Monday, October 26, 2020

I Read What I Want

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
Yay, I voted! Well, I dropped off my ballot in the voting bin, although it hasn't been recorded yet. 

I met up with my friend for a walk, and with my faithful family for our weekly zoom. I cooked one night, making sad comfort food because a dear friend seems to be in the final battle with cancer, and one that she doesn't have much hope of winning. And I can't visit her because of COVID.  So I made sausage pasta with tomato-cream sauce and spinach, and put on extra parmesan cheese. My stomach felt better for it.

Let me not discuss my exercise regime. The less said, the more it echos the amount of exercise itself. 

I had my second elementary school book club. Online, again. This one was for for the 4rth and 5th grades, and these kids have more to say so I'm still learning how to juggle Zooming protocols to encourage engagement but hear what everyone has to say. Turnout was fairly small which helped with that.

Saturday was the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon, which I used to polish off a few Cybils books and to clear out a few of the extra books on my currently reading pile. I set a goal of reading a bit during every hour, but letting myself nap when I wanted. It was very helpful in getting me to focus a bit on a single book for long enough to make progress.


I'm working on my Cybils reading, although sometimes I have more tolerance for poking around on the database and seeing what my library has, juggling my holds to see if I can get books at the right speed so I finish them before they have to go back but not so slowly that I run out of reading. My balance isn't very good yet, so that last thing doesn't have much chance of being a worry.

I pulled out reviews of the Cybils books to a separate blog, which I then forgot to post on Sunday. So I'm going to try to get that done, so anyone coming late to this page (which is itself going up late) will have links to that page.

My currently reading continues at normal for me 20, which is the size of my goodreads page so it makes me feel in control. I still have about six extra books than I'd prefer, but I hope to finish them up soon. I'm using soon in the geologic sense here.

The Book Date does a weekly roundup of what people are reading, want to read, or have read each week called "It's Monday! What Are You Reading" so I'll sign up there. Ditto for the children's lit version at either Teach Mentor Texts or Unleashing Readers. I will be eligible there for the next few months for sure!

Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use ItWe Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the KindertransportThe Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & TruthTracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem
Return of the Thief (The Queen's Thief, #6)Kiss Number 8How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity's Greatest AdventureHer Naughty Holiday (Men at Work, #2)

Youth To Power, Jamie Margolin. Cybils nominee

We Had To Be Brave, Deborah Hopkinson. Cybils nominee.

The Talk, ed. Wade Hudson. Cybils nominee.

Tracking Pythons, Kate Messner. Cybils nominee.

Return of the Thief, Megan Whalen Turner. FINALLY!

Kiss Number 8, Colleen A.F. Venerable. Cybils finalist.

How We Got To the Moon, John Rocco. Cybils nominee.

Her Naughty Holiday, Tiffany Reicz. From a library mystery bag.


Flunked (Fairy Tale Reform School, #1)Skylark and WallcreeperTrashFlowers in the Gutter
Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use ItThey Called Us EnemyWe Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport
By Immortal Honor BoundTracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an EcosystemThe Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth
Tender MorselsDon't Call Us DeadHer Naughty Holiday (Men at Work, #2)How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity's Greatest Adventure

Flunked, Jen Calonita. Talbot Hill 4th-5th grade book club pick. Small turnout but that meant we could let the kids talk in Zoom without raising their "hands". The kids approved of the book, and I asked them how it rated as a fairy tale retelling and as a boarding school book. I like to start with concrete questions and then move into more squishy ones. Eventually I revealed (the librarian pulled it out of me) that while I thought the book was locally good it had problems as a whole -- each chapter was exciting and interesting but it tended to forget everything that happened in other chapters. At the beginning Gilly was desperate because her family was literally starving -- she brought in almost all the food, and she was furious with her father because he was more concerned with her petty shoplifting (mostly of food) than with the family's economic state. At the end she is warmed by his praise of her "mature" decision to stay at the boarding school to protect the royal family instead of coming home. I mean, maybe the royals would remember their promise to throw him some business instead of stealing all his profits, but nothing makes me or Gilly expect that to last more than a day. I think the kids were amused when I told them I was rooting for a democratic revolution. I tried to control my rant and get the kids to find any differences between Gilly's motives at the start and the end and if that showed character growth or authorial carelessness. We also discussed plans for all hungry kids in the kingdom to misbehave so they'd be sent to the luxurious reform school, and how they would help the babies commit crimes safely but ensuring they'd be caught. 

Skylark and Wallcreeper, Anne O'Brien Carelli. 2018 Cybils middle grade fiction finalist. Like Flunked, I liked the pieces of this one better than the whole. In this case I didn't think the two strands worked well together. We follow Wallcreeper (not Wallpaper as I've apparently been typing, oops) as she and her friend sabotage Nazi plans in WWII France, which is exciting and dangerous and produces the scars that her granddaughter Lily can recognize as she uncovers the secret adventures her grandmother never shared with her family. But actually Lily's life is more interesting in itself than as a vehicle for detective work; the present strand is set during the evacuation of her grandmother's entire nursing home to a shelter during Hurricane Sandy's flooding of New York. There's a lot of fascinating stuff about how the nurses help keep their often confused elderly charges safe and fed while hoping their building can be made safe and habitable again; Lily gets to be a responsible and vital member of this team. We hear that Lily's mom is a bit overprotective, but she's apparently OK with Lily spending a week or so in the homeless shelter. Lily uses the utter lack of supervision (she's treated as a junior staff member and sent on errands to buy food, etc.) to sneak across boroughs in an attempt to replace her grandmother's favorite pen before having to admit she lost it. So I spent the entire triumphant uniting of the two strands (Lily finds Skylark!) marveling at how apparently she has been so overprotected by her paranoid mom that she doesn't differentiate between sneaking out past her understood boundaries to go to antique pen stores and using the nurses' food money to buy a train ticket out of the city to visit a complete stranger. I was not impressed with Lily's judgment or her mom's parenting skills. It's nice that Lily made some friends and took some cute selfies with girls on the train ride home, but as I read that I kept thinking that this valuable page space could have gone to the flashback story where Wallcreeper was blowing up Nazi transports. I know which made the more gripping story. I would have enjoyed either an all-WWII book or a book about the New York floods, but combining them made the latter seem less important and diminished Lily's character. I mean, it was nice to find her grandmother's long lost friends, but there was no reason for the urgency.

Trash, Andy Mulligan. Three kids outwit adults, including the corrupt government of their country, and find happiness. I liked how the kids shared the story between them, and I accepted the occasional insertion of outside viewpoints although now I'm a bit vague on how this frame was supposedly put together. It's a fun story of adventure and resourcefulness and independence. 

Flowers In the Gutter, K.R. Gaddy. 2020 Cybils nominee.

Youth To Power, Jamie Margolin. 2020 Cybils nominee.

They Called Us Enemy, George Takei. 2019 Cybils graphic book finalist. I really liked this memoir. The illustrations of young George and his brother Henry were absolutely charming as they innocently explored the fun camps their parents moved them to, even as older George now understands the fear and suffering his parents felt as the US government forced them from camp to camp. I also liked the exploration of the principles behind his parents' decision to be "no/no" people -- to refuse the mockery of pledging loyalty to a government that was holding them captive. I'd only seen that in terms of the angry young men who didn't go on to become heroic soldiers, not as a calmer principled stance. And then the added government torture of choosing between renouncing American citizenship or being thrown to an angry mob was another bit of history I hadn't known about. And finally there's the fun of seeing where famous Star Trek people came from, which is a shallower pleasure but one that warms me nonetheless.

We Had To Be Brave, Deborah Hopkinson. Cybils nominee.

By Immortal Honor Bound, Danielle Ancona.  I am reviewing this for a friend of a friend, after receiving a free ecopy. Sadly, I am not the target audience. The language of this paranormal fantasy was awkwardly stilted, as if the author had made a bet she could use all the words in an "SAT power words" list, even the ones whose meanings she was a bit hazy about. So instead of giving an air of ancient mystery to her story of a timeless war between good and evil, dating back into antiquity and gathering up strands of arcane knowledge from many cultures (it's cool!), it had the feel of dressing up for Halloween or a party. The pacing was odd, with the love story that broke the universe open with its intensity showing up after our hero enjoyed sexytimes with a bunch of cute women. There were some good worldbuilding concepts but they needed to bake a bit more before production. And the initial death of the heroine showed her entirely passively going to her doom, without even attempting to use any of the powers she had learned in a tediously sesquipedalian early chapter. It felt like her death was mostly there to drive the plot and make the hero sad. Her tutor's affection seemed more creepy than devoted, and their battle for women's education poorly executed. But it's an entire story, and has a lot of cool details about the different historical periods it studies (and a bibliography so the reader has confidence in these details). It's definitely a beach read, but I can see enjoying it while overlooking ancient ruins that echo the battles in the text.

Tracking Pythons, Kate Messner. 2020 Cybils nominee.

The Talk, ed. Wade Hudson. 2020 Cybils nominee.

Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan. This was much grimmer than I expected when I started. A casual look at the cover made me expect happy fantasy animals, but a closer look would have warned me that nobody is happy. There's a lot of rape and assault, and the kindness of one man doesn't seem to balance it out. I couldn't muster up indignation for the lost years spent trapped in a construct world, bland but without the constant cruelty of the real one. It was well written, it's definitely the kind of fairy tale where the wolf eats the first two little pigs, not the kind where they escape to the safety of the brick house. And the third pig isn't going to scare away the wolf; there's wolf stew on the menu tonight! These aren't spoilers -- the book is based on Snow White and Rose Red, but it doesn't shy away from the innate brutality of humanity.

Don't Call Us Dead, Danez Smith. I read this book of poetry a little while ago with my Torches and Pitchforks book club and then requested the audio version from the library, and it just arrived. It was interesting to hear them as spoken word verse, read by the author. His passion comes through in the reading -- when I tell you I slowed down the listening speed to 1.0 I hope you understand what a complement I'm paying to the performance. An angry, valiant book.

Her Naughty Holiday, Tiffany Reicz. From a library mystery bag. When I couldn't talk the local librarians into accommodating my Library Quest to read a book from each shelf I contented myself with getting some mystery bags and reading one from that. This is from the Romance Bag that I got at the end of the summer. I picked it from the others because it takes place in Oregon, and then I was delighted. It's a modern romance that just has fun with the genre, and instead of forcing the characters to have dumb fights with each other it lets them have a hilarious fight at Thanksgiving Dinner with her mean relatives.  A perfect post-readathon pick that I gobbled up in an evening. Silly enough not to feel like it's supposed to be taken seriously, but real enough that I don't feel silly reading it.

How We Got To the Moon, John Rocco. 2020 Cybils nominee.

Bookmarks Moved (Or Languished) In:

Uncompromising Honor (Honor Harrington, #14)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Black Leopard, Red Wolf
A Long Time Until NowChildren of Time (Children of Time #1)The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein
The LuminariesSomeplace to Be Flying (Newford, #8)The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch, #1)The Bourne Supremacy (Jason Bourne, #2)

Uncompromising Honor 36/??, David Weber. Baen Free Radio Hour's serial. It's cool that they are doing this both as a podcast and a video, but they were in different subscriptions because my phone keeps downloading the video as well and then I get confused on which week I'm on.

Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling. I'm listening to celebrities read this to me

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Marlon James. Sword and Laser pick. Team building.

A Long Time Until Now, Michael Z Williamson. I'm rolling along and enjoying them learning to live in the new old time, and then the guys will say something that reminds me that apparently men soldiers don't think women are their peers. Or really people. If the women bristle at this it shows how dumb and feminist they are.

Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky. Humans and spiders may meet again.

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein, Farah Mendelson. Hugo finalist. Examining the short story types.

The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton. The mystery of the whore who almost died is getting linked up with the mystery of the guy who did, but many miles away.

Someplace To Be Flying, Charles de Lint. Katy and Kerry may manage to meet again someday!

The Bone Witch, Rin Chupeco. I'm enjoying her education. 

The Bourne Supremacy, Robert Ludlum. Grim men being grim at each other. 

Picture Books / Short Stories:
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 1114 Cows for AmericaMermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!
FaithLittle Lost BatThe Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11, Brian Flocco. 2009 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist. I'm always here for a space book, and this one is a great combination of narrative excitement and factual basis, which a flavor of we're-all-scientists-together-here curiosity.  

14 Cows For America, Carmen Agra Deedy & Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah. 2009 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist. True story of Naiyomah going home from college to his Kenyan village with the story of the 9/11 attack, and his community responding with a gift to America to help. But I was left confused as to what happened to the cows -- are they still in the village but with ribbons on? I'm glad that all humanity has compassion for each other but I'm interested in the details.

Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!,  Shana Corey. 2009 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist. The title says it all, but the book does it with bright and cheerful illustrations and a good balance of text to page art.

Faith, Maya Ajmera, Cynthia Pon, Magda Nakassis. 2009 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist. I fell in love with the photographs of children from all over the living, celebrating, and sharing their religion. The text was sparse and I barely noticed it because the clear photos of the children riveted my attention. I guess I did register the lack of specificity of some of the Indigenous practices, which were sometimes just labeled as such instead of noting the nation or group of the individuals. 

Little Lost Bat, Sandra Markle. 2006 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist. The books tells a story that could explain a known but confusing fact: about 10% of mom/baby bat pairs in southwestern caves are not genetically related. In admirably matter of fact but compassionate pages Markle shows how bats care for the young, how some babies are lost, and how some moms don't return to the cave, and what might be a way for an orphan and a bereaved mom to come together. The back matter explains the hypothesis. 

The Day-Glo Brothers, Chris Barton. 2009 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist. Biography of two brothers who invented both a method for making glow-in-the-dark neon colors but also founded the company that provided these both to fashionistas and to military and emergency responders who found them live-saving. It then steps back to look at how childhood dreams can morph in ways that seem completely different yet hold true to the passions behind the specific ambition.

Palate Cleansers

These books I'm barely reading; I use them as palate cleansers between books I'm actually reading.

The Educated Child: A Parents Guide from Preschool Through Eighth GradeGive All to Love (Sanguinet Saga, #11)Wool (Wool, #1)
Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1)Reading and Learning to Read

The Educated Child, William Bennett. 

Give All to Love, Patricia Veryan. 

Wool, Hugh Howey. Shenanigans in the new dome and the old.

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho. 

Reading and Learning to Read, Jo Anne Vaca. Other kind of diversity and teacher responses to it.

Reading Challenges
  1. Cybils 2017. None. I just need 3 YA books to be done. But YA is hard. 
  2. Cybils 2018. Finished Skylark and Wallcreeper.
  3. Cybils 2019. Finished They Called Us Enemy. Started Kiss Number 8.
  4. Early Cybils: More picture books, and a few poetry ones arrived from the library and went on the queue.
  5. Reading My Library. Read the romance. Now the action adventure is up. 
  6. Ten to Try. At 9/10. I'm working on the last one. 
  7. Where Am I Reading: 27/51 states. 26 Countries. Added Germany.
  8. Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge.  I'm done.


I'm putting this at the end because I suspect it's complete fiction, but I feel I should attempt some structure.

I am reading: 
  • Book I own: Return of the Thief. Next: No idea.
  • Library Book: Wolf Rebel. Next: Sister book.
  • Ebook I own: None. Up Next: One Man
  • Library Ebook: I need to finish either Bourne Supremacy or Luminaries.
  • Book Club Book: None. Up Next: Maybe Finder?
  • Tuesday Book Club Book: Somewhere to Be Flying. Next: The Wine Dark Sea.
  • Review Book: Up Next: Picture books.
  • Hugo Book: The Pleasant Profession of Robert A Heinlein. Next: Joanna Russ.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Cybils Reading For This Week

I'm a Round 1 Nonfiction judge so I'm reading as many of the nominated books in my triple category as I can. There's the picture books, the middle grade books, and the high school books, all clamoring for my attention. Because I'm an idiot, I also have a bunch of other books to read as well. So I'm separating my reading piles so I can make sure I'm concentrating where I want to.

Hmm, now that I think about it, I should post these on Sunday and the other ones on Monday. I will fake that when I post this, as I didn't think of this until after yesterday's post.

High School Nonfiction

Flowers in the GutterYouth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It

Flowers In the Gutter, K.R. Gaddy. WWII history of lesser known teen resistors in Germany. These were loosely organized working class kids, mostly of socialist backgrounds, who hung out in clubs of teens opposed to the Hitler Youth. They'd go on hikes, sings songs on the guitar, and also put up pamphlets and graffiti against the ruling Nazis. Some managed to go as far as obtaining guns and dreaming of resistance. It was hard for them because their opposition to the Hitler Youth made it hard to get jobs or ration cards, and the Gestapo were prone to rounding them up for beatings. 

Most of it reads like other descriptions of German resistance -- I think the Cybils had on the White Rose group a few years back. Nazis come to power, people are afraid, family members are sent to camps, but kids try to hit back, some are caught are tortured, etc. Gaddy confirms the memories of the three main characters with Nazi records, and points out that most discrepancies are to be expected, since most people don't track time well while in prison, especially with brutal conditions. The end chapters had some interesting notes on why these kids in the Edelweiss groups aren't that well known; the Nazi's recorded most of their misdeeds as crimes, and when the Allies overthrew the government they weren't always sympathetic to the Socialist kids. Did they steal from a Nazi train because they were hungry, or as a protest against brutal politics? If they were arrested while painting over Nazi propaganda, should they serve their sentence for vandalism? With the tensions between the Soviets and the West growing, no one wanted to hear about these kids from working class, sometimes Communist neighborhoods. They were encouraged to keep quiet about the wartime experiences, and only know are some of them coming forward to tell their stories. That part was fascinating to me, but I'm not sure it would mean as much to kids learning about Germany for the first time know. Everything is new to them.

Youth To Power, Jamie Margolin. Margolin is a youth activist who uses her own experience -- successes and failures, to urge and advise other teens looking to start making a difference. She roams from finding your passion to determining your skill set -- both what you know how to do now and what kind of things you'd be comfortable doing after training, and goes over various types of activism. She also looks at balance your work with your life -- school work, friendships, family, etc. It's a cheerful and encouraging book.

Middle Grade Nonfiction

We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the KindertransportTracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an EcosystemThe Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & TruthHow We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity's Greatest Adventure

We Had To Be Brave, Deborah Hopkinson. The history of the Kindertransport, when unaccompanied Jewish children were permitted into Great Britain as refugees, when it was almost impossible for Jewish families to emigrate legally no matter how desperate they were. It's really a wide history of the growth of Nazism, but focuses on three children who ended up on the Kindertransport. There's room to talk about what happened to other kids; other kids who made it out, who escape in different ways, and who didn't make it out in time and were mostly murdered by the Nazis. I like terminology -- nothing passive about it, not "was killed in a camp." A good solid book but this is well worked territory. The back matter and some call out boxes in the text point to online resources where original footage or other primary resources are available, which is neat. And there's a strong bibliography and notes, as well as a explanation of how the primary children were found and researched.

Tracking Pythons, Kate Messner. When Mary Roach wants to write a book, you can see her glee over having an excuse to talk to these people and ask all the questions. That is clearly what is at work here -- Kate Messner found out about the python problem in Florida and became insatiably curious and got to right a book about it and to run along with super cool python scientists in their planes and snake trucks and snake hikes.There's good science here -- Messner asks good questions and explains the answer well, covering the general problem of invasive species and the particulars of Burmese pythons as an example, explaining the limitations of the efforts and what mitigation might look like, but really you can tell she's totally there for the giant pictures of 15 foot pythons in the swamp. Did you see the one that swallowed a fawn bigger than she was? Wow! Backmatter has good resources in several directions, a strong bibliography, index and glossary, and an author's note. It's a good book and you feel smart and educated while reading about GIANT SNAKES LOOSE IN AMERICA.

The Talk, ed. Wade Hudson. Cybils nominee. The talk is the colloquial term for what parents of non-white kids tell their kids to keep them safe in a majority white country. Don't talk too loud. Keep your hands on the wheel when police pull you over. In a variety of essays different authors work with artists to warn the reader, who may be their son or granddaughter or any cherished family member, that despite their value and the beauty there will be people who only see color. That they live in a racist society and this is what that means. There are simple essays and heartbreaking ones and even some funny stories. It's a powerful read and I think it will be very popular with well-meaning teachers and I hope it works for kids as well.

How We Got To the Moon, John Rocco. Cybils nominee. OK, it's a space book. I'm on board already. But Rocco has a neat hook. He approaches the history from an engineer's perspective -- what were the requirements? How were they approached? What were the problems and how were they solved? He frames the process in ways the demonstrate how to be an engineer as well as discuss what these engineers did. There are fun pull out boxes that give quick biographies of key people, and despite the conventional pictures showing pages of white men, he finds a good variety of people who contributed, including the packers and the parachute makers. A good addition to the space book field, may it always grow!

Elementary Nonfiction

Elizabeth Warren's Big, Bold PlansSolar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World's Biggest Solar PlantAll of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City BombingDigging For Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He BuiltWildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals that Made HistoryRailway Jack: The True Story of an Amazing BaboonWilliam Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground RailroadHow to Find a Bird

Elizabeth's Warren's Big Bold Plans, Laurie Ann Thompson. Biography of a woman who is not the Democratic nominee, showing her life from studious high schooler to wife and college dropout to mom, teacher and lawyer. And then politician. Well done but not quite as immediate as it might've been.

Solar Story: How One Community Lives Alongside the World's Biggest Solar Plant, Allan Drummond. Told through the frame of a child in the school of the community writing a school report and going on a field trip, this book shows both the social and economic effects this plant had on the local communities and the basics of how the solar energy is gathered, which involves a lot more ray-guns than I had supposed. Optimistic and interesting.

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing, Chris Barton. A history of the Oklahoma bombing but with an emphasis on how trauma works, who can be affected by it, and the various paths to healing survivors can take. The illustrations are carefully chosen to match the emotional tone of the pages. It's a different take on the telling of a historic tragedy and an effective one. I think the reach might have exceeded the success but I'm glad the writer and illustrator tried.

Digging For Words: Jose Alberto Gutierrez and the Library He Built, Angela Burke Kunkel. The biography of a poor man who made a library for the children around him, because of his boyhood love of reading. According to the pictures he found his first book while working as a garbage man. It's a good story of someone sharing his passion to improve the world for the community. I like how English and Spanish are mixed on the page and the pictures feel like Bogata.

WildLives: 50 Extraordinary Animals That Made History, Ben Lerwill. Short essays about nifty animals from the past few few hundred years to the present, with illustrations and photographs. It's fun to look at and would be a good introduction to reading a book over several sessions. The groupings are rather broad; I think the main theme is really just cool animals -- talking parrots, loyal dogs, military bears, big elephants. 

Railway Jack, K.T. Johnston. Interesting story about an early service animal -- a baboon who helped a double amputee do his job as a signalman in 1800's South African. It's a fun story about an amazing animal -- he would have qualified for a note in WildLives. The end of the book has an essay about the eventual fate of Jack (died of tuberculosis) and the man (went back to England), a bibliography showing the original documents from which the story was drawn, and resources to learn more about service animals and baboons. I can see enjoying reading this to or with kids.

But I was uncomfortable with the complete lack of Black people in a book set in South Africa, especially one about a man buying a companion to do his work for him. I can see the baboon characterizations going badly in some situations. It's hard, because this is a true story and the writing isn't problematic, but I was left uneasy.

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad, Don Tate. As Tate states in the afterward, most of the written stories of the Underground Railroad were made by white people, who automatically tended to write about themselves and the people they knew, leaving many of the Black heroes unnamed. This book names one of them, telling of his family, childhood, and career working at a Freedom Organization, being chronically underpaid and under-respected, but starting a database of all the escapees who came through their Aide group, listing everyone's name and description in the hopes of reuniting families who were separated either before or after their escape attempts. 

Feed Your Mind: The Story of August Wilson. Jen Bryant. It is embarrassing how long it took me to remember who August Wilson is, especially since I just read Fences a few months ago. I think it hit me like an anvil when he was buying his typewriter with the money from writing his sister's term paper. Anyway, other people were probably appreciating the carefully written passages and the illustrations the show his love of words and people, and his anger at the educators that put themselves between him and literature rather than working to help share them. The libraries were he taught himself how words could be used are depicted stunningly. The timeline at the end gives a good sense of his work.

Kamala Harris: Rooted In Justice, Nikki Grimes. I enjoyed this biography of Harris and actually learned a lot of details from it, but I found the framing story more of a distraction than a help. The little girl mad at the boy who laughed at her for wanting to be president chimes in every few pages as her mom tells her about a woman who ran for president. Her questions are either obviously a boost for the reader "what is justice?" or silly "Is she like Wonder Woman." I preferred to just read about Harris. And of course, the book is overtaken by history already -- although they managed to fit in Harris's decision to end her campaign, printing happened before she became a vice presidential candidate. And maybe history will overtake her again in early November.  

How to Find a Bird, Jennifer Ward. This is an introduction to bird watching, exhorting the reader to do more than look up -- birds are on the ground, in the water, in the feeders, and yes, in the sky. The pictures of the children and birds are appealing, and I liked how each bird was identified. I didn't feel I learned much about how to be a bird watcher though; I guess I should set out some feeders. But maybe some mention of how different birds are in different parts of the world? The back matter has more tips and suggestions on setting up a life list.