Monthly Archives: November 2021

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo

Brother Edik approached the goat’s stall warily, since Answelica had a very hard head and was not hesitant to use it on any of the monks’ backsides, but what he did not expect to find was a young girl curled up fast asleep, holding on to Answelica’s ear as if it were a lifeline.

Beatryce could only remember her name, not her parents nor where she lived, but she could easily read anything put in front of her, which was a crime. Girls were not allowed to read. As a matter of fact, Edik had not even known that it was possible for females to read, so he shaved her head, put her into the smallest monk’s robe he could find, and took her into the monastery of The Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing in order to protect her life, whatever that life might be.

Of course, Brother Edik knew what Beatryce did not: that there was a prophecy that read, “There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change.” The king and his counselor knew it, however, so Beatryce’s life was in danger, although no one knew why.

Every tale Kate DiCamillo spins turns to gold, and this one is no exception. Folded into this medieval story of a lost girl and a charmingly wicked goat are glimpses of glory, a good dose of feminism, nuggets of wisdom, and a stubborn hope for a brighter future. When it came time for Beatryce to prove that she could write, she slowly inscribed: “We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.” Indeed, we shall.

Don’t miss DiCamillo’s other works, especially The Tale of Despereaux, and those reviewed in this blog, Flora & Ulysses, Raymie Nightingale, Louisiana’s Way Home, and Beverly, Right Here.

A luminous tale for ages eight to eighty-eight. Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Kaleidoscope, by Brian Selznick

When we look at an object through a kaleidoscope, it is fractured and scattered around our field of vision, almost unrecognizable, yet glittering and beautiful. Afterward, when we see the whole object, it is a revelation.

What if we did the same thing with a story?

In a series of tales told out of time, Selznick gives readers a kaleidoscopic view of the first-person narrator’s relationship with James. Some are fairy tales, while others are stories of an ordinary boy’s life. And who is James? He could be a friend, or perhaps an imaginary friend. At other times, he seems to be the ghost of a departed friend or the King of the Moon. James and the main character sail a ship to the moon, explore a dark cave, break into an ancient castle, and live in a house in Kensington.

Each story begins with a two-page spread of a view through a kaleidoscope, followed by a one-page sketch of the normal appearance of the object. On a webinar about the book, Selznick discussed the depression he experienced in his isolation during the pandemic, and how he decided to experiment with a kaleidoscope he found. Each of Selznick’s books, beginning with The Invention of Hugo Cabret, has showcased his artistic talent in a different way, but I would say that this volume takes his storytelling to new heights. The prose is scintillating, and the dreamlike stories hint at deep mysteries bound by ties of a love stronger than death.

Not the usual fare for middle grades, but a jewel that will especially enjoyed by children who love fantastical fairy tales.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Clovis Keeps His Cool, by Katelyn Aronson

If anyone needs to keep a tight rein on his temper, it’s a literal bull in a china shop.

Clovis used to play linebacker for the Cloverdale Chargers and help his granny in her tea shop. Since Granny died, though, and left the shop to him, Clovis has traded tackling for polishing and practices a few moments of meditation each day in order to keep a peaceful heart. He repeats Granny’s saying: “Grace, grace, nothing broken to replace.” In spite of his best efforts, though, the bullies just won’t leave him alone.

Eve Farb illustrates this hilariously motivational picture book in cool blues and whites, with just a spot of red here and there, until the page where Clovis—spoiler alert—loses his cool. The cover sets the tone with this oversized head of livestock seated primly at his delicate table, pouring a cup of tea and fuming at the hecklers in the window. A few pages later, the painting of the hulking Clovis, seated on the floor with his eyes closed and his little hooves raised in the lotus position, is priceless. The amusement continues on with page after page of fragile china teetering perilously close to the roughhousing, clumsy animals, until… well, you can imagine the result.

Little ones with anger issues or those dealing with real bullies will discover coping strategies for maintaining control and defusing confrontations, but they will also learn about forgiveness, both for the aggressive meanies and for themselves when they fail to live up to their own expectations.

This beautiful picture book of a bull trying desperately to be good may be just right for an earnest little one of your acquaintance.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Fallout, by Steve Sheinkin

We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, but we do need to acknowledge that the planet is now covered with toothpaste.

After the bombs dropped at the end of World War II, the government encouraged scientists to create an even more destructive weapon using nuclear fusion, instead of fission. At first, they couldn’t figure out how to ignite the fusion bomb without obliterating the launch pad, but at last, of course, they got it. As we learned in Sheinkin’s earlier works, even deadly secrets don’t stay hidden for long, and so, the world moved rapidly from having zero nuclear weapons to a world where the two superpowers at the time— the United States and the Soviet Union— were armed to the teeth with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire planet many times over.

Transitioning from the Eisenhower administration through Kennedy’s presidency, Sheinkin details the confrontations between Nikita Khrushchev and the American leader, not in physical battles, but in the excruciating brinksmanship that dragged on over years in what is called the Cold War. He spends many pages explaining the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, not only in the overt actions by both sides, but also in each leader’s political posturing and private considerations, showing that Khrushchev thought of the new American president as young and weak, while Kennedy struggled against both physical pain and his own bellicose generals. If it had been left to General Curtis LeMay or Cuba’s new dictator, Fidel Castro, the Cold War would have been short and catastrophic. It is sickening to read of the many close calls that took place just within the few days of the Missile Crisis: prank phone calls, US pilots straying into Soviet airspace accidentally, and misinformation falling into the wrong hands. Complete destruction was just a breath away.

Sheinkin is the master of young adult historical nonfiction. His previous books have won multiple awards, and I’ve reviewed Bomb, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers, and Most Dangerous in this blog space. To be honest, the 342 pages of this book are just about right for most adults who want to be conversant on the topic without slogging through excessive, tedious detail. Sheinkin’s writing is more like a spy novel than a textbook, and readers will gain context for why the Berlin wall was such a big deal and how building rockets for exploring the universe turned into the Space Race. Even though I was a child for some of these events, I learned a lot! My brother and I spent hours discussing this book. Not only is he ten years older than I am, he is also a historian, so I knew he would be up on all of it. He told me that Barbara Powers, the wife of the downed pilot/spy Francis Gary Powers, had lived in our hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, while he was in a Soviet prison, and that our next-door neighbor, who owned the radio station where my brother worked, had interviewed her for national television. The federal government was openly encouraging citizens to dig bomb shelters in their backyards at the time, and he clearly remembered a few obvious ones in our town.

Fallout: Spies, Superbombs, and the Ultimate Cold War Showdown is a thrilling nonfiction read for anyone twelve or older. The toothpaste is most assuredly out of the tube, and the most chilling thing about this book is that the world is far more fractured now than it was then, and there are even more nuclear bombs in many more hands today.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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