The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

813zRwfVrdL._AC_UY218_ML3_The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys. Philomel, 2019. 9780399160318

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre:  Historical fiction/romance

What did you like about the book? This affecting novel brings to life the frightening and divisive reign of Spain’s Francisco Franco. Ana’s parents were killed by Franco’s henchman for trying to open a school. She lives in poverty with her siblings, and works at the elegant and cosmopolitan Castellana Hilton in Madrid. Daniel, the son of an American oil tycoon, is staying at the hotel, as his father has been given permission to drill for oil in Spain. They meet, and instantly there are sparks. However, the stakes are too high for Ana, as the social and moral code for her behavior is very strict, and there are too many secrets that must be kept silent. Daniel, a photographer, with a drive to document what he sees, tests the strictures of a country that has been torn apart by a fascist dictator. As the two dance around their attraction, they wrestle with “the cost of silence.” Another thread present in the story is the nascent evidence that the regime was stealing babies from women after childbirth, telling mothers that their babies died, and selling them for adoption. Viewpoints from Ana, Daniel, and Ana’s siblings and cousin present different points of view, enriching the understanding of life in post-Civil War Spain. Excerpts from newspapers and interviews appear at the starts of chapters, so that the reader does not forget that the horrors of the story really happened. The author cleverly draws out the final romantic conclusion, which takes place over a decade after the initial sparks fly, thereby underscoring the hardships of love during such a repressive time. The story flies by, with dialogue-rich text, lots of action and danger, and short chapters.

The author provides a significant look at her research at the end, with notes, sources, a Spanish language glossary and photographs.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No

To whom would you recommend this book?  For lovers of historical fiction/romance, where factual accuracy is desired, for ages 16 and up.

Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it ? Teen or adult fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes if you’re into historical fiction.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Stephanie Tournas, Robbins Library, Arlington, Ma

Date of review: November 14, 2019

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Cats Are A Liquid by Rebecca Donnelly, illustrated by Misa Saburi

 Cats Are A Liquid by Rebecca Donnelly, illustrated by Misa Saburi, Henry Holt, 9781250206596, 2019 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  Cute artwork as multi-racial kid scientists test the concept of whether cats are liquid. A combination of full-page spreads and vignettes show the children conducting experiments in order to test this internet meme assertion, which got its start as a paper by Marc-Antoine Fardin. Fardin’s tongue-in-cheek work won him the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics, given yearly for work that makes people laugh and then think. 

In the course of the narrative, some scientific ideas about liquids are explored, most importantly, that they can fill empty containers (as can cats.) The Photoshop illustrations feature a variety of pastel-colored, patterned backdrops with heavily outlined and simplified kids and felines. This was an OK book about cats and how funny they can be as they plop, flop, roll, ripple and nap their way through life. 

Anything you didn’t like about it? For me, it failed as a physics concept book. Cats are clearly not a liquid and the constant refrain of “Cats are a liquid except when they’re not” was confusing. As a narrative, the book lacked any plot arc and did not hold my interest. Also, many of the actions taken by the kid scientists border on the questionable, such as putting cats in the bathtub or letting them play with a toaster. A two page spread at the back entitled “Are cats a liquid?” finally lets kids in on the science joke, but that’s too late to rescue the book.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Cat fanatics who also pursue rheology, the branch of physics that deals with the deformation and flow of matter.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 12, 2019

 

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Little Frida: A Story of Frida Kahlo written and illustrated by Anthony Browne

 Little Frida: A Story of Frida Kahlo written and illustrated by Anthony Browne, Candlewick, 9781536209334, 2019 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Oversized picture book

Genre: Biography

What did you like about the book?  Brown’s watercolors are attractive and the oversized format of this book gives him a lot of room to play and explore Kahlo’s childhood relationship with an imaginary friend. Confined to bed with polio and then teased by other children for her limp, little Frida dreams of being able to fly. Her parents buy her a set of toy wings for her birthday and Frida imagines being able to escape her life. She meets a strange and beautiful dancing girl, who becomes Frida’s secret friend and she draws her over and over again, throughout her entire life. Brown’s lush illustrations glow with tropical colors and include many motifs that will be familiar to those who know Kahlo’s work, such as the twinned portraits, a thread connecting the two girls, images of animals and flowers, etc.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Despite the beautiful watercolor illustrations, Anthony Browne isn’t an obvious match for Frida Kahlo, especially when there are so many other recent and strong picture book competitors. By focusing on just one dream, we’re left with the implication that this was a tremendously formative experience. Given the many astounding events in Kahlo’s life, it’s hard to believe that this one was really more momentous that her car accident, for example, or her marriages to Diego Rivera or her obsession with folk art and identity. Also, Browne’s paintings of Little Frida bear little resemblance to her well-known portraits, so fail in the task of exposing children to her work. Browne loves to play with questions of self-awareness and identity, so I can believe that he admires Kahlo’s paintings, but this book is too abstract and weird (the opening page shows a parched and broken desert in which giant Saguaro cacti wave their arms at little Frida in a menacing fashion — what’s up with that image?)

To whom would you recommend this book?  A lot of other recent entries better capture Kahlo’s strangeness while presenting stronger biographical information. I would recommend Frida (2002) by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Ana Juan or Viva Frida (2014) featuring the wonderfully weird puppets of Yuyi Morales.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: November 12, 2019

 

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Max and Marla Are Flying Together by Alexandra Boiger

81-NUTuWbQL._AC_UY218_ML3_Max and Marla Are Flying Together by Alexandra Boiger. Philomel Books, 9780525515661, 2019

Format: Hardcover

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5+

Genre: Picture Book

 What did you like about the book? The relationship between Max and Marla is a perfect testament to a special friendship. Max is a young boy and his best friend is Marla, a snowy white owl. As with the other Max and Marla books, they love spending time together doing fun activities or absolutely nothing at all. In this story, Max decides he wants to fly along with Marla and the only way he can do that is to make a kite (not really for him to use but he paints a picture of himself on the kite so it seems like he is flying with Marla). As Max eagerly gathers the necessary supplies and begins construction of the kite, we do see Marla being a little less than enthusiastic about this idea. When Max finishes and goes outside to test his kite, the reader soon discovers the problem–Marla does not know how to fly. They decide to try another day and go to bed with different dreams (seen as thought bubbles) of what makes a fun day — Max has visions of flying with Marla but Marla’s idea of fun is quietly reading a book with Max. Due to a strange set of circumstances the next day, Marla ends up tangled in the kite as it takes off in the wind. Even though this was not planned, Marla does realize that she can fly and she wakes up eagerly the next morning to fly with Max.

What I feel is so special about this book is that it features two friends that are understanding and considerate of each other. Max shows compassion with Marla when she tells him she does not know how to fly but Marla is brave because she knows this is important to Max. Also, the illustrations by Alexandra Boiger are adorable and the reader can see a million words in the expressions of Marla.

 Anything you did not like about the book. Nothing

To whom would you recommend this book? This book is perfect for children between the ages of three and six, especially if discussed after reading the story. This book is a conversation starter about compassion and understanding in friendships and how children can learn to show these special traits to others around them. This is a great classroom book for educators and children to read and discuss together. This would be an especially good book for a child that might be experiencing some strains in a friendship due to different interests.

Who should buy this book? Public  libraries, preschools, daycare centers, anyone that works with children between the ages of three through six.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Kristin Guay, former youth services librarian.

Date of review: November 12, 2019

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Cheer: A Book to Celebrate Community – Uncle Ian Aurora, illustrated by Natalia Moore

  Cheer: A Book to Celebrate Community – Uncle Ian Aurora, illustrated by Natalia Moore, Flowerpot Press, 9781486718085, 2020

Format: Hardcover

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Genre: Picture Book

 What did you like about the book? I like the message–appreciation of everyone that helps us (or children in particular) during our day. This story is basically giving a “cheer” to the dads who made lunches, the librarians that help find books, the fire and police personnel that keep us safe, friends, family, and so much more. The text is very simple and has a rhythmic nature so that should appeal to young children. The accompanying illustrations are colorful and expressive so that will be well received by children.

 Anything you did not like about the book. My only real problem with this book is the intended audience. The text is very simple–one sentence per page. This would lead you to believe that this is something for a very young child. However, the scenarios in the story include bus rides to school, principals, scout clubs, and sports teams–all something that elementary, maybe grades 2-4, would be experiencing. I just could not get a handle on what age group would enjoy this book. I do want to point out that the message is very important so I could see this being used in an elementary school classroom (early elementary grades) as a starter for a lesson in either being grateful or community workers but the text might be a little too young for these children.

To whom would you recommend this book? I am torn between this book being for older or younger children because of the contrast between the wording and the content. Children who enjoy interactive books might enjoy cheering along with the text every time the word “Cheer” is said and I could see this working for a group storytime as well. Might be a good story for children that either appreciate the people in their lives or for those that need to learn to be more appreciative of others in their lives. If children liked the previous book by the same author, Stomp, keep in mind that this is different. Stomp was very interactive and seemed to be appropriate in all ways for a younger audience (plus it was an excellent book for group storytime), but this book is different and will most likely not be understood by very young audiences.

Who should buy this book? I would not recommend purchasing this book.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No, I am having trouble deciding what age group would be appropriate for this book–text is simple but examples are for an older child, at least a child in school.

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Kristin Guay, former youth services librarian.

Date of review: November 13, 2019

 

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Sprinkles – Kate Stempel, illustrated by Kurt Hershey

  Sprinkles – Kate Stempel, illustrated by Kurt Hershey, Friesen Press, 9781525535550, 2019

Format: Paperback (Hardback edition available September, 2019)

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2-despite the wonderful  message in the story

Genre: Picture Book

 What did you like about the book? The message in this story is kindness and compassion for others and I think that can never get old in children’s books. In this story we meet a young girl named Sky who is busy baking gourmet cupcakes to sell and raise money for the local animal shelter. As she walks through her neighborhood selling her treats, she comes across a grumpy neighbor named Mr. Conway. He always seems to be in a bad mood and never really interested in talking with his neighbors–or buying any cupcakes either. As Sky continues with her walk, she notices a sale at a garden center and decides to check out the plants. She sees a bonsai tree and decides that is what she wants to bring home. The garden center owner informs her that bonsai trees require special attention but she will give Sky all the necessary instructions to help her tree grow. Just after Sky and her mother leave, we see Mr. Conway come in and also purchase a bonsai tree. Some time passes and Sky is making another round of cupcake sales. This time she approaches Mr. Conway’s door hoping that he will purchase some this time. Again, he says “no” but before he can shut the door, Sky notices his bonsai tree–a dying bonsai tree. Sky offers to help Mr. Conway with his tree and this leads to a special friendship between a little girl and a lonely elderly man.

 Anything you did not like about the book. I loved the story and the message but I did not care for the illustrations. I cannot really put a finger on it other than in some parts of the legs and arms of Sky were so thin they reminded me of a stretchy character toy. This could just be a personal preference but I found the illustrations a little distracting at times and they seemed to take away from the important message in the story.

To whom would you recommend this book? I would say children between the ages of five and seven would either be able to read this book on their own or enjoy having the story read to them. It is perfect for children that enjoy stories about how we can all be a little more understanding of each other and help each other in times of need. It would be a great addition to an elementary school classroom or a guidance office to facilitate discussion on how to help others.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries, only for the content  if they do not already have something on the shelves with the same message.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No.

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Kristin Guay, former youth services librarian.

Date of review: November 13, 2019

 

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Just Because – Mac Barnett, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

  Just Because – Mac Barnett, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, Candlewick Press, 9780763696801, 2019

Format: Hardcover

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre: Picture Book

 What did you like about the book? We all know that children have a million questions and sometime you answer “just because”, however, Just Because is the exact opposite. This book provides the most wondrous and unique answers to a little girl’s many questions. For example, the ocean is blue because the fish sing sad songs and cry blue tears, dinosaurs did not perish from Earth but attached themselves to big balloons and floated up to space (because they knew what was coming), leaves change color in autumn because the trees have built small fires in the leaves to keep warm, and the birds fly south in the winter to get more leaves for the trees (they actually all burned off due to the small fires!). These are silly answers but very young children would not really understand, or be interested in, the real answers of water absorption of colors, asteroids wiping out the dinosaurs, and chlorophyll breakdown. I especially loved the answer to the last question “Why do we have to sleep?” — “Because there are some things we can only see with our eyes closed”–Brilliant!

The illustrations provided by Isabelle Arsenault are wonderful and capture the outlandish and whimsical tone of this story. We also see details in the young girl’s room such as a globe, telescope, guitar, shells, and microscope that show this is truly an inquisitive child–not just someone stalling at bedtime.

 Anything you did not like about the book. Nothing

To whom would you recommend this book? I think this book would appeal to a variety of ages and interests–maybe ages three to six. I could see younger children enjoying the fantastical answers but I could see older children really wanting to know the answer and this possibly leading to more research. Children that question their world and maybe even want to have a little fun making up some make-believe answers would enjoy this book while others might use this book as an opportunity to find the truth.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries, preschools, daycare centers, anyone that works with children between the ages of three through six.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes, I could see this book being used in an elementary classroom for a creative writing exercise. Also, just a fun read without the creative writing component. A storytime activity with older children could lead to some amazing answers to new questions about the world.

 Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Kristin Guay, former youth services librarian.

Date of review: November 12, 2019

 

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