Monday, April 12, 2021

Book Review: 'A Night to Remember' by Walter Lord

✰✰✰✰½  It was the height of opulence. An era when First Class traveled in style and servants catered to their every whim. Society had never been more confident of its advancements, and the Titanic was a testament to this. At eleven stories high and four city blocks long, she featured the best there was to offer. Her maiden voyage began on April 11, 1912. Just three days later, other ships began reporting sightings of ice. Many would heed those warnings, but so confident was Captain Smith in the Titanic's reputation for being unsinkable, that he ordered the ship to forge ahead at top speed straight into an ice field. Shortly before midnight, they struck an iceberg. What happened in the next few hours would forever change history.

The Bottom Line: At the time this book was published, it had been nearly 40 years since the Titanic had sunk. As the first major written work on the topic at the time, Lord had the rare opportunity to interview over 60 survivors and piece together the final hours of the Titanic. Back in the day, Lord's book climbed the bestseller list and remains the go-to resource on the disaster even today. It is very well researched and detailed. Highly recommended for history buffs and those interested in shipwrecks. Even today the fascination with the Titanic continues, and this book would appeal to anyone wanting to learn more.

Book Club Notes: As we continue to meet virtually via Zoom, we are finally getting the hang of it. Our discussions are more organic with less hesitation, and we are much better are navigating the technology. This was a lively discussion on a timeless topic, the Titanic. Even after 100 years, the event still manages to captivate people. It was an end of an era we will never experience, and it was fun to discuss the extravagance and luxury of the time. We admired the volumes of research author Walter Lord had to sift through to produce a highly readable book. Never again will an author be able to speak to so many survivors. We agreed this book was chock full of details, and as a docudrama, the movie is likely as real as possible in its portrayal of the disaster. Ultimately, this is a survival story, and the individual stories of how each survivor made it onto a lifeboat were varied and fascinating. On a scale of 1 - 5, with 5 being the highest, we rated both the book and the movie and average of 4.75. Both the book and the movie are highly recommended for discussion groups looking for something a little different to tackle. A Night to Remember will transport you back to an era of stunning grandeur.

Discussion questions can be found at LitPlan Teacher Pack & a study guide at CPB

Details: A Night to Remember: The Classic Account of the Final Hours of the Titanic by Walter Lord. Paperback published by St. Martin's Griffin in 2004.182 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-7764-3  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Book Review: 'Twenty-One Steps' by Jeff Gottesfeld

✰✰✰✰½ Back in 1921, an unknown, fallen soldier returned in a casket to lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. He represented the many who died nameless and faceless during World War I. After being laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, time went by and people began to forget. To stop the desecration, changes were made and sentinel guards installed. Never again would the Unknowns be alone. 

Without fail, a sentinel guard has been present at the tomb since July 2, 1937 to keep vigil. It's the most difficult post to earn in the United States Army, and the guards strive for perfection. Every single thing the sentinel guards do honors the unknown fallen. This book is an excellent reminder of the sacrifices our servicemen and women have made in the past and continue to make today.

The Bottom Line: This picture book tells the little known history of the sentinel guards and what they do. Respectfully written without politics, author Jeff Gottesfeld broaches a difficult topic with dignity and grace. Beautiful illustrations cover full page and two-page spreads and help convey this difficult topic with reverence. Highly recommended reading for children in grades 2 - 3. Also, a highly recommended addition to school and public libraries.

Details: Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier written by Jeff Gottesfeld & illustrated by Matt Tavares. Picture book published by Candlewick Press in 2021. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-5362-0148-2 [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.] 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Book Review: 'Bug in a Vacuum' by Mélanie Watt

✰✰✰✰ A little bug just happens to be flying along and minding its own business, when it ends up in a house. Just when it begins to get comfy...whoosh! One minute the little bug is innocently just sitting there, and the next minute, it finds itself trapped inside a cavernous metal container. What is a bug to do? 

With nothing but dust bunnies to talk to, the little bug starts wondering why. This can't really be happening...or can it? After a bit of questioning, bargaining, sadness, and lots of drama, the little bug must make a choice. And just when it accepts its fate of being stuck inside a vacuum, the unexpected happens.

The Bottom Line: Have you ever wondered what happens to the little spiders and bugs that get swallowed up by the vacuum cleaner?  Well, this clever picture book takes you along the journey of one trapped bug. With a little bit of humor, Watt illustrates the stages of grief that we all go through at some point in our lives with this thoughtful and sensitive picture book featuring bold artwork in mixed media. Highly recommended for kids ages 5 - 9  going through unexpected turmoil or loss.

Details: Bug in a Vacuum written & illustrated by Mélanie Watt. Picture book published by Tundra Books in 2015. 96 p. ISBN: 978-1-77049-645-3

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Book Review: 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' by Fred Rogers

✰✰✰✰½ What would Mister Rogers do? It's a popular question many ask especially during troubling times like these. Fred Rogers was a respected television personality known for for his ability to bring calm and understanding into this crazy world. He had an amazing gift to be able to connect with preschoolers and young children on their level. But what made him tick? What made his show such a success? And what made him special?

In 1998, Tom Junod was given an assignment to write an article about a quiet, unassuming man. Junod shadowed the man as he went about his business and even visited the man's childhood hometown. Known for his cynicism, Junod set out to uncover the sordid truth about this man, but it was Junod who would soon be surprised because the man had nothing to hide. The man was authentic and compassionate. That man was Fred Rogers, and it turned out that Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers were one and the same, a very caring, compassionate individual.

The Bottom Line: This book features Tom Junod's original piece for Esquire, "Can you Say...Hero?" It was the inspiration for the hit movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and this is the first time this classic article has appeared in book form. Also, included in this book are a collection of words of wisdom, advice, and observations from Fred Rogers about topics like relationships, childhood, parenthood, learning, and discipline. Highly recommended reading for both new and experienced parents. Also, highly recommended for teachers, students of early childhood, education, and psychology, and everyone who enjoyed watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as a child. 

Book Club Notes: It's a new year and the perfect time to start out with a positive, encouraging topic.  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was well received by our members for the first virtual discussion of the year. With an average rating of 4.75 on a scale of 1 - 5 with 5 being the highest, the movie was by far more popular than the book which received an average rating of 3.5. One of the reasons for this is because some members felt that the book read more like a textbook. There are definitely parts of the book that will appeal to both educators and students of education alike. However, others commented that this is exactly what appealed to them about the book, and they would highly recommend it to both new and experienced parents as well as anyone who remembers Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

As for the movie, Tom Hanks had a phenomenal performance. His portrayal of Fred Rogers  allowed the essence of Rogers to shine through. Though much of the storyline between character Lloyd Vogel and his father is fiction, the friendship between Vogel and Rogers in the movie is authentic. This is a timely, entertaining movie about compassion and forgiveness; in fact, it's perfect for the turbulent times we are facing today.

Finally, as we continue to meet virtually, we are becoming more accustomed to the quirks of discussing books online. Nevertheless, we are grateful for the technology as meeting virtually has allowed us to continue to read and discuss nonfiction that reads like fiction. Both the book and the movie are enthusiastically recommended for everyone.

Groups looking for discussion questions can check out the movie guide and the faith-based movie guide. Additional questions can be found at Teach with Movies

Details: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Neighborly Words of Wisdom from Mister Rogers (Movie Tie-in) by Fred Rogers. Paperback published by Penguin Books in 2019. 208 p. ISBN: 978-0-14-313538-8

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Book Review: 'The Reign of Wolf 21' by Rick McIntyre

✰✰✰✰½  For Wolf 21 and Wolf 42, it was love at first sight. Unfortunately, Wolf 42's dominant sister stood in the way. After alliances within the pack changed, Wolf 42 was able to oust her sister as alpha female and true love prevailed. Together Wolf 21 and Wolf 42 became the leaders of Yellowstone's most successful wolf pack, the Druids. This is the true story of their partnership and legacy, but it's not for the feint of heart. This page turner is filled with drama and carnage as well as tender moments and compassion.

The Bottom Line: Part science, part natural history, and part love story, this book includes detailed observations, maps of pack territories, and charts of pack members. The only thing missing were photographs. Highly recommended for fans of brilliant science writing and natural history.  

While this is the follow up to McIntyre's earlier book, The Rise of Wolf 8: Witnessing the Triumph of Yellowstone's Underdog, it is not necessary to read the books in order as there is ample information in this installment.

Details: The Reign of Wolf 21: The Saga of Yellowstone's Legendary Druid Pack by Rick McIntyre. Advance Reader's Copy published by Greystone Books in 2020. 272 p. ISBN: 978-1-77164-524-9 [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.]

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Book Review: 'All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team' by Christina Soontornvat

✰✰✰ In 2018 the world was captivated by the amazing rescue of twelve young boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand. The members of the Wild Boar soccer team often liked to go on adventures together after practice. One day the boys and their coach decided to go caving. What started out as an adventure, turned into a nightmare as they quickly found themselves trapped in a cave with floodwaters rapidly rising all around them. There was no way out. All the boys and their coach could do was huddle together on a patch of land in complete darkness and wait.

As news of the missing boys spread, experts from all over the world arrived to help with the rescue. But this would be no ordinary rescue. Even trained divers struggled against the muddy waters and strong currents. With time running out, it would take the coordination of many people with different areas of expertise to orchestrate this harrowing rescue. Some even doubted a rescue could be possible. With time running out, and the rainy season just arriving, the rescuers had no choice but to proceed as quickly as possible. You won't be able to stop turning the pages as this rescue against time unfolds.

The Bottom Line: In this suspenseful, detailed account of this rescue, Soontornvat also includes abundant information about Thailand's culture, religion, and politics. Maps, photographs, and other interesting facts supplement the text to help illustrate the complexity of this rescue effort. Suggested reading for middle grade science class and anyone interested in rescue or survival stories. [Note: Full-color photographs not seen in the ARC.]

Details: All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat. Advanced reading copy published by Candlewick in 2020. 288 p. ISBN: 978-1-5362-0945-7 [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.]

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Book Review: 'Tracks in the Snow' by Wong Herbert Yee


✰✰✰✰½ A curious little girl sets off in the snow to follow a set of tracks. Who made these tracks? And where do they go? She follows the tracks through rocks and across a bridge, but there's many more to follow. Into the wintry woods she goes looking for a rabbit or maybe a bear or perhaps a woodchuck. Where will she end up? And who made the tracks? Read this sweet little story to solve the mystery.

The Bottom Line: Check out this easy read with rhyming verses and repetition. Tots who enjoy exploring nature will appreciate the engaging illustrations in colored pencil as they follow this little girl's adventure through the snowy woods. Highly recommended for beginning readers ages 2 - 5. 

Details: Tracks in the Snow written & illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee. Picture book published by Henry Holt & Company in 2003. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0805067712