Picture Book Monday: Catching up edition

Gingerbread for Liberty by Mara Rockliff and Vincent X. Kirsch: I loved the illustrations for this one, and it’s a nice example of age appropriate non-fiction. I did definitely get the sense that the story was simplified, but it was still a good one.

Finding Spring by Carin Berger: I love the gorgeous paper art, and I feel like I haven’t seen many new & fresh spring-themed books recently, so this one is a nice addition. It’s a sweet story too.

Sparky by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans: I love this one mostly for the completely dead-pan delivery of the increasingly silly story. I’m also fond of the art and the expressions–or non-expressions–on Sparky’s face.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson: I really appreciated this one, which tells the story of Josephine Baker in a creative & passionate way that’s also clearly researched and aware of the complexities of Baker’s life but which is geared towards a child audience. Christian Robinson’s dynamic paints are a perfect match for Powell’s rhythmic text.

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall: This is a neat book, especially for the historically minded child (and even for kids who are not, food is always interesting). I loved Blackall’s illustrations and the way the changing methods are shown. I did feel that the story skated over complexities once or twice (particularly in the choice to point out the use of organic cream), but overall this is a fun and engaging way to think about what changes and what stays the same.

Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn and Rosalind Beardshaw: I’ve been really liking McQuinn and Beardshaw’s picture books, which take everyday stories and activities but center them around a black family in a way that is sadly all too rare. These are great for including diversity in normal storytime themes.

One Plastic Bag: I liked this one primarily because it shows a locally-based grassroots movement, as opposed to a Western savior rushing in to fix the poor people who can’t help themselves. I really appreciated that. I also felt that the text showed why people wanted to use plastic bags in a non-judgmental way.

Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam: I first heard about this one via Betsy Bird’s review. I tend to like cut paper illustrations, and these are beautiful and fresh, with a three-dimensional element. I also liked the story, with its gentle morals and sense of wonder.

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A new feature, with a request for input

Long-time readers may remember that a few years ago, I did a week of in-depth posts looking at Martha Wells‘s books and that more recently I did a similar week of in-depth posts focused on Lois McMaster Bujold. I’ve been mulling over doing something similar as a regular feature. In short, I would be taking a deeper, closer look at some books and authors that I have already read and find rich and engaging. Here are a few authors I’ve thought of including:

  • Patricia McKillip
  • Robin McKinley
  • Frances Hardinge
  • Connie Willis
  • Diana Wynne Jones

Here’s where the input part comes in–are there books, or authors (or even topics) that you’d like to see me look at? Bear in mind that I’d prefer books and authors I already have some familiarity with (and even that have reviews here) so I can focus on taking a deeper look at the stories and patterns and themes. Let me know! I can’t promise anything, but I’d love to hear suggestions.

EDIT: To clarify, I’m definitely planning to look at all of the authors listed above! If you have suggestions for authors I haven’t listed please do also let me know.


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Reflections on Ravensbrück by Sarah Helm

ravensbruckI first encountered Ravensbruck at age 10, when I read The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom’s wartime memoir, for school. Although Corrie and her sister Betsie were not imprisoned in Ravensbrück for very long, the book made an instant and indelible impression on me; it’s partly or mostly responsible for the fact that I started to read everything I could about World War II.

A few years later, I read a biography of Mother Maria Skobtsova, the Russian Orthodox nun and French Resistance member who died in Ravensbrück in 1945. But after this, it really wasn’t until I read Elizabeth Wein’s wonderful Rose Under Fire that I heard about Ravensbrück again. It was the first time I discovered the story of the Polish Rabbits–the Lublin special transport who were experimented on in the camp–and it also gave me a sense that there were many more stories to be told.

And now Sarah Helm has written a monumental book that has done just that. She began researching Ravensbrück after writing an earlier book about Vera Atkins, the SOE officer who spent the rest of her life trying to uncover the final fate of the SOE women she trained and sent into action. Four of those women died at Ravensbrück. It might have been easy to keep the focus there, to primarily tell the story of the English and American prisoners. But Helm does not do this. Included in the book are the stories and words of Polish, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Dutch, English, French, and Jewish women–and those are just the ones I’m remembering off the top of my head. She begins at the construction of the camp and continues on to show the ripples of its effect on the survivors after the war.

And I found that Helm does a marvelous job of keep the story on a human scale. When we begin to talk about 150,000 women prisoners, about 30-60,000 women killed, about the conditions and the medical experiments, it might easily become abstract, a kind of numerical problem. But we follow the stories of a few women at a time through the different periods in the camp, seeing how the conditions and decisions affect them. I found this way of storytelling so powerful, so intensely compelling, that I ended up reading this book very quickly, considering the length and subject.

Helm manages to let the voices of the survivors and victims–as well as the guards and other more culpable characters–come through, and at the same time she contextualizes them. She doesn’t shy away from presenting the circumstances of the account, the biases and self defenses of the witnesses, the questions we may never have the answers to. She is able to give an overview, to synthesize the different accounts and information to paint a picture, without denying the complexities of the situation and of the people involved–so many of whom could be both kind and unimaginably cruel.

One of the things I found most interesting were the accounts of resistance and sabotage, which were far more prevalent than I had realized. The workers in the various factories, at great personal risk, sabotaged parts for planes and bombs. Those who worked to sew clothing for German soldiers “often worked together, agreeing to destroy the finest fur by cutting it into tiny pieces, which they called poppy seed or macaroni…Others worked in groups of up to twelve, taking advice from veterans like Halina Choraznya, the Warsaw chemistry professor, who calculated how to give the anoraks special treatment by piercing the fur in such a way that it would fall apart.” Yet Helm also shows that with those acts of courage came a great price, and that this price was often demanded of others.

And yet, there were people like Halina Choraznya, who is described as “like a little mouse. Sitting there. A very strong little mouse. She organised everything,” who did act with great courage and resolve. And of course there is the amazing story of hiding the Rabbits, which appears in Rose Under Fire, and which is true. It really happened. The lights in the Appellplatz went out. We think of the people in the concentration camps as victims. But Helm (and others) show a much more complicated reality. In one sense, they were certainly victims of Nazi atrocities. But many of them also fought–in the camps, in ways small and large.

One of the major themes in Rose Under Fire is the phrase “tell the world”. It’s the motive Rose uses to keep going, and the burden she carries afterwards. What I did not realize is that, like the lights going out and the hidden Rabbits, it too is true. It occurs over and over again in the narratives of the survivors and witnesses, that same mixture of defiance and hope and responsibility. For instance: “A Norwegian prisoner told her rabbit friend that she would insist on being executed in her place. ‘You should be the one to tell the world about the crimes committed against you.'” And a prisoner who was briefly released “believed she had witnessed a monstrous crime in the making, and that she had been released by God to tell the world.” A quick Google Books search of the text turned up seventeen separate uses of the phrase, some in original testimony and some paraphrased.

It is perhaps the tragedy of Ravensbrück that the stories of the women who lived and fought and died and survived have been so forgotten, despite all their efforts. I hope that this amazing and heartbreaking book is another strike against that silence, another way to tell the world.


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Links from around the web: 5-13-15

N.K. Jemisin’s look at the reception two of her characters have received is fascinating, and somewhat depressing.

Brains…are weird…Also, this reminded me a little of Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale, for spoilery reasons. (via Natalie Luhrs)

As previously discussed, I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, and Kelly has a great post about how she uses hers. I love reading about different adaptations and processes.

Also from Kelly, this Book Riot post about the problems with touting free ebooks as a solution to literacy challenges is 100% on point. “While this initiative saves the publisher on the cost of printing and distributing a physical book, it in no way allows poorer kids — those who are most in need and most likely to benefit from this kind of access — access to them.”

The adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has a trailer! I’m kind of excited about it, also I think this was a really nice trailer from the point of view of trailer as art form. I would have liked to have seen more of Stephen Black, but overall, yay!

Shannon Hale is awesome. “Notice the girls did not boo Thomas or Justice League or cars. Many cheered those things too. But the boys booed Barbe and EAH in unison, loudly, as if it was only natural, expected.” Related, this quote–I haven’t read the entire post yet

Joy Lofthouse, 92 year old former ATA pilot, flies a Spitfire again. I cried. (via Elizabeth Wein)

The Tolkien fan in me loved this NYT correction.

I call shenanigans. Oh, wait, DOUBLE SHENANIGANS.

Fanart: gorgeous cover for The Hobbit; cover for Chime, which I like better than the actual covers; Gen & Irene in typical poses; also, look! one of my favorite scenes

And finally, a fox reading buddy = THE CUTEST.


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Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I really want to meet

This is a post for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. You can find out more and follow along there!

Honestly, this list could just be Megan Whalen Turner’s name 10 times. HOWEVER.

Authors I have not met and would like to

1. Megan Whalen Turner

2. R.J. Anderson

3. Erin Bow

4. Katherine Addison/Sarah Monette

5. Anne Ursu

Authors I have met and would happily meet again

6. Elizabeth Wein

7. Sarah Rees Brennan

Authors I can only dream of meeting, but oh, the dream is strong*

8. Elizabeth Marie Pope

9. Dorothy Sayers

10. Jane Austen

* ie, if you give me a TARDIS, these are the people I’m going to see.


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A good reading week

I somehow don’t seem to have any time for blogging at the moment, but I’ve been zipping through some great books so far this week and I wanted to at least mention them.

gone crazy in alabamasimon born confused ms. marvel

1. Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why. KAMALA KHAN! She’s the bestest. And I continue to love the balance of normal teenagerdom with superhero fights with Kamala’s family & culture–all in a way that feels realistic and organic. Plus some really smart stuff about people in their teens & early twenties and the messages they internalize. I can’t wait for the third volume.

2. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier I loved Dimple and Hidier is an amazing writer. The imagery and language is so beautiful. The characters are really strong too–I loved the way Dimple & Gwyn’s friendship changes throughout the book, and the fact that Dimple’s relationship with her family & Gwyn is almost as important if not just as important as the romance. Really smart stuff about gender and cultural identity and art and growing up.

3. Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia Look, I just loved this trilogy. I’m sad it’s over, even while I know it’s a great place to leave Delphine and Vonetta and Fern. I loved how this delved into the Gaither family history, and how it echoes and ripples down into Delphine & her sisters’ lives. I’m looking forward to reading whatever Williams-Garcia writes next.

4. Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli Super sweet book, about a not-really-out gay boy who gets blackmailed (that doesn’t make it sound cute, but it is!). I loved how even though it’s told in first person and we’re definitely in Simon’s head, we also get a little glimpse into the other characters, so that it never feels like Simon’s view is The Only Right Way. Smart, thoughtful, funny romantic comedy.


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May releases I’m excited about

May releases! Not quite as many as in some recent months, but definitely a few I’m looking forward to reading.

princess x bayou magic fill in boyfriend

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West
Illusionarium by Heather Dixon
The Girl in the Torch by Robert Sharenow
Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

illusionarium girl in the torchnimona

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