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National Geographic Readers: Kamala Harris (Level 2) by Tonya K. Grant

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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National Geographic Readers: Kamala Harris (Level 2) by Tonya K. Grant provides early readers with some background on our current vice president and her background. My daughter read this one on her own, but she was interested in how Kamala and her sister protested the rules at their apartment building as children and successfully helped change the rules, allowing kids to play soccer on the law.

We talked about how individuals can come together to make change when things seem unfair. She learned about the different jobs that lawyers can hold from district attorney to attorney general and senator, as well as vice president of the United States. She found it amusing that Harris used a portable ironing board as a desk.

The book includes some firsts for Harris, as well as some fun facts, and kids will learn new words dealing with government and democracy. There’s also a short quiz at the end to help kids see how much they learned while reading this short book. The photos are high quality, as expected and really round out the story.

National Geographic Readers: Kamala Harris (Level 2) by Tonya K. Grant is another short, early reader book that can help kids learn more about our modern heroes and activists, among others who are making history today.

RATING: Quatrain

National Geographic Readers: Stacey Abrams (Level 2) by Melissa H. Mwai

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Paperback, 32 pgs.
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National Geographic Readers: Stacey Abrams (Level 2) by Melissa H. Mwai is a wonderful introduction to a modern activist that provides information on her formative years, her college years, and her ambitions. We loved that this was easy to read for my daughter and the glossary in the back for terms like “district” and “election.” These will help kids who struggle with large, unfamiliar terms and those who want to learn more than the context clues provide. This book also has a short quiz to help kids and teachers review what readers have learned.

Readers will “meet” Stacey Abrams in the first pages, and learn how to phonetically say “election.” This introductory page sets the stage for why Abrams actively fought to improve voting in Georgia and allows children to see how elections are integral to democracy and how voices can be quieted through discrimination. There also are a set of “firsts” for Abrams and a fun story about how she selected the college she eventually attended.

National Geographic Readers: Stacey Abrams (Level 2) by Melissa H. Mwai is a great introduction to the election process, Stacey Abrams’ advocacy to improve voting access, and the role we all can play in ensuring democracy continues throughout the country. My daughter was not that interested when she started reading, but as she read more, she realized that things are not equal for everyone and she said that is unfair.

RATING: Quatrain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 10+ hours
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl, narrated by the author, is a delight by itself. If you want to here Grohl talk about his life as written in the book with some riffs and musical interludes, you should pick up this audio.

There’s a lot of unbelievable moments in his life, and I think his ability to just “go for it” and say “yes” to any opportunity really helped him become as successful as he is. I do think some will be disappointed about the lack of gossip about Nirvana and Courtney Love, etc., but most will have to recall that Nirvana was already a band for three years when Grohl joined. He’s spent a very small amount of his career with that band. This is a memoir about Grohl’s life in music and life.

I don’t need to say much else, because I already reviewed the book.

RATING: Cinquain

Woodrow on the Bench by Jenna Blum

While I didn’t officially sign up for Book Journey‘s event, First Book of the Year, here it is:

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is a love letter to a beloved companion who provided Blum with not only companionship and love, but also with lessons in patience, humility, and so much more. Woodrow, named after the former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove, was a black lab full of mischief, a lover of food (esp. carrots), and energy.

Woodrow is much like our husky and her love of carrots and the outside, but he’s also like my keeshond who loved food so much, you’d often find him in the fridge, stealing pork chops from tables, and so on. Blum’s memoir also brought me back to my college days in Boston. I knew exactly where she was at all times, and the struggles of crossing Commonwealth Ave. are real, and I miss the old Ritz, now the Taj. It has been a very long time since I’ve been back, and during these pandemic years, it allowed me to revisit some places along the way. And for some reason, winter always reminds me of Boston and it’s bone-chilling cold … and the snow! Hence, this became my first read of 2022.

“If I try to cross Commonwealth Avenue at the wrong time or emerge from between parked cars instead of using the crosswalk, there’s an excellent chance I’ll be mowed over. Usually by somebody in a BMW, which I have long since decided — forgive me, Beamer drivers — is an acronym for asshole.”

Blum’s narrative carries the reader on an emotional journey with highs and lows, and most of us know that Woodrow is on the decline at his advanced age. While she does characterize his breathing at one point as “more Darth Vader than usual,” we know that these moments are scary. Woodrow is endearing and he becomes like our own pet through these pages, as we laugh and cry alongside Blum. She’s losing one of her most important anchors, not to be outdone by the equally devastating losses of both her parents.

I found so much of myself in these pages — I’m stubborn like Blum and want to do things the more you tell me they cannot be done. (I’m not sure who I inherited this trait from, honestly, because both my parents shy away from action and conflict. It’s in the genes somewhere.) But when it comes to saving a beloved family member (yes, pets are family), the impossible is just that.

Woodrow on the Bench: Life Lessons from a Wise Old Dog by Jenna Blum is not only about the loss of a family pet or the lessons Blum learned along the way, it is a microcosm of what we’ve forgotten about humanity – that people can be good and do good. It’s shown time and again when strangers help Blum with her dog as he struggles to walk or when she’s struggling to cross one of the busiest thoroughfares in Boston with her old dog. And she, like us, is “stunned” every time by this compassion. There is something ultimately beautiful that comes from all the sadness in these pages, and we, as readers, are better for it.

RATING: Cinquain

The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams by Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Ashley Evans

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams by Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Ashley Evans, is another nonfiction title for elementary readers that explores the real life of someone familiar to them. Tennis Star, entrepreneur, and mother Serena Williams. My daughter read this one on her own and was able to recount much of what happened to Serena in her life. She had no trouble reading the text – at least I wasn’t asked what’s this word.

My daughter loved the illustrations and how realistic they looked. This is a story about how dedication and hard work can help you achieve your dreams. There are little bubbles with word definitions, including “criticize.” This is a word that my daughter actually knew on her own, but I liked how the definitions were not too complex.

“You have to believe in yourself when no one else does,” Serena said.

There is a lot of detail about her home life, her father’s dedication to his girls tennis careers, and how they worked hard to get practice time. The book also doesn’t shy away from the violence in her neighborhood and the obstacles she faced. There’s a timeline of her life, as well as some items for young readers to think about.

The Extraordinary Life of Serena Williams by Shelina Janmohamed, illustrated by Ashley Evans, is a well-rounded story about a tennis great. I loved that this book kept my daughter interested and she learned a great deal about perseverance.

RATING: Quatrain

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

Source: Gift
Hardcover, 384 pgs.
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The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is more than just a memoir of music and the powerhouses in it. This is a story of one man’s complete awe of where his life has taken him and what drives him to keep going even when tragedy rocked his world and threatened to upend it for good. From Grohl’s opening line about aging — “Sometimes I forget that I’ve aged. — readers know they have found a kindred spirit. Aging is a process of time, and more often than not, we’re too busy living to notice that time has passed and we are no longer as young as our heads and hearts may still believe we are. I know I feel this way a lot of the time.

Grohl’s musical career began in his bedroom with a couple of pillows and a dream, but his love of music was with him since birth. From singing in the car with his mother to sharing punk band music with his cousin and taking drumming lessons from a Jazz legend, Grohl was on the path of stardom long before he realized it was his dream.

“At an early age, I started to play drums with my teeth, sliding my jaw back and forth and chomping up and down to simulate the sound of a drum set in my mouth, doing drum rolls and grace notes as if I were using my hands, without anyone ever noticing.”

If you’re looking for gossip of the nastiest kind, forget it. This is a story of hope, perseverance, hard work, and a ton of coffee. That’s my kind of person, though I admit I have never drank pot after pot of coffee and thought I was having a heart attack.

There’s so much memory in this book, and I remember the great Olsson’s Books and Records in Bethesda, so when I saw that in this book (but the Georgetown store), it brought back a lot of memories of my early days in the DMV. Grohl’s writing mirrors the old storyteller who begins a tale, takes a tangential side trip, and gets back to the main thread. But I absolutely loved all the meandering.

When you get to the part about Nirvana, you realize that many fans know him because of this band and its music, but really, Grohl had lived a full musical life before and after Nirvana. He often talks about how he was a nerd/geek and it was clear that the people who grew to love Nirvana over time were those that used to bully him as a kid. The chapter on his grief after lead singer Kurt Cobain’s death is some of the most poignant and real chapters I’ve read on grief. Everyone grieves differently and grief is not the same for each person’s passing.

Grohl may have passed one of the most devastating moments in his life, but he still carries that with him. There are a great may takeaways in this memoir, but one of the best is this: “Courage is a defining factor in the life of any artist.”

Definitely a book that will live on the shelf with my other Rock Stars. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl is one of the most open and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read in a long time. Would I fangirl if I saw Grohl in person – yes, yes I would. But I do that with anyone’s work I admire. Just ask all the poets I talk to and the ones I will meet someday into the future.

RATING: Cinquain

The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott, illustrated by Anke Rega

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 128 pgs.
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The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott, illustrated by Anke Rega, is a book for readers between ages of 7 and 12. My daughter read this one to herself over a week or so, and we’re using it as an experiment to check her comprehension when she reads on her own. After each reading session, I asked her about what she read. While there were occasions when she had to refer to the text, rather than remember it on her own, my assessment is that the book is written in a way that kids in her age group can remember what happened.

There are illustrations of Anne and her family, a map of the Frank’s journey away from Germany during WWII, and even an illustration of Hitler. The back of the book also includes a timeline exploring when Anne received her journal and its journey to publication, as well as a timeline of Anne’s life. My daughter enjoyed learning about Anne and even has asked about the diary, which is now a book. I told her that we’ll have to dig up my copy to read together.

We also loved the inspiring quotes that were pulled out into separate bubbles for your readers. They were positive and focused on the good things in the journey, rather than the bad. That is not to say that the author avoided talking about the persecution of Jews,the War, or even Anne’s death.

The Extraordinary Life of Anne Frank by Kate Scott, illustrated by Anke Rega, is a great way to introduce young readers to Frank and her family. It will teach them about bigotry, persecution, Nazi’s, WWII, and more. The book also offers some things to think about or kids, though I wish at least one of those questions would have touched on what kids thought about the Nazi’s and their persecution of Jews.

RATING: Quatrain

Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen

Source: Author
Paperback, 64 pgs.
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Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen is a rhyming narrative of Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, and how he came to the United States to help us fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. In well written rhyme, Jensen will engage young readers in the life of Lafayette as a young man (only 19) eager to fight for freedom.

What I love about this book is that it takes history and makes it come alive for children with verse. It includes portraits and other art from the time of the war and beyond to illustrate the story, and uses some modern phrasing, like “good to go,” to make it relatable to younger generations of readers. While this is a succinct look at Lafayette’s contributions, there are resources, a glossary of terms, and larger explanations, as well as a bibliography, in the back of the book for teachers and parents to use and help children understand history a little better.

Liberty-Loving Lafayette: How ‘America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman’ Helped Win Our Independence by Dorothea Jensen would be a great addition to classrooms and home libraries, especially for those kids and parents interested in teaching American history. Kids will learn about no only the inspirations for Lafayette’s decision to come to the United States but also about how he played a key role in military successes.

Rating: Quatrain

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 40 pgs.
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Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a brief look at the extraordinary lives of these brilliant mathematicians — Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Christine Darden. My daughter and I read this book together and were learning a great deal about not only the role of math in the building of airplanes and spacecraft, but also the history of the time when segregation still existed and women were not allowed in meetings or even on scientific teams.

In one illustration, my daughter commented about the separate water fountains and noted that the one for “coloreds” looked more like a toilet with a spout than a water fountain. I think this was her interpretation of the differences between those facilities and she was taken aback at how awful just that aspect was. Kids are far smarter than adults sometimes.

As we read, we looked up the real women on the internet to check out more of their accomplishments and look at the projects they worked on, and my daughter was particularly interested in the wind tunnels that Mary Jackson worked with. I think it was because the visual of the giant fan behind Jackson and her team didn’t demonstrate the airplane models being tested. The internet helped with that.

While we loved the illustrations and how vivid they are, we wondered about the earrings the ladies wore — stars, planets, moons — were these accurate to their daily accessories or just a nod to their role in the space race? My daughter also loves learning about the landing on the moon and what was said, and the biographies in the back about each woman was fantastic because we learned more about each of them, though we were saddened to learn that only one of them is still alive, as Katherine Johnson passed away in 2020.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman, is a delightful introduction to these stellar women and their accomplishments against all odds — racism and sexism. This generated some great discussion with my daughter and since she loves history, it was a great read for us.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margot Lee Shetterly is the author of  Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is also the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers at the NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. She is a Hampton, Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. She currently lives in Charlottesville, VA.

About the Illustrator:

Laura Freeman is a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honoree. Her work on “Hidden Figures” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, was recognized with an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, reached the New York Times Best Seller list and was listed as one of “Ten Books All Georgians Should Read”. Her art has been honored at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and in the Annuals for Communication Arts and American Illustration.

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 11+ hrs.
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Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is an exploration of the lasting impact of war on individuals and the memory of war long after it is fought, incorporating the role of governments, individual and national ethics, and the media and film industry, as well as novelists, etc.

The narration of this book doesn’t do much for the dry academic text, which made this a harder read than it probably would have been in print. I definitely do not recommend this audiobook. The narration is dry and lifeless. With that said, if you are looking for a dynamic look at the Vietnam War and memory, this is more speculation, analysis of previous thoughts on memory and ethical remembering, as well as a look at how the entertainment industry in the United States shapes the views of war over time.

In some ways, Nguyen takes on too many subjects in this book. I feel like the whole section on first-person war-based video games could be a dissertation or a book in itself with data on the impact of these war video games, etc. This happens with other topics as well. This was far too academic and focused on theories and philosophies with little data, which was a drawback for me. I would have preferred more dynamic text and narration, as well as some data to back up some of his arguments.

My overall takeaway from Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen, narrated by P. J. Ochlan, is that to remember war, we need to remember the good and the bad on both sides, not just the humanity of one side and the inhumanity of the other. We need to recall that all actors in war are culpable to some extent and that they are all round “characters” not flat. Humanity is not something that only applies to the righteous or the just act, especially as my grandmother once said, “there is always more to the story than you know and there is no one person at fault.” We all need to be better at accepting our inhuman actions and the humanity of those we do not know or understand well.

RATING: Couplet

Other Reviews:

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 96 pgs.
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The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean, and being published in September and is certified as climate neutral and FSC certified, is full of history and insight into the differences between labyrinths and mazes, includes fun experiments and exercises, and is beautifully illustrated. The first section explains both and their differences and offers a fun psychological experiment with a spiral. It’s a fun activity for the kids and parents.

In the second section, the book explores Labyrinths in history and myths. You can picture the Minotaur, can’t you? From Egypt to Europe and Asia, labyrinths have fascinated many cultures and have been used for different reasons. Some have been uncovered by archaeologists, while others are still a mystery and may not have existed at all. Kids will love the sample mazes and labyrinths in this section and be eager to try them out.

In the third section, the author explores mazes all over the world. Rulers often built mazes out of hedgerows as a form of entertainment for guests. The author elaborates more on the features of mazes. Throughout every section of the book, the author connects the love of mazes and labyrinths to the often winding journeys of our lives, and our need for patience to make enjoy the journey and take it one day at a time.

The Book of Labyrinths and Mazes by Silke Vry, illustrated by Finn Dean, is a delightful read that has a good deal of history, mystery, and fun activities for kids and parents. The illustrations are detailed and each page has tips and fun facts. There are instructions in how to draw your own maze, which is also a fascinating experiment for both parents and their kids. I see challenges in the future where we create mazes for each other. In the back of the book, there are a list of corn mazes and other ways to find modern mazes in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

RATING: Cinquain

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt

Source: Media Masters Publicity
Hardcover, 14 pgs.
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The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt, which publishes in early September, is a great introductory book for elementary school kids to learn about tornadoes, storms, drought, and more. Earthquakes are not touched on, but the author does speak to the benefits of storms and the destruction they can cause. Moreover, the pop-up storms are larger than life and well executed. The book opens and closes easily without any snags.

Younger kids may need help pronouncing some of the terms, but the explanations are on the right level for kids to understand. Older elementary kids will grasp these concepts more easily as they begin to study Earth science in school. This would make a great addition to any teacher’s library to provide students with visual representations. The author does make the push for a move toward renewable energy and more sustainable agriculture, but it isn’t overly preachy.

The Weather Pop-Up Book by Maike Biederstaedt is definitely a good starter book for kids to learn about their environment, natural disasters, energy use, and agriculture. Weather can be something that seems not only destructive but also magical, if you understand it.

Rating: Quatrain