Tag Archive: biography

Judy: A Dog in a Million



Judy: A Dog in a Million by Damien Lewis

To be published Dec 2, 2014

Judy was a remarkable liver-colored (chocolate brown) and white English Pointer born in Shanghai, China in 1936. When she was about 6 months old, she was adopted as the ship’s dog (mascot) aboard the HMS Gnat and later the HMS Grasshopper. This gunboat patrolled the Yangtze River when the British were still a colonial power there. After the Japanese started attacking the Chinese during the second Sino-Japanese War, and Judy was especially adept at hearing oncoming aircraft and warning the crew ahead of time. It was on the Grasshopper that Judy was involved in the Battle for Singapore, but nearly died after the ship sunk trying to get evacuees from Singapore to the Dutch East Indies. Thankfully she was rescued by a crew mate. The remaining crew, evacuees and Judy managed to make it to Sumatra and after hiking 200 miles through the island’s jungle, they were unfortunately captured by the Japanese and put into Prisoner of War (POW) camps. It was at her second camp that she met the man who would change her life, an airshipman named Frank Williams. With his help, she managed to survive many attempts on her life and she became the only dog to be registered as a POW in World War II. Judy helped him and other British POWs survive the hellish experiences of the workers on the Sumatran railroad by being their mascot, alerting them to danger and saving many lives. 3-1/2 stars.

Judy and Frank Williams

This book was one that I originally wasn’t all that interested in but it was offered as a “Read Now” so I decided to try it. In the end, the book reminded me a lot of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, in that Judy, like Louis, faced incredible odds many many times and still survived. Plus they both managed to survive Japanese Internment camps, which had even more deplorable conditions than those of the German POW camps (at least in my opinion). Despite the grimness of the subject matter, I really enjoyed reading the book and was curious to see how it ended. My only gripe about this book is that the beginning was so slow I almost lost interest in it before the story really got going. I am curious now to read his other book on a WWII hero dog entitled The Dog Who Could Fly. 

Book Reviews Oct 2014

Wow, I’ve had this blog for three years and I have published over 200 posts on it. I have been pretty proud of myself for reading more adult books in the last couple of months. I’ve been on a bit of a reading lull after I finished one really good nonfiction, but it looks like it is starting to pick up again. I am finally (after months of waiting) listening to The Blood of Olympus (Heroes of Olympus, #5) by Rick Riordan, the last book in the series. His books are just so fun to listen to, and I can’t wait to read/listen to his newest series on Norse gods. I am currently reading  an advanced reader’s copy of Damien Lewis’s Judy: A Dog in a Million, an English Pointer who was most likely the only canine prisoner of war and helped comfort POWs in Japanese Internment Camps during World War II. Ooh my other great piece of book news is that I had recently entered a contest to win some Gail Carriger (one of my favorite writers, does steampunk books for YA and adults) signed books, of her first series The Parasol Protectorate and some other swag and I am one of the winners! So hope to be getting that in the mail in the next month or so.

I’ve finally started the Nobel Prize Challenge that I mentioned last month. I am currently looking up book recommendations from other people to decide what to read from the list of prize winners. I’m just hoping my library has most of these or I’m gonna have to use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) again or maybe buy some of them. Ah well, at least it will be good literature (at least in theory).  My yearly reading total is up to 290 out of 321, so not bad. Granted most of those are picture books but can’t be helped when you’re a children’s librarian who does storytimes plus has a 3 year old.  As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I will add pictures from books I like.


Bear’s New Friend written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

I love the Bear books! This book was super cute as well. Bear hears a noise in the trees and then on the ground while heading to the swimming hole to meet his friends. He thinks it is one of his friends. Just Whoo is it? Eventually they discover that it is a little burrowing owl who is too shy to come out of his hole until convinced to do so by Bear and his friends. Then they all go off to play together and swim. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Hug Me written and illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Hug Me

My son and I loved this book! Even describing this book to others made them think it was adorable. Felipe is a young cactus who is part of a very traditional cactus family. They must remain respectable and are firm believers of personal space. Felipe only wants a hug, especially after he accidently puts his friend Balloon in the hospital and is shunned by his family. He decides he must leave, but is not welcome anywhere (for obvious reasons). He is living all by himself until one day when he hears someone crying and knows just what to do to make her feel better. After that, Felipe and Camilla (the rock) are the best of friends! My son loved looking at the end pages and telling me exactly what they were doing in all the pictures. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Little Owl’s Orange Scarf written and illustrated by Tatyana Feeney

Little Owl's mother

My son loved this book and I did too. Little Owl’s mom knits him an orange scarf but he really doesn’t like it and tries his best to lose it at every turn. When he manages to get rid of it at the zoo, his mother is determined to make him another, but this time he is to help. He picks a better color and falls in love with it. I would love to use this for a Toddler Storytime on Owls. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Penguin written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar

I rather enjoyed this book though I didn’t think it was right for the storytime I had originally selected it for. My son enjoyed it as well. A young boy named Ben is given a penguin for a present and he does everything with it. He tickles it, sings and dances with it, stands on his head, and even sticks out his tongue at it, but no response from the penguin. He tries to offer it to a passing lion in his frustration, but the lion won’t take it. He eats the boy instead. Only then does the penguin respond by biting the lion’s nose. Once rescued and unharmed, the penguin explains in pictures all the things the boy and him did together and how much he enjoyed them. They are friends from then on. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3-1/2 stars.

The Tiny King written and illustrated by Taro Miura

The Tiny King

My son adored this book and asked me to read it over and over again. I loved the big bright illustrations and the simple story. The Tiny King has a huge castle, lots of food, a giant army and a giant bed. But he is lonely. One day he meets a Big Princess, falls in love and they are married. They have 10 children and soon his large castle and bed are full, he can eat all the food on his table, and he dismisses his army. He is so happy. I can’t wait to read the book about the Big Princess! Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur written and illustrated by Richard Byrne

My son adored this book! Jackson is a small dinosaur who is counting out jelly beans for himself and his friend. Suddenly a bigger and much ruder dinosaur barges over and demands the candy because he is bigger and stronger. Jackson politely refuses and says that he has a really really really big dinosaur friend. They go back and forth until Jackson dares him to go into a cave, which the bigger dinosaur does only to be trapped in a much larger dinosaur’s mouth. He is let go though as the really really really big dinosaur is nice, and the bigger dinosaur is humbled. It is a great book for kids that might be dealing with bullies. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Quest written and illustrated by Aaron Becker


The two children from the Caldecott Honor winning book “Journey” are back on another adventure. Waiting under a bridge, the boy and girl are surprised by a king who pops out of a hidden door and hands them two keys. They open the door he’s come from and start gathering up all the colors and manage to save the king at the end. It is amazing that so much storytelling can be done with a gorgeous wordless picture book. I liked this one even better than the last one. Recommended for ages 4-7, 5 stars.

Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci written and illustrated by Gene Barretta

This book is all about how Leonardo da Vinci came up for the idea for many modern inventions back in the 15th and 16th centuries, 400 years before they were invented properly in the 19th and 20th centuries. The book discusses his plans and drawings for the first man-powered aircraft, a glider, contact lenses, a projector, a single-span bridge, tanks whose designs were based off of turtles and other war paraphenalia (such as grenades, machine guns and a giant catapult called a trebuchet) , the helicopter, and he improved upon the designs of scuba gear. Leonardo also figured out how blood travels through the heart, steam power and air pressure, and robots and automobiles. The book talks about modern inventors who uses his notes to create prototypes of his inventions. It’s pretty crazy to think that we still haven’t found 2/3 of his notes and just think about all the things we discovered about him already! Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.

I find Leonardo da Vinci to be an amazing artist and inventor. I’ve been to Leonardo’s museum in Vinci and was fortunate to see a lot of his inventions as they were revealed in his copious notes. So when I found out about his involvement in the development of robots, the topic for my latest DiscoveryTime (Preschool Storytime + STEM), I had to add a page from the book to the storytime. Leonardo was the first person to create robots in the late 15th or early 16th century in the form of a robot knight and the drawings for a mechanical lion. There is actually a full adult book on Leonardo’s robots, but it is pretty technicial, so couldn’t use that volume.

The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians of Childhood, #4) written and illustrated by William Joyce

The Sandman the War of Dreams

I recently watched Rise of the Guardians, the movie based on Joyce’s books, which I loved. This re-peaked my interest in the Guardian series and I remembered that I hadn’t yet read this book. This version of Sandman was a lot quieter but a bit more in the front view as compared to the movie. Joyce is such an excellent storyteller, I sometimes forget that this book is intended for children, it is that good.

Lord Pitch, the Nightmare King, has abducted Katherine and the Guardians don’t know how to proceed until the intervention of the mysterious Sandman. We learn the entire back story of Pitch and his family (yes he had a wife and daughter), even more about Nightlight, and of course Sandy (who is more formally known as Sanderson Mansnoozie – great name right?). Will Sandy be able the free Katherine from Pitch’s clutches? To find out, read this fantastic fourth book in the “Guardians of Childhood” series. Recommended for ages 7-11, 5 stars.

Young Adult

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School Book the Third) by Gail Carriger

Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell

The book is about a young Scottish woman called Queenie (not her real name) who is part of the British Special Intelligence, aka a spy for the Allies during World War II. After she is captured by the Germans in a small French town, her story comes from having to retell it in “a confession” to the commanding officer of the Gestapo headquarters. She is tortured by the Gestapo and the other prisoners see her as a snitch for talking to the Germans. So the first half of the book we get to know Queenie’s family, find out how she gets into spy work, and how she meets her friend Maddie and how she is involved with her coming to France. The second half of the story is narrated by Maddie, an English pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary, which is essentially the civilian branch of the Royal Air Force. Recommended for ages 16+, 5 stars.

I think this may be one of my favorite books read this year. The topic was so fascinating and unlike any teen World War II book I’d ever read. The torture scenes, which I honestly wasn’t expecting, were pretty graphic and somewhat hard to read. The narrators were fantastic, especially Morven Christie. I had never heard of the Air Transport Auxiliary before and it was cool to know that so many British and European women helped with the Allied War effort by flying planes. I also found the whole part of the story about the French Resistance intriguing and it’s kind of crazy what they managed to get away with right under the noses of the Germans.

Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #2) by Elizabeth Wein, narrated by Sasha Pick

The book picks up about 6 months after the events of “Code Name Verity”. Rose Justice is an American female pilot who comes to England to be part of the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II. She knows Maddie, the English Pilot we met in the first book of the series. She ends up flying a plane to the Front and gets picked up by the Germans on her flight back to England. They put her in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany for six months. It is here where she discovers women she would never dream about meeting including medical experiment victims, a Soviet female pilot, and a documentary filmmaker. These women change her life and become her family through the course of her ordeal, as they must work together to survive. Recommended for ages 16+, 4 stars.

My biggest gripe about this book was that it moved so slow in the beginning, which almost made me give up on it. I never expected the second main character to be an American. I wasn’t too sure about the narrator when the book first started, but she did a good job on all the different accents and there were many. This book was almost as graphic as the first, in covering difficult topics, this time about the medical experiments done by the Nazis. I had heard about the experimentations on twins by Dr. Mengele, but the ones they did in this book, to illustrate the science of death/dying – said to be helping soldiers, but really just finding a better way to kill people. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more storyline on Maddie, as the first book really just touches on her story. I loved hearing about the Soviet “night witch” pilot. I had no idea that women were even allowed to fly planes in the Soviet Union. I’m hoping the author continues the series beyond this book as it is nice to see strong female characters, especially portrayed in an era where women by and large didn’t work.


City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai

I’ve been fascinated with Iran/Persia for awhile now, so when I saw this book in the new Nonfiction section, it definitely caught my attention. The author is a British-Iranian foreign affairs journalist, so she definitely knows what she is talking about. The book follows eight very different individuals who live in Tehran, the capital city of Iran. There is a Iranian-American extremist who is part of the MEK group (the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, the Warriors of the People) who has come to the city for an assassination , a teenage girl from a very traditional family who has no problems wearing the hejab/hijab and marrying her cousin (it is considered very auspicious to do so in Iranian culture), and a young man confronted by the Revolutionary judge responsible for having his parents killed because of their according to the government “un-Islamic” leanings. There is also a member of the local gun-selling ring and small time crook, a prostitute/porn actress, a gay member of the local basij – groups of young men who regulate vice, get rid of protesters and enforce virtue, an elderly retired gangster with his reformed showgirl wife, and a female widowed member of the upper aristocracy. All in all a very interesting group of characters. I think my favorite and the most interesting stories were the teenage girl from a traditional family and the gay member of the  basij. 4 stars.

The Silmarillion: Volume 1 by J.R.R. Tolkein, narrated by Martin West

Review of Volume 1 (4 discs unabridged):

I have tried reading this book 3 times but could never get more than about 50 pages into it before I thought my head would explode. It is one of those really dense books that requires absolute quiet to read in, but I could never get that to properly concentrate on it. The book reads like an Icelandic Creation story with so many names thrown at you that you need a character list to keep them all straight. I could see elements of Christianity, along with Norse mythology and what sounded like maybe some Pre-Columbian names thrown in for good measure. Once it got through the introductory part of the story (the creation of the earth and the Ainur) and the races of elves and men started establishing themselves, the story was starting to get really fascinating. Of course, that was about the time that Volume 1 ended. I know there’s a second volume but of course my library doesn’t have it. Thankfully, I have a paper copy of the book so assuming I can figure out where I left off, I can read the rest. For a more detailed description of this book, check out this website: http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/The_Silmarillion 3 stars.

Sula by Toni Morrison, narrated by the author

The story starts off in 1919 and finishes up in 1965 in an Ohio town called Medallion, more specifically in the African-American section called the Bottom. We first learn about Shadrack, a shell-shocked Veteran of WWI, who is returning to his hometown. The main part of the book focuses on two families, the Peace family and the Wrights. Helene Sabat marries Wiley Wright and they have a daughter named Nel. Respectability and a high position in the community are of utmost importance to Helene, something she tries to pass on to her daughter. Eva Peace is the one-legged head of the other family. She is abandoned by her husband BoyBoy early in their marriage and must raise her two children Plum and Hannah, along with adopted children The Deweys (three boys) on her own. Hannah is considered a bit of a harlot by the community, and they think even less of her daughter Sula. Sex is very loose at their house, a complete opposite to that of the Wright’s home. Despite all this, Sula and Nel become fast friends. Their relationship makes up the bulk of the story, or rather the consequences of their friendship.

I picked this story out of Toni Morrison’s bibliography because it sounded the most interesting, and it definitely didn’t disappoint in that regard. I would be curious to read some more of her work in the future for comparison. The author won the 1993 Nobel Prize. The book is narrated by the author and she has a very quiet voice, so much so that I had to crank the volume way up to even be able to understand what she was saying (and even had to re-listen to some parts). I will admit that I’ve been putting this review off for awhile because it was such a bizarre story, at least in my opinion, and I wasn’t 100% sure I knew exactly what it was really about. I will also admit that my exposure to African-American writers has been limited to poetry, The Color Purple, and some Children/YA books. Overall, I enjoyed the story but there were points that I was pretty shocked at and not at all sure what the author actually meant by them (especially the episodes concerning Sula’s mother and uncle). 3 stars.

Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Jessica and Rachel went to college together at Brown University. After graduation, Jessica decided to move to China without much of a plan and Rachel went to New York City to work in a gallery. The book chronicles journal-like emails between the two as they decide what they want to do with their lives, one ultimately getting married and studying journalism, while the other pursues a Masters and then Ph.D in film history. This book reminded me a lot of me and my best friend because we have been friends for what seems like forever (17 years) and as I was living in different countries and at different points in our life, similar to the main characters. 4 stars.

 Serving Grandfamilies in Libraries: A Handbook and Programming Guide by Sarah Gough, Pat Feehan and Denise R. Lyons

I picked up this book in particular because it was completely written by graduates and a faculty member of my masters’ alma mater, University of South Carolina. Not to mention I did an independent study with Denise, so I was curious to see what they had to say about the subject. I knew Denise had done work with grandparents in Houston, which is well-documented in the book, before she came to the SC State Library. Here are some interesting factoids taken from the book. According to page 5, “One in ten children lives in a household that includes at least one grandparent. Of that number, four in ten, were being raised primarily by their grandparents.” I have of course noticed the increase in children being raised by or assisted-in-raising by grandparents in these so-called “grandfamilies”, especially after moving to Arizona. About fifteen pages later, the book mentions how beneficial it is to have intergenerational programming and I believe that to be true. The book specifically points out grants that can be obtained by the library, resources to locate statistics (in order to gain support for such grandparent-related programming), Community Partners that are available, and how you can build your collection. The book sites specific examples in South Carolina and how individual libraries set aside space or special chairs/couches for grandparents’ uses. 3 stars.

Bella: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne

I had seen the trailer for the movie and thought it would be an interesting. So when the book came out, I was intrigued. There was next to no material about Dido Elizabeth Belle, the person about whom the book and movie is based (which was rather sad as her story is so unique), so I was curious to see how they would talk about the book. They put her in the context of the slave trade, in particular the manufacturing of sugar in the Caribbean. I knew how precious sugar was in the 18th century but not the extent to which slavers and slaves were involved with the trade. The book also discusses the Lord Chief Justice, uncle and adopted father of Dido, and his role in legislation that helped outlaw slavery in Great Britain and its Caribbean colonies. I was especially fascinated and a little bit horrified with the ideas of the 18th century in regards to African women and their sexuality, and how white men should act towards them. I had picked up bits and pieces in the past, but it was discussed with much greater detail since the main character was a black female. 4 stars

Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demi-Millenium of Unholy Mismatrimony by Leslie Carroll

This book was so dense with such tiny writing that even though the subject matter was fascinating – arranged marriages for political reasons: I was especially intrigued by the marriage of Queen Mary Tudor and Philip II of Spain, I could only get through about 40% of it before I gave up. 3 stars.

Book Reviews July 2014

I almost didn’t post this because it’s so close to the end of the month, but figured I should share what I’ve written so far. I’m ridiculously far behind in writing reviews, mostly because I’ve been feeling so burned out lately and not at all like writing. So the following reviews are from June and July. I’ve  honestly not been doing too much on the Caldecott or Newbery award list challenges. I am currently reading an advanced reader’s copy of a new adult book called The Door in the Mountain by Caitlin Sweet, which is a take on the Minotaur myth from Greek mythology, except from the point of view of the people involved instead of an outsider’s look. I’m currently listening to Wil Haygood’s The Butler: A Witness to History, which I’ve been wanting to check out for awhile. It’s cool because it’s not just a look at Eugene Allen’s remarkable life (which The Butler movie is based off of) but also the Civil Rights Movement and each president that Allen served at the White House and their role in the movement from the 1950’s-1980s. It also features a little about African-Americans and race, in general, in film. I’m excited to listen to Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein next and the 11th book in the Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer, Boston Jack after that.


Boo Boo written and illustrated by Olivier Dunrea

I picked up this title because it is my son’s nickname, plus I love the author/illustrator. BooBoo is a little blue gosling who likes to eat everything. One day she eats a bubble and starts burping them up. A small turtle advises her to drink some water and she does and the burping stops. Recommended for ages 2-5, 2 stars.

My Puffer Train written and illustrated by Mary Murphy

My son enjoyed this book. The story was pretty basic. With rhyming text, a penguin runs a steam train which he takes to the coast. He picks up all kinds of animals on the way around the track. I enjoyed the bright and colorful illustrations. Recommended for ages 2-5, 3 stars.

All Aboard for Dreamland! written by Melanie Harby, illustrated by Geraldo Valerio

Like a lot of other bedtime train books I have read with my son, this book takes you on a journey to Dreamland, stopping first in Giggletown, Snuggly Cove and even a town called Yawwwwwn. The train starts off fast but gets slower as its passengers reach Dreamland. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

Maisy Goes to Preschool written and illustrated by Lucy Cousins

I like Cousins’ books for their simple stories and brightly-colored illustrations. This book introduces toddlers/preschoolers to the idea of going to school. Maisy is going to preschool, where she paints, plays with her friends, uses the potty, snacktime and naptime. Her school is a lot like my son’s daycare, as far as the kind of things they do during the day. Recommended for ages 3-5, 4 stars.

Thank You, Octopus written and illustrated by Darren Farrell

Thank You Octopus

Oh my goodness! My son got completely obsessed with this book. It’s one of the first books he started quoting (and still does all the time). I picked it up originally because I love cephalopods. It is a book about a boy and his octopus that live on a steam boat and they are getting ready for bed. But every time Octopus tries to help, things get really silly. Like he tries to give him a bath and the boy thanks him, then the readers realize that it’s “a bath in egg salad”, to which the boy exclaims “No thank you, Octopus!” The octopus finally gets his comeuppance at the end of the book. This is a very fun book to read-aloud together with your child. We are definitely getting a copy of this book for our personal collection because of how much my son loves it. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

And the cars go… written and illustrated by William Bee

And the cars go

I found a train book by this author and got it for my son. We both liked the story and illustrations, so when I found this book at another branch, I immediately grabbed it. I liked this one way better than the last one as it seemed to have more of a storyline. A motorcycle cop pulls on the road to the beach only to find it completely stopped. He goes up the road and each car makes a different noise and response. He passes first a station wagon with a little girl who asks her parents “Are we there yet?” and later an ice cream truck and a dune buggy full of surfers. Eventually he discovers that the road is blocked by some sheep who have escaped from a fence near the road. Everyone gets out to help move the sheep and the cars finally start moving. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

A Pet for Petunia written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

I picked up this book because I loved the illustrations for Perfectly Percy, plus the story sounded cute. Petunia loves skunks. She loves that their cute little noses, their stripes, and everything else about them. She desperately wants one for a pet, but her parents say no. So she decides to run away. On her way, she meets an actual skunk and boy is it stinky! So stinky in fact, that she runs all the way home. Then she realizes it was “awesomely stinky” but she’d rather have her stuffed skunk as a pet. That is until she meets a porcupine. My son loved the whole “skunks are too stinky” and it really made him laugh. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Dragons Love Tacos_Spread 5large

^The reason you don’t give dragons spicy salsa

My son absolutely loved this book. Even now, after we have returned it a week ago, he is still quoting parts from the book. I was not as impressed. It just came across as too dumbed-down and repetitive. The illustrations were cute though. The title pretty much sums the book up. Dragons love tacos and so will do anything to get them. They also love parties, so put these two things together and you have a winner. Only don’t use spicy salsa of any kind because it makes dragons smoke from the ears, breathe fire (literately), and have tummy troubles. Bad things happen when you mix tacos and spicy salsa, like dragons will burn your house down. But they will help you rebuild, with taco breaks of course. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3-1/2 stars.

Dinosaurs Dig! written and illustrated by Peggy Dale

I picked this up for my son for two reasons. First, he loves dinosaurs and second because he is fascinated by diggers (excavators), so this seemed like the perfect book for him. It was a really simple but well-done book, perfect for little boys, though I’m sure little girls would get a kick out of it as well as it a fun book. It is a counting book from 1-10 and show how 10 different dinosaurs working together with construction can create something really cool. The front end pages feature the kind of dinosaurs in the book, and the back end pages show the construction equipment used in the book. I’m sure this will be a book I will buy for my son and use for storytime as well. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

If you happen to have a dinosaur written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Colin Jack

If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur

I was on a hunt for dinosaur books because my son loves them and this one was brand new, so I decided to give it a try. This one really cracked me and my son up! It’s all about all the things you can use a dinosaur for, like opening cans, yardwork and pretty much anything else you can think of, including a bookmark. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth written and illustrated by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes

Ganeshas Sweet Tooth_Int 3

I picked up this book at the library for myself because of the subject matter and the illustrations, which I adored. It is a very simplified version of the epic Hindu poem, the Mahabharata. Ganesha is a young elephant-headed god (always one of my favorites in Indian art), who along with his friend Mr. Mouse, loves Indian sweet called laddoos. Ganesha especially wants to eat the super jawbreaker laddoo, with which he promptly breaks one of his tusks on. He is so embarrassed by his broken tusk, but Mr. Mouse says it doesn’t matter. Shortly after this, they happen upon the poet Vyasa, who asks Ganesha to write the Mahabharata with his broken tusk and it takes a really long time. Mr. Mouse occupies himself with lots of sweets in the meantime. Finally they are done. The illustrations give a brief visual description of what happens in the poem, but I think it would be better to hear an audiobook version of the tale (the author mentions that it is not a 100% accurate view of the actual poem). The illustrations were fabulous and really drew my eye to the book, despite the semi-complicated storyline (especially when you’re trying to explain it all to a 3-year-old). You can tell the illustrator is also an Pixar animator. The book totally made me crave Indian sweets while reading it. Recommended for ages 5+, 3 stars.

Children  and Young Adult

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain, #1) by Lloyd Alexander, narrated by James Langton

This book is an exciting story which takes place in the fictional land of Prydain, which based off the country of Wales in the Middle Ages, and is full of borrowed heroes and gods from Welsh mythology. The reader is introduced to Taran, an orphaned young man who yearns for sword-fighting and adventure.  Alas, he is simply an Assistant Pig-Keeper of the oracular (can see the future) pig Hen Wen at Cair Dalben, the home and farm of the ancient Enchanter Dalben. One day, all the animals on the farm all run away from a mysterious force and Taran must go find Hen Wen. He stumbles upon the evil Horned King and his Cauldron-Born (powerful fighting zombies) by accident, and is nearly killed before being rescued by Prince Gwydion. They are captured by Acren, a powerful enchantress who used to rule Prydain and sent to rot in her dungeons. It is in the dungeons that Taran meets Princess Eilonwy, who subsequently rescues him and his “friend”. Taran quickly realizes that the “friend” is not Gwydion but a traveling bard named Fflewddur Fflam. Gurgi, a shaggy creature joins the party. Instead of taking up the search for Hen Wen, the group decides to go to Caer Dathyl, the home of King Math to warn him about the approaching army of the Horned King and his Cauldron-Born. Will they be able to get to the castle in time to warn the king or will the castle be overrun with Arwn’s forces? To find out, read the exciting first book of  The Chronicles of Prydain! Recommended for ages 10-14, 4 stars.

I started reading The Chronicles of Prydain as a whole after learning that two books in the series won a Newbery or a Newbery Honor award. It’s kind of amazing that this book was written in 1964 as it feels really modern and timeless. It did totally remind me of a tribute to Lord of the Rings in the beginning of the book, especially after they introduced Gwydion and Gurgi, which almost exactly mirrors Aragorn and Gollum. The narrator, James Langton, is quite good and narrates the entire series. I love Eilonwy’s independence and Flewddur Fflam and his truth-telling harp! Overall it was a great start to the series, and actually better than the Newberry Honor winning second book.


Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

The book tells the story of Claudette Colvin, who in March 1955, was the first African-American to refuse to give up her seat to a white person on a bus . The seats at the front belonged to the white passengers, while the African-Americans rode in the back, but they had to give up their seats if there was no room. Claudette was sitting about halfway back and was asked to give up her seat for a white lady and not only refused but also did not come willingly when the police arrived. People in the African-American community in Montgomery didn’t know what to make of the spunky teenaged girl who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in, and there plenty of people that didn’t like that a young girl was the first person to protest the Montgomery buses. It wasn’t until Claudette’s mentor, Rosa Parks, did a similar thing nine months later that African-Americans on the whole supported what she did and started the bus boycott, which really launched the Civil Rights Movement in America. Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.

After I had read a good review by a Goodreads friend, I decided to give this 2010 Newbery Honor award winner a chance. The book is based off interviews from Claudette Colvin herself and others that lived in Montgomery, AL in the 1950s, so the reader has a very first-hand view of what was like during the days of the Jim Crow laws. I had never heard of Ms. Colvin before this book, and truth be told, only knew the basics about the start of the Civil Rights Movement, even though I lived in Alabama for a good chunk of my life. It’s not something that was really talked about, and is a hard subject to broach in a still racially divided city. I felt sorry for Claudette Colvin because she was pushed aside by adults who wanted freedom and equality but didn’t think a young girl should be the start of it.

The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain, #2) written by Lloyd Alexander, narrated by James Langton

I did not like this one as much as the first one because the story was so slow-moving, plus it was a little predictable. This book won a 1966 Newbery Honor. The story of Taran in the land of Prydain continues in this book. In this volume, Taran and his companions Fflewdur Fflam, Eilonwy, and Gurgi are ordered by Prince Gwydion to find and destroy the Black Cauldron, the instrument used by Arawn to construct his zombie Cauldron-Born warriors. Taran must learn to work with a proud young prince named Ellidyr, as they search the Marshes of Morva for the three enchantresses rumored to be in possession of the Cauldron. Will they be able to find it and destroy the Cauldron before Arawn and his deathless warriors find them? Recommended for ages 10+, 3 stars.


Alias Hook written by Lisa Jensen

Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Diane Morgan, foreward by Deborah Madison

A very thorough introduction and glimpse into all kinds of root vegetables, including some I had never heard of like crosne, malanga, and celery root. I liked that she included when it’s seasonally available (especially important if you’ve never heard of it but are interested in trying it). I liked that she gave the different names for the roots in many different countries, which is helpful for me in regards to Asian varieties and because even the British word for certain root vegetable is not the same as in the US. As I’ve rediscovered beets, I was very glad there was a large section on that particular vegetable. I would love to own this cookbook. 5 stars.

Raw Food French Style: 115 fresh recipes from the new generation of French chefs by Delphine de Montelier

This was a very fresh approach to food with some really beautiful photography. The recipes themselves were pretty simplistic as you don’t really have to cook anything. Whenever I think of raw food, I always think vegan, but the book included meat and fish as well. There were only about four recipes that I would like to make. 3 stars.

The HappyCow Cookbook: recipes from top-rated vegan restaurants around the world edited by Eric Brent and Glen Merzer

I picked up this cookbook because I had been on the website and agree that it is a great resource for vegans and vegetarians, as not all countries are veg-friendly. While some of the recipes looked appealing, they like a lot of restaurant cookbooks, seemed to be food I’d rather have professionals prepare at the restaurant itself versus me doing it at home. I would like to try the Thai Noodles and the Porcini-Crusted Tofu with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Candle Mushroom Gravy. I would also like to check out these restaurants: 222 Veggie Vegan in London and Lovin’ Spoonfuls in Tucson, AZ. 2 stars.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743 to wealthy parents. In honor of his birth, I decided to write a bit about the man and include some Revolutionary Era poetry. He started building his home Monticello when he was twenty-six years old. He did own slaves, and according to the Monticello biography, “In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these lived at Monticello; the others lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia.” Most people are aware of his owning slaves because of the Sally Hemings debate. I can’t verify that part, but I do know that all of his slaves at Monticello were part of the Hemings family. For another insight into the man, check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

Monticello's West Front with Larkspur

He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, and served as a local magistrate and member of the House of Burgesses, which was the legislative branch of government in Virginia, and later became their General Assembly or State Government. He was a member of the Continental Congress, and is most famous for having written the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statues of Religious Freedom . He left the Continental Congress in 1776, and was governor of Virginia from 1779-1781. He became the American Ambassador to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin in 1785, and in 1790 became the Secretary of State under our first president George Washington (though he resigned three years later). According to the Monticello biography,

“In 1796, he became vice-president (even though they belonged to different political parties –check this website for more information on Jefferson’s Democratic Republican beliefs) after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes. Four years later, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France; his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812. ”

Boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase

Despite already doing so much, he did even more in the last seventeen years of his life. He donated his book collection at Monticello to the federal government to help form the Library of Congress. At age 76 he founded the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He got the legislature of Virginia to approve the charter for the school, found a place to put it, “designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first [president].” He died on July 4, 1826, on the fiftieth anniversary of the new United States adopting the Declaration of Independence.

For Revolutionary –Era poetry, I picked Phyllis Wheatley. She is significant because she is the first African-American poet to be published, and a female to book, in London 1773. Her poetry was popular and well-received. The second poet is Philip Freneau, called “The Poet of the American Revolution.” One of his most famous poems was A Political Litany, created before the Revolutionary War, which is explained here.

To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth

  by Phillis Wheatley

HAIL, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates thy blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desir'd,
Sick at the view, she languish'd and expir'd;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the caves of night.
  No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance unredress'd complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain,
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant t' enslave the land.
  Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch'd from Afric's fancy'd happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seiz'd his babe belov'd:
Such, such my case.  And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
  For favours past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favours to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heav'nly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heav'ns refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep th' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that blest abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.

A Political Litany

  by Philip Freneau

Libera Nos, Domine.—Deliver us, O Lord, not only from British dependence, but also

From a junto that labour with absolute power, 
Whose schemes disappointed have made them look sour, 
From the lords of the council, who fight against freedom, 
Who still follow on where delusion shall lead them. 

From the group at St. James's, who slight our petitions, 
And fools that are waiting for further submissions—
From a nation whose manners are rough and severe, 
From scoundrels and rascals,—do keep us all clear.

From pirates sent out by command of the king 
To murder and plunder, but never to swing. 
From Wallace and Greaves, and Vipers and Roses,
Whom, if heaven pleases, we'll give bloody noses. 

From the valiant Dunmore, with his crew of banditti, 
Who plunder Virginians at Williamsburg city, 
From hot-headed Montague, mighty to swear, 
The little fat man with his pretty white hair.

From bishops in Britain, who butchers are grown, 
From slaves that would die for a smile from the throne, 
From assemblies that vote against Congress proceedings, 
(Who now see the fruit of their stupid misleadings.)

From Tryon the mighty, who flies from our city, 
And swelled with importance disdains the committee:
(But since he is pleased to proclaim us his foes, 
What the devil care we where the devil he goes.) 

From the caitiff, lord North, who would bind us in chains, 
From a royal king Log, with his tooth-full of brains, 
Who dreams, and is certain (when taking a nap) 
He has conquered our lands, as they lay on his map.
From a kingdom that bullies, and hectors, and swears, 
We send up to heaven our wishes and prayers 
That we, disunited, may freemen be still, 
And Britain go on—to be damned if she will.

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

Andre the Giant

Andre the Giant: Life and Legend written and illustrated by Box Brown

Ok I will admit that I originally picked up this book because of Andre’s involvement in The Princess Bride. I thought he was brilliant in the movie, and so funny. I knew he had been a professional wrestler, but didn’t know much about him, so I decided to give this graphic novel a try because Andre seemed to have the kind of life that would be more interesting in a visual form. I enjoyed the story, though as other reviewers have mentioned, it wasn’t as personal as I would’ve liked, but rather from a outsider point-of-view.

I have never enjoyed watching professional wrestling as a sport because I know it’s faked, plus it seems reminds me of a soap opera with all its heroes and villains. As the author/illustrator points out in the author’s note in the beginning of the book, “The culture of professional wrestling is, in some ways, built upon mass deception.” However, in the case of someone like Andre the Giant, it seems like a good fit. Here you take someone who would not ordinarily fit in and because of his size and strength, he is in a profession where he was respected, loved and makes a whole lot of money doing what he was good at.

Andre Roussimoff was born in France to a Polish family, and was already taller than the average adult by the time he was twelve. He starts wrestling in Paris in 1969. He goes to Japan on his first international tour in 1970, where he first learns of his condition, Acromegaly, a tumor that grows on the pituitary gland of the brain which causes abnormal growth. It will cause him to “age prematurely, become crippled and his brow and jaw will become more pronounced (pg 53)”. Plus he will only live to age 40, which is what precipitates his constant need for alcohol (of which he drinks copious amounts of in the book) to forget about that fact. From Japan, he flies to Montreal to fight. He’s there for about a year before he heads to New York in 1973, where he meets Vince McMahon Sr, who is really the key to why Andre became one of the most popular professional wrestlers in America. Hulk Hogan, who was the only professional wrestler I really recognized growing up, was essentially Andre’s protege. Andre the Giant was 7’5″ and about 500 lbs at the height of his popularity. He died around age 40 in the country of his birth. 3 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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