, this was the book I was most excited to read to my family. It is a beautiful story and it did make my voice catch when I read it aloud. 

The Elephants Come Home has broad appeal. My 4 year old was very interested in it. When faced with all the nominees, a 9 year old friend of the family picked it as the most appealing cover. My kids and Jacob all read it or listened to me read it. I myself loved it. The first page gets a reaction! It seems like a love-it-or-hate-it beginning and it does hook you in. Then, the writing is crystal clear. You’re guided seamlessly through the story, which is a beautiful human and animal connection story! There’s no doubt in my mind it has both kid appeal and literary merit. 

The one thing that gives me pause is the book's treatment of race. The only time race is overtly mentioned in the book, it doesn’t put Zulu people in a positive light. Race is depicted in the illustrations, but the people of color in the book are not named. When I read it aloud to kids now, I plan to point out some of the illustrations and wonder aloud what the names of the people of color are. I think they were purposely left off to keep the story simple and the writing very crisp. The writing is crisp, but it does anonymize people of color. Despite this, I still highly recommend The Elephants Come Home.  



This book was the first of the Cybils finalists that Jubilee (age 8) read this year, and she quickly asked me if I had read it yet. "It's really good," she said. 

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter tells the story of Elizebeth Friedman, who broke SO many coded messages  and invented and taught code breaking in WWI, WWII and beyond. Her work has only recently come to light because it was kept classified for years. 

Jubilee and I both liked the page that tells about Elizebeth testifying in court and proving the opposing counsel wrong when they said she was making up the answers to the decryptions she had solved. Victory! Jubilee also liked the story of her sousing out the solution to a code that involved code words and suspicious letters about dolls. I liked the tidbits about Elizebeth's personal life and dreams - the mysterious party hosted by the Friedmans in which invitations were sent in code, and the priority that Elizebeth put on her family and home life. 

The illustrations are done in colored pencil (or colored pencil style...it's so hard to tell these days with digital art making huge strides!). The images obviously contain hidden codes that it would be super fun to try and decipher. Sadly our copy was overdue at the library all too soon! We did crack the one cypher in the back of the book that is meant to be cracked, but I have a feeling that there are many more hidden messages in the illustrations.

My book club read The Woman Who Smashed Codes, a biography of Elizebeth Friedman, last year. I didn't finish it in time for our club meeting but found it interesting and recognized a lot of the details of Friedman's life from that book. However, The Woman Who Smashed Codes has over 400 pages in which to tell her story. I think it spoiled me a little bit, because I felt like the picture book left too much out. But, that's just a personal problem. 



Multi-layered digital art made this gorgeous book stand out among the forest of options, and it was a close contender for the winning spot. 

The Leaf Detective tells the story of Meg Lowman, "Canopy Meg," as she is sometimes called. She revolutionized the way that trees are studied, invented canopy walkways, and educated countless people about trees and how and why to protect them. 

One thing I loved about this book was that aside from the main text, on a leaf on each page, new insights and facts added to the narrative. For instance, before Lowman revolutionized the field, did you know that most scientists studied tall rainforest trees by chopping them down to see what the top looked like? Or sometimes they gassed the trees so that all their leaves would fall and they could study the leaves that way. I mean, that's mind blowing! Meg sewed herself a harness and hoisted herself up into the trees to study them without killing them. You go, girl!   And her work as an inventor and educator is no less inspiring, but I'll stop ranting and let you read the book.

If I read a picture book biography, I want it to impress me with facts and research as well as story and have the answer to that all-important question that I ask myself as I pretend to be a grade school boy who could be playing video games right now, "why should I care?" Check, check, check. The Leaf Detective was a great read. 

 

Guest Review: Humble Pi

Well hello there! Today I have a guest review for you. This review comes from Spencer, who is 14 years old. I was able to obtain Spencer's review for you because his mom, Ashley, and I are good friends. Some of you may remember that Ashley used to post on Everead regularly. Take it away, Spencer!



I have a book recommendation. It's called Humble Pi. It is my absolute favorite book by a long shot. It's about math gone wrong in the real world. It showcases many mathematical problems that have occurred over the years, covering things like coding issues, 8-bit rollover errors, bridges falling, fence-post problems (Who knew the piano was a fence-post problem?), a single book's price accidentally rocketing up to $20,000,000, and a rocket activating its self-destruct system and blowing up. Matt Parker’s writing makes these math issues accessible and hilarious. You don’t have to be a math whiz to enjoy it. It's an amazing book and cannot be ignored.  So whenever you get the chance to get it, you should read it. It's amazing. 

-Spencer Bair

Thanks, Spencer! This looks like the sort of book my family would love! For anyone else looking for a copy, I'll embed a preview and link to it below. And if you're looking for more books I recommend for teens, click here and you'll see all the posts I've made about YA fiction. This next link will take you to a post I made for some of the 13 year old readers in my life.  

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker 



Cybils Winners!


I'm so excited to announce the winners of the Cybils award for Elementary & Middle Grade Nonfiction!

This year I served as a Round Two judge on the Elementary & Middle Grade Nonfiction panel for the Cybils - Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. The awards have been going for 16 years now, and I have been volunteering in some capacity for the last 14 years -- wow! 

I have to say that I felt like the entire shortlist for the Elementary Nonfiction category was really strong. As I told my fellow panelists, I wouldn't be sad if any of these books won. I'll be reviewing each of them in the coming weeks. The Middle Grade Nonfiction category had many strong contenders, too!

Books earn the Cybils award by being exemplary in two areas: Kid Appeal and Literary Merit. We discuss and award books on these two criteria. Do kids like the book? And is the book good, from a literary standpoint?

Round one judges read all the nominated books published in the past year (October of the year prior through October of the present year) and evaluate them on Kid Appeal and Literary Merit. They narrow this list (maybe 150 books or more) down to 5-7 titles. This is the shortlist. 

Round two judges narrow the shortlist in each category down to the single winner! And that's what we have here for you today. The BEST nonfiction book for kids ages 5-8 in the Elementary nonfiction category, and the best nonfiction book for kids ages 8-12 in the Middle Grade category.

written by Megan Hoyt illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

This is a picture book biography of Gino Bartali that is so beautiful and inspiring! 

As one of my fellow panelists pointed out, riding a bike is something kids can relate to in a big way, and that's what Gino Bartali was famous for . . . at least at first. When it came to cycling, he trained persistently and eventually won the Tour de France! But when Nazis invaded Italy, Gino became another kind of hero. He used his cycling skills to protect and preserve the lives of those around him. And the humility he exhibited throughout his life and despite his achievements is memorialized here. 

In deciding between Bartali's Bicycle and some of our other strong contenders, panelists talked about the gorgeous, dynamic illustrations of Iacopo Bruno. Guys, I know "we don't talk about Bruno," but this art is top notch! Each page conveys movement and has an interesting, fresh layout. 

Materials at the end of the book include a letter to readers from Gino Bartali's granddaughter, a timeline, and a full page of sources. 

Definitely give this book a read. As soon as I finished it, I thought I had better share it with the most avid cyclist that I know. I'm sure you'll find someone to share it with, too. When looking at a picture book, you have to consider, is an adult going to want to read this over and over? Is a kid going to want to read it? Bartali's Bicycle will definitely appeal to ages 5+ and stand up to repeated reading.



 by Rochelle Melander, illustrated by Melina Ontiveros

Mightier than the Sword was a little bit tricky for some of us judges to get our hands on! It was published by a small press, and so it wasn't available in my library. However, if your library has hoopla (kind of like the Netflix of ebooks and music for libraries?), then you can find this title there. And it is absolutely worth finding!

If I'm totally honest, I wasn't particularly looking forward to reading a bunch of bios of writers. It is really easy for this type of book to become same-samey. Maybe you turn to it for one person, but you'll never read it cover to cover. WRONG! I absolutely read Mightier than the Sword from cover to cover and it was not even a chore. It was delightful! 

For one thing, the writing is engaging and fantastic. (Thank goodness! To have sub-par writing in a book about so many writers would be embarrassing.) Each person's story is brought to life with interesting details and relevant quotes. And then, if that wasn't enough, there are little sidebars or cameos of other relevant writers in each chapter. The organization of the book made it really interesting to me, as well. Each chapter is a writer's biography and they are ordered by year of the writer's birth. So, the book as a whole becomes something of a history book, as you go along. 

I'm reading A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich with my daughter Jubilee right now -- we're just taking a chapter at a time on nights when we can squeeze it in. It's great. But honestly, I can't wait to read Mightier than the Sword with her! She is going to eat it up. Especially because she has some aspirations to writing, and each chapter ends with writing prompts and suggestions. 

Another engaging facet of the book is the illustrations. Each writer and each sidebar gets a portrait by Melina Ontiveros. For the names I didn't already recognize, it was fun to try to puzzle out who this person would be based on the small items included in their portrait. 

As a group, we round two judges loved that it was a diverse group of writers highlighted. Not only were writers from a variety of homelands and races, but also diverse through time, as I've mentioned, and they are diversely famous -- some of them are famous for being writers (Shakespeare is profiled), but others are more famous for other work they've done (Florence Nightingale, for instance). And still others of them weren't already known to me. Mightier than the Sword made learning a pleasure. 

One of my fellow panelists was formerly a teacher and she was very excited about the potential for classrooms to use this book. It would be very easy to read excerpts, and of course the suggested writing activities would connect to teachers and students well, too. 

I hope winning the Cybils award for Middle Grade Nonfiction shines some more light on this book, because it deserves to be found! 

A full list of this year's Cybils winners in all categories can be found here

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

I just wanted to record some quick thoughts on this book... 

I've been meaning to read it for a while now! The Faithful Spy won the Cybils award in the high school non-fiction category in 2018, and got loads of good buzz before and after. 

I started to read the massive biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas that came out a decade ago, but had to return it to the library and never finished. I figured The Faithful Spy would fill me in on what I had missed. 

I enjoyed reading The Faithful Spy, but I do wish I had time to read that huuuuuge biography that I had to return too soon. I liked the beginning of that one a lot -- it was full of quotes from primary sources. This one at least gave me a sketch of Bonhoeffer's life. It's very well done, with a lot of text, a lot of illustrations. It's not quite a graphic novel and not quite NOT a graphic novel. I like the way the Cybils team described the art as a mix of political cartoons and Mad Magazine. Their review is here.

Overall, The Faithful Spy left me feeling somber, and took me a little more than an evening to read. It gave me some interesting philosophy and religion concepts to think about. Recommended to those who are interested. 



The Beatryce Prophecy

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Well, when I hear that Kate DiCamillo has written a new book, I'm interested. She has been writing amazing books for a long time. Maybe her most famous is Because of Winn-Dixie? The first book of hers that I read was The Tale of Despereaux, for which she won a Newbery Medal. 

The Beatryce Prophecy is her newest book, and it was illustrated by Sophie Blackall, who recently won two Caldecott Medals. 

The Beatryce Prophecy is beautifully written and illustrated. Much like the other novels by DiCamillo that I have read, there's quite a bit of danger and suspense! However, I wouldn't call the book fast-paced. Like its protagonists, who walk through the woods, this story takes its time. Each one of our favorite characters has a tragic backstory. 

In the medieval countryside we meet Answelica, an ill-tempered goat, and Beatryce, a girl who can't remember much but can read, which is forbidden. We meet Brother Edik, a monk who doesn't quite fit in at the monastery, and Jack Dory who lost his parents to highwaymen. As their stories begin to intertwine and weave around one another's, they become happier. 

This is a realistic fiction book marketed to 8-12 year olds -- what is called a middle grade book. It seems to me that with its meaty plot and foreshadowing, combined with the simple writing style (which doesn't skimp on big vocabulary) and beautiful illustrations, it has a lot of the qualities that are loved by kids who love graphic novels. My kids read and enjoyed it, as did I. I received an advance reading copy of the book.



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