Sunday, May 15, 2016

Book Review: 'Look Me In the Eye' by John Elder Robison

✰✰✰✰ Imagine not being able to make a connection with other people even though you long to. As a young child, author John Elder Robison often played alone even though he wanted to play with other children. Robison’s peculiar behavior caused him to be viewed as an odd misfit or even worse as a social deviant. Things that came so easily to others, like smiling and conversation, were a challenge for Robison.

Misunderstood at school, Robison eventually dropped out. Luckily, he fell in with a group of musicians where his talents with electronics, sound, and special effects were appreciated, and his quirks were overlooked. While the clues to his odd behavior were always there, he went undiagnosed for four decades. Finally receiving his diagnosis of Asperger's explained a lot.

Through engaging stories that include putting his little brother in a five-foot deep hole to traveling with the rock group KISS to raising a child, Robison educates the reader about the autism spectrum.

The Bottom Line: When this book was first published there was very little out there in regards to first person accounts of what it is like to live with autism. Robison’s book brings the autism spectrum into the spotlight and educates readers about the often misunderstood disorder. Robison is a very high functioning Aspergian, who can describe what he has experienced.

While his writing style is a bit robotic and there is some repetition, this book illustrates how the author can understand and relate to machines so well. The author reminds everyone that there are some disabilities you can’t see. Highly recommended reading for schools discussing bullying and accepting differences. This is an interesting look into Asperger’s Syndrome from the point of view of someone who had an awareness of what it's like to be different.

Book Club Notes: On a scale from 1 being the lowest to 5 being the highest, the group rating averaged about 3.25 stars with a range from 2 to 4.5 stars. While this discussion was very well attended, half the group really enjoyed the book and the other half did not. Everyone was eager to share their thoughts on this book. Some participants simply did not like the author, while others did not like the pranks he pulled. A few were concerned about the language and, thus, would not recommend it to others. One person felt that Robison’s story did not represent autism in general. That being said, we did agree that the author was brave and honest in the telling of his story. Also, we agreed that this book opened a dialogue about what it means to be different. Many of us will be checking out his other books and titles by his younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, as well.

For those concerned about coarse language, check out the paperback edition; the language has been cleaned up for younger readers. Even though there was a wide range of ratings, book clubs looking to discuss bullying, family dynamics, education, and autism will want to check this out. While it is true some of us had to agree to disagree, everyone had something to say about this book. Plus, best of all, we all learned something, which is one of the reasons we enjoy discussing nonfiction.

Check out the reading guide at LitLovers.

Details: Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison. Paperback published by Broadway Books in 2008. 302 p. ISBN: 978-0-307-39618-1

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book Review: 'Over-Scheduled Andrew' written & illustrated by Ashley Spires

✰✰✰✰ Andrew is a very busy little chickadee. He joined the drama club because he loves putting on plays. In order to do better at play rehearsals, Andrew also signs up for debate club, ballet lessons, and karate class. There are so many interesting things to do; Andrew signs up for everything.

Soon Andrew has little time to eat, sleep, or play with his best friend, Edie. When an exhausted Andrew misses out on one of his favorite activities, he must make a choice. How will Andrew turn his life around from over-scheduled to just right? Read the book and find out what Andrew decides to do.

The Bottom Line: School kids today lead very hectic lives. There are so many activities and clubs to join. It's difficult to pick just a few. Kids in grades K – 3 will identify with Andrew's dilemma. This story focuses on the importance of friendship and taking time to unwind. The digitally rendered artwork is crisp and colorful. Great for classroom story hour.

Details: Over-Scheduled Andrew written & illustrated by Ashley Spires. Hardcover picture book published by Tundra Books in 2016. 32 p. ISBN: 9781-77049-484-8 NOTE: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Review: 'The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah' by Leslie Kimmelman

✰✰✰✰½ The little red hen is no stranger to work, but why should she do everything herself when she has friends to help her? Passover will be here all too soon, and preparing for it is a lot of work. The little red hen is not worried; she has many friends. Always one step ahead of everyone else, the little red hen begins preparing for the holiday by planting grain. Who will help her? "Not I," said the Sheep, the Horse, and the Dog. The little red hen soon learns that it is up to her alone to plant, harvest, and carry the wheat to the mill.

As the months go by the little red hen becomes more and more disappointed in her lazy friends. She even has to bake the matzah all by herself. Just when it is time to sit down for the delicious Seder meal, who should show up at her door, but her lazy friends. What is a good hen to do? Turn them out or invite them in? Learn about the real meaning of the celebration in this charming picture book.

The Bottom Line: This little book blends the classic tale of the little red hen with aspects from the Jewish holiday of Passover. Meisel uses simple, colorful artwork in watercolor, pastel, and ink to illustrate this clever story with a twist at the end. The large print is helpful for new readers. This picture book also includes information about the Jewish holiday of Passover, a recipe to make Matzah, and a brief glossary of Yiddish words used in the story. This is perfect for classroom storytime as an introduction to the holiday.

Details: The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah written by Leslie Kimmelman & illustrated by Paul Meisel. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 2010. 28 p. ISBN: 978-0-8234-1952-4

Friday, April 1, 2016

Book Review: 'April Fool, Phyllis!' by Susanna Leonard Hill

✰✰✰✰½ Punxsutawney Phyllis knows everything there is to know about the weather. When she wakes up on April Fools' Day, she notices that something is just not right. Spring should be in the air, but there's a blizzard coming instead. Unfortunately, no one listens to her. After all it's April Fools' Day, and everyone thinks she's joking. Or is she?

To the dismay of Phyllis, the other groundhogs proceed with the Spring Treasure Hunt as plannedAs they begin to solve the riddles, the snowflakes begin to fall. Just when they reach the end of the clues, they must find another answer. With the raging blizzard making it impossible to see, how will the little groundhogs ever find their way home? It's up to Phyllis to find the way back as well as the answer to all the riddles. Phyllis also gets the very last laugh...April Fool!

The Bottom Line: Kids will love this amusing story of a clever groundhog. Ebbeler's charming and colorful illustrations are full of details making it perfect for story hour. Additionally, the last page in this picture book explains the history of April Fools' Day. This is an engaging and fun read for kids in grades K - 2.

Details: April Fool, Phyllis! written by Susanna Leonard Hill & illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 2011. 28 p. ISBN: 978-0-8234-2270-8

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: 'The Great Easter Egg Hunt' by Michael Garland.

✰✰✰½ On Easter morning a young boy receives a mysterious invitation from his Aunt Jeanne. As instructed through notes, Tommy races to follow a bunny in a pink vest. Tommy is magically transported to a town where it is Easter all the time. The lucky little boy follows the clues to visit the Easter egg factory, buildings made of chocolate, the Jelly Bean Machine, and an Easter-basket assembly line. His adventure is full of holiday surprises, but the best one is waiting for him at the end. You, too, are invited to explore this magical land filled with chocolate bunnies, decorated eggs, little lambs, and fluffy chicks to count.

The Bottom Line: This brightly illustrated picture book challenges young readers to search for holiday related objects. Also, readers can search for letters that spell out a special holiday messages. Plus, readers learn to follow directions through a variety of puzzles. Recommended holiday reading for kids ages 3 through 8.

Details: The Great Easter Egg Hunt (A Look Again Book) written & illustrated by Michael Garland. Hardcover picture book published by Dutton Children's Books in 2005. 32 p. ISBN: 0-525-47357-2

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: 'St. Patrick's Day' by Anne Rockwell

✰✰✰ On St. Patrick's Day all the children in Mrs. Madoff's class wear something green. They learn about why there are no snakes in Ireland and how to dance a jig. Together they learn about shamrocks and the life story of St. Patrick. It's a busy, fun-filled day as the children learn why so many people celebrate St. Patrick's Day whether they are Irish or not. 

The Bottom Line: This picture book is a pleasant introduction to the activities involved in celebrating St. Patrick's Day. It is a good choice for classroom storytime for kids in grades K - 2. If you enjoy this one, check out the other books in the series. 

Details: St. Patrick's Day written by Anne Rockwell & pictures by Lizzy Rockwell. Hardcover picture book published by Harper in 2010. Unpaged. ISBN: 978-0-06-050198-3 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Book Review: 'Have a Little Faith' by Mitch Albom

✰✰✰✰✰ First there was a question: "Will you do my eulogy?" Then there was another question: "Will you save me, Jesus?" These two very different questions were asked by two very different men. One man was Jewish, and the other was Christian. One was white; the other was black. One was a rabbi; the other was a pastor. Both men dedicated their lives to helping others; yet, each came to the job via very different journeys. What could these two men possibly have in common?

Author Mitch Albom explores faith in his first nonfiction book since Tuesdays With Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson. This is a story about how two very different men changed the world for the better. This is a story about faith and hope. It is a story about how we are all more alike than different, and how we can find these common bonds if we give each other a chance.

The Bottom Line: Albom is the type of author who writes when something moves him rather than writing on a schedule. He waits until just the right story comes along. In this small, but powerful book, Albom alternates between the life stories of two men. By illustrating the differences, Albom highlights the similarities of these two clerics. Along the way, Albom finds he is on his own journey, a journey of faith and discovery. This is a journey that anyone of any faith or culture, in any country can take. Highly recommended reading for everyone. This is for anyone with an open mind who is interested in learning about other religions and exploring faith. This gentle book will make you think differently about yourself and others.

Book Club Notes: This was easily one of our favorite books. With an average rating of 4.5 stars, book club members were eager to share their views and ask questions. The discussion was lively and the hour passed much too quickly. This was a fantastic book to introduce different religions. Through comparing and contrasting the two clerics, we learned a lot about faith in general. Highly recommended for book clubs interested in exploring religion, faith, and inspiration. Visit Mitch Albom's website for the Reading Guide with Questions.

Details: Have a Little Faith: A True Story by Mitch Albom. Paperback edition published by Hachette Books in 2014. 260 p. ISBN: 978-1-4013-1046-2