Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Funny Little Bird, by Jennifer Yerkes

A Funny Little Bird
Author: Jennifer Yerkes
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
I almost loved this book. Almost. The idea is strong. It's the story of a nearly invisible bird, told with simple drawings and negative space, who tries to be more visible by borrowing elements from nature, including colourful feathers from other birds. The message is supposed to be about accepting yourself for who you are, I suppose. But it lacks a certain, I don't know, soul. It's hard to describe. Maybe toddlers would enjoy trying to find the bird on each page. I guess. I'm sorry this review is so muddled and lukewarm, but that describes my feelings for this book.

Monday, April 29, 2013

In Lucia's Neighborhood, by Pat Shewchuk (illustrated by Marek Colek)

In Lucia's Neighborhood
Author: Pat Shewchuk 
Illustrator: Marek Colek 
Publisher: Kids Can Press 
Publication Date: March 1, 2013 
I can't say enough wonderful things about this book. The illustrations are GORGEOUS and make me want to live in the neighbourhood in the book (which I think is somewhere in Toronto but I'm not sure). It follows the story of a little girl, Lucia, as she listens to her grandmother tell her about urban visionary Jane Jacobs then explores her own neighbourhood with renewed appreciation. But my absolute favourite thing about the book? All the people in the streets, the parks, the doorways...none of them are texting! The teenagers are hanging out, the old men are feeding birds, there are people reading books and playing cards. But no one has a laptop or a cell phone. There was something quite lovely about that.

I will definitely be looking for more books by author Pat Shewchuk and especially illustrator Marek Colek!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Legend of Papa Balloon, by C.R. McClure (illustrated by Steven Kernen)

The Legend of Papa Balloon

Author: C. R. McClure
Illustrator: Steven Kernen
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: March 28, 2013
Holy clumsy allegory, Batman! This book should win an award for Most Heavy-Handed Message (all but knocking Change the World Before Bedtime out of the running). 

So there's a land in which everyone worships light, as expressed by one of four different colours of balloon. Does that make ANY sense AT ALL? No, of course not. But it's meant to be a clumsy attempt to explain different religions all worshipping the same god (i.e. The Light). Like I said, this book is THE CLUMSIEST ALLEGORY EVER. Then along comes a mysterious stranger, Papa Balloon (I know, it SOUNDS cute, because it sounds like "pop a balloon" but that joke is never even made in the book). Papa Balloon has a--gasp!--CLEAR balloon and is therefore revolutionary in this balloon-worshipping land. Everyone suddenly wants his opinion on how to live their lives and his opinion then becomes the only one that matters. People from all four colour lands follow Papa Balloon into a clear balloon utopia. 

Have I mentioned that this book is just the worst? It's the worst.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What the Snakes Wrote, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Tina Holdcroft)

What the Snakes Wrote
Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Tina Holdcroft
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: February 14, 2013
How cute is this book? If you haven't read it yet, I'll answer for you. SO CUTE!! Rufus the dog has noticed some strange things happening on his farm. The snakes are working together to spell something...but what? As Rufus tries to decode the snakes' message, the farmer is busy trying to build something to help the snakes out.

I know Hazel Hutchins from her fantastic picture books for young children (Up Dog, Up Cat, Cat Comes Too, Dog Comes Too) but I didn't realize she also wrote such great story books for preschoolers. I love that with all of her books early literacy is a strong theme, but the main focus is still on making a great book that children will love (some authors let their "lesson" get in the way of their storytelling, but not Hutchins). I'm definitely a fan.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, by Mélanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

Author: Mélanie Watt
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Publication Date: April 1, 2013

Oh Scaredy Squirrel! Is there a more lovable paranoid neurotic in children's literature? I love all the Scaredy Squirrel books, but I especially love the ones in which Scaredy Orville Squirrel (S.O.S.) has to go out into the wide world of germs and dangers (like Scaredy Squirrel Goes to the Beach). In Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping, Scaredy is afraid of--you guessed it--camping. This is particularly hilarious considering he lives in the woods! But he's convinced that campsites will be filled with all kinds of scary things like quicksand, zippers and penguins. He'd rather watch camping shows on TV. The only problem? The electrical outlet for his television is located right in the middle of the campground.

If you haven't read the Scaredy Squirrel books, I highly recommend them. They're okay for preschoolers, but elementary-aged kids will adore them, especially the detailed "safety plans" that Scaredy makes for everything. Awesome!

Hit the jump to see some of the things Scaredy Squirrel is afraid of!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Dog Comes Too, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Gosia Mosz)

Dog Comes Too
Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Gosia Mosz
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: February 7, 2013
I love, love, love how Hazel Hutchins uses word play in her books for toddlers. Okay, it isn't really "word play" as much as it is using the same words in a variety of ways. In Dog Comes Too the words are "too" (and to, two) and "big." She reinforces the word usage by using them in different phrases on each page, each featuring the delightfully scampy dog. And it's never too young to learn the difference between "too," "two" and "to"! There are MANY teenagers who still don't seem to know!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Cat Comes Too, by Hazel Hutchins (illustrated by Gosia Mosz)

Cat Comes Too
Author: Hazel Hutchins 
Illustrator: Gosia Mosz
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: February 7, 2013
The thing I love most about Hazel Hutchins charmingly simple books for young children is that they reinforce word usage by using the same words in a variety of contexts. In Cat Comes Too, the words she features are "too" (and to, two) and "little." It's not that there are necessarily a lot of different meanings of the word, but toddlers will still enjoy recognizing its usage on each page ("too crowded, little climb," "too small, little push," "too little to get out"). I just love that a book aimed at toddlers thinks to do that!

Now if only she'd write a book for teenagers explaining "your" and "you're"!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

WIN A COPY of Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal, by John Lanza!

Have you been trying to think of ways to talk to your child about money? If so, I highly recommend the Money Mammals series by John Lanza. I've previously reviewed two books in the series: Joe the Monkey Learns to Share and Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal. Both were fantastic and really inspired my three-year-old, Magda, to start her own "3-Jar" system to manage her allowance and birthday money. She now has jars labelled "Spend," "Save," and "Share" (plus a fourth one labelled "Invest" for money that goes right into the bank).

Now the author is pairing up with Cozy Little Book Journal and The Bookish Elf to give you a chance to win a copy of the first book in the series, Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal

Use the widget below to enter. Contest runs until Sunday, May 12, 2013 (which is Mother's Day!). Also, continue reading to see pictures of Magda's Spend-Share-Save-Invest jars!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Daylight Moonlight, by Matt Patterson

Daylight Moonlight
Author: Matt Patterson
Publisher: Schiffer
Publication Date: February 28, 2013
This is a gorgeous book. Each page has a dual image of the same scene by day and by night. There's a forest, a river, a meadow, etc. The 'daylight' image and the 'moonlight' image are almost the same except the lighting and the types of animals present (so nocturnal animals are only in the 'moonlight' picture, for instance). I think children would enjoy "spotting the differences" and also seeing which animals are daytime creatures, which are nighttime creatures, and which are both. 
The only thing that did disturb me slightly, which my daughter Magda noticed as well, is that the animals are mostly doing nothing but posing for the picture. A few of them are in "action poses" but most of them are just staring straight ahead, as if they know they're having their picture taken (or drawn, as it were). It wouldn't have bothered me so much if it weren't for the fact that so many of the animals are predators and prey! Those rabbits sure are lucky that the fox stopped to pose.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go? by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka

Follow Your Money:
Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go? 
Authors: Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka 
Illustrator: Kevin Sylvester 
Publisher: Annick Press 
Publication Date: February 4, 2013
The idea behind the book is solid: Why do things cost what they cost? If an item costs a dollar to make but sells for thirty, who gets the other twenty-nine dollars? This thought experiment is repeated a few dozen times in the book with items the authors must have figured kids would be interested in, like sneakers and music. Unfortunately, it mostly feels like a repeated thought experiment, since there's no reason to think that the numbers they use are anything but theoretical. The first example is a "10 dollar cardboard box," for instance. Ten dollars for a cardboard box??

Throughout the book the numbers they give for what things cost all seem randomly chosen and not at all accurate. The breakdown of a metro transit bus ticket, for example, includes things like fuel costs, worker salaries, bus maintenance, etc., but it does not acknowledge that virtually no transit system in the world is sustained entirely by the cost of a rider ticket. (This is something I know about. There was a transit strike in my city last year and I did a lot of research on transit systems in Canada and the rest of the world, trying to figure out what the costs were in other cities. The overwhelming majority of transit systems only get about half of their funding from rider tickets and the other half from government support.)

It may sound like I'm being picky, but the book is presented as if the numbers ARE solid facts, as if the reader could take that information and break down the exact costs of various items (how much goes to production, distribution, profit, etc.). But without the benefit of accuracy (which I don't believe this book has...or if so, it's a gross oversimplification at best), it's really just a long list of examples and not much else.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal: A Loop-Dee-Loo Story (A Share-Save-Spend Smart Book), by John Lanza (illustrations by John Lanza and Patrick Rooney)

Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal:
A Loop-Dee-Loo Story
(A Share-Save-Spend Smart Book)
Author: John Lanza
Illustrators: John Lanza and Patrick Rooney
Publisher: Snigglezoo
Publication Date: April 1, 2010

Joe the Monkey Saves for a Goal is the first book in the "Share-Save-Spend Smart" series. I previously reviewed the book Joe the Monkey Learns to Share and I was very impressed. The series is great for helping kids see that money management is something they can do at any age. 

It's not always easy to talk to your kids about money. You want them to develop good financial habits, but where do you start? I was talking about this with my cousin Lisa just the other day (Well, she's the wife of my partner's second cousin once removed, so...I guess I was talking about this with my friend Lisa). We have kids the same age (3 1/2) and she was saying her son was asking her where quarters come from and how he could get more quarters for his collection. I told her how we had been talking to our own child, Magda, about money using a "three jars" concept that we learned about from the book Joe the Monkey Learns to Share

The idea is that children divide up their money (whether it's allowance, birthday money, etc.) into "spend," "save" and "share" jars (we also added a fourth jar called "invest" for money that goes directly into the bank). Some of their money can be used for immediate goals, like buying little treats (the "spend" jar) but if they want to buy something big they'll need to save up (the "save" jar). This book is specifically about the save jar.

Joe the Monkey wants to buy a new vine (he's a monkey...that's like an Xbox to him) but it costs too much money. He doesn't have twenty dollars! His allowance is only four! But he REALLY wants it, which means he'll have to save up for a few weeks and not spend his money on little things if he wants to buy the big thing he has his eye on. It's not easy, and he's very tempted to say forget it and just buy candy. But in the end he realizes it's worth it to save his money for something he really wants.

I love this series. It's fun, it's accessible, it's kid-friendly. Oh, and it's secular too. That may not be important to everybody, but I've come across quite a few Christian-based books about the three jars system. Those are great if they fit your religious values, but if not, it's great to have non-religious options. Besides, the John Lanza books could easily be read by Christian and non-Christian families alike. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel, by Sharon E. McKay (illustrated by Daniel LaFrance)

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel

Author: Sharon E. McKay
Illustrator: Daniel Lafrance
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: February 7, 2013
I have not read Sharon McKay's 2008 YA novel, War Brothers, so I can't compare the graphic novel version to the original. Like the original, War Brothers--The Graphic Novel tells the story of child soldiers in Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, this time with illustrations by Daniel Lafrance to add a new dimension to the characters. 

I discussed this book with my partner Mike (he reads a lot of comic books and graphic novels). Here's what he had to say:

"A pretty good story.  A little safe – only one of the main characters has to kill, and they manage to escape together.  There’s even a little deus ex machina in the jungle. Not bad for younger readers – it wades into the horror of child soldiers and the LRA.  It’s fiction, and it feels that way.  Weird to say, but feels a bit “Feel good story”, even given the topic.  The feeling of guilt and belief that everyone was afraid of them as killers was well done."
He also mentioned how much he liked the fact that the illustrations were somewhere between typical graphic novel images and children's book illustrations. They were almost cute, or they would have been if the subject matter hadn't been so horrifying. It added to the feeling that these children's childhoods were being stolen from them by being forced into children's armies.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Summary: How Children Succeed...in 30 Minutes A Concise Summary of Paul Tough's Bestselling Book: A 30 Minute Expert Summary

Summary: How Children Succeed...in 30 Minutes
A Concise Summary of Paul Tough's Bestselling Book
Authors: 30 Minute Expert Summaries
Publisher: Garamond
Publication Date: November 29, 2012
I got this book from the library because after listening to the unabridged audio version. I thought maybe I would like Paul Tough's book more if it were more concise. The audiobook rambled, went on and on about study after study, but seemed to provide no framework for understanding each study, particularly when the findings of one conflicted with the findings of another. All of the studies and experiments he talked about just seemed to be "a bunch of stuff that happened." His conclusion always seems to be "Well that didn't work. I guess that's not the answer." 

I thought at least this summary would provide a little clarity, pare the book down to the author's main points, if in fact he had any. I also suspected that the very existence of this "30 minute" version suggested I was not alone in thinking Paul Tough's book was convoluted. 

Turns out the condensed version didn't help except to confirm my original suspicion  Paul Tough doesn't actually understand these studies himself. He's not a psychologist or an educator or a social worker. He didn't participate in any of the research he's discussing. He simply found the subject matter compelling, found a bunch of people who had been studying child development, and related their opinions--largely unfiltered--in the form of this book. When their research (or more often anecdotal examples) conflicts, Tough doesn't know how to interpret that except with vagaries like "the answers are elusive" or "children need a certain indefinable quality in order to succeed." 

In other words I've just wasted my own time. Twice.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

GRAPHIC: The Story of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani teenager shot in the head for attending school

This is an image from artist Gavin Aung's illustrated version of the story of Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for attending school. It's a one page comic book graphic showing her story, in her own words. It's all kinds of heartbreaking and inspiring and awful and...it's all of those things.

You can check out the full thing here or on the artist's site here.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough (Audiobook Narrated by Dan John Miller)

How Children Succeed:
Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
Author: Paul Tough
(Audiobook Narrated by: Dan John Miller)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(Audiobook Published by: Tantor Media)
Publication Date: September 4, 2012

Buy Now on Amazon.com: hardcover paperback kindle audiobook
Buy Now on Amazon.ca: hardcover paperback kindle audiobook
I listened to the audiobook of this so I guess I should review it both as a book and as an audiobook. As an audiobook, it's fair. The narration is good, except for the fact that the narrator insists on doing accents and character voices, which is unnecessary in a non-fiction title. I know the author references interviews that he conducted or quotations that he pulled from other sources, but it doesn't mean the narrator has to act them out with every accent and "funny female voice" he can muster. At best, it's distracting. At worst, it's pretty annoying. But other than that, the narration is great.

As a book, I can understand a lot of the frustration expressed by other reviewers. The title is misleading, indicating that: (a) the book is aimed at parents or educators as a how-to guide; and (b) the author has arrived at actual conclusions about "how children succeed." Neither is entirely true.

Mostly the book is a collection of anecdotal evidence and isolated case studies that show...well, nothing. At least according to the author. It seems that every case he brings up--whether it is research done by psychologists, or pedagogical experiments undertaken by schools, or statistics gathering done by government agents--leads him to the same conclusion: Well, that didn't work

This book would be depressing if it weren't so ridiculous. His ultimate conclusion about why some children succeed and others don't? An intangible quality that we can't really define and don't understand how to teach but probably is either learned, acquired or inherited..or none of those.

Great. Thanks.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reflect and Write: 300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing, by Elizabeth Guy and Hank Kellner

Reflect and Write:
300 Poems and Photographs to Inspire Writing
Authors: Elizabeth Guy and Hank Kellner
Editor: Sean Redmond
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Publication Date: February 1, 2013
Buy Now on Amazon.com
Buy Now on Amazon.ca
It has been a while since I taught poetry, but when I did I often made use of art, photography and quotations to act as writing prompts. So I appreciate the compilation of poetry, photography, quotations and questions in this book.

The photos are well-chosen, helping to elucidate the themes of the accompanying poem and spark students’ imaginations. (The image of three nuns watching a “Spirit Cruises” ship next to a poem about longing to travel made me smile.) Each poem also includes key words that students can discuss as well as questions about the theme, or ideas for writing assignments. I particularly like the quotations from famous people on each page because they often offer a wryly dissenting opinion from the poem. (A particularly peppy poem entitled “I Love a Parade” is followed by the Ulysses S. Grant quote, “The one thing I never want to see again is a military parade.”)

There were, however, some things I wish the authors had included but didn’t. There are no author bios for any of the authors of the poems (except Elizabeth Guy and Hank Kellner). There is a symbol indicating if the poem was written by a student or not, but that is the only information we are given. As a reader, I like to have at least basic information about a poet that may help me understand the context in which they write. And as a teacher I like to have that information to share with the class or as a prompt for further research.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Berenstain Bears Easter Magic: A Berenstain Bears' Ebook, by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears Easter Magic:
A Berenstain Bears' Ebook
Author: Stan and Jan Berenstain 
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media 
Publication Date: October 16, 2012 
(Originally published by GT Publishing on February 1, 1997) 
Oh my goodness, I almost forgot about this one! I had intended to review it before Easter. Oops!

It's rare that my daughter Magda and I disagree so completely about a book. Usually if she loves a book, it makes me like it more, and vice versa. And then there's the Berenstain Bears. The freaking Berenstain Bears. No amount of irritation on my part about the saccharine, vacuous, aggressively well-intentioned cartoon bear family can dissuade her from loving these books. And I can't flat out refuse to read them to her because, truthfully, I don't really find them objectionable...just boring.

So here are Magda's and my (wildly different) reviews:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW and GIVEAWAY: Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura Bates

Recently I reviewed the book, Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, A Memoir by Laura Bates. Dr. Laura Bates is an English professor at Indiana State University who has been teaching Shakespeare in prison facilities, including solitary confinement, for many years. The book is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it, particularly if you read a lot of Shakespeare. Some of the prisoners' interpretations of the play are sure to have you re-thinking how you've been reading Shakespeare all these years!

As you may know, April is not only National Poetry Month (at least in Canada), it's also the month in which Shakespeare was born AND died. His birthday AND the anniversary of his death is April 23 (he died on his birthday, y'all...bummer). In honour of Shakespeare's birthday (and to, you know, promote this book) the publisher is sponsoring a GIVEAWAY on my blog! YAY!

If you live in Canada or the United States, you can enter to win one (1) copy of Shakespeare Saved My Life, by Laura Bates, sent to you directly by Sourcebooks (again, YAY!). The contest ends on April 30, 2013. The winner will be announced on May 1, 2013. All you have to do is use the Rafflecopter widget below. 

Oh, and don't forget to keep reading for an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR LAURA BATES!

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, by Laura Bates

Shakespeare Saved My Life: 
Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard
Author: Laura Bates
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
My first reaction when I saw this book was, "Great, EVERYONE is reading Shakespeare before I do. Even people in solitary confinement!" I'd recently decided to read all of Shakespeare's plays in a year and I was finding it slow going. But the prisoners that Laura Bates described in this book seemed to breeze through the plays, even if they had limited education and no previous knowledge of the bard. If they could do it, what the hell was my excuse?

Once I got past my petty jealousy, this book spoke to me on a lot of levels. Laura Bates is an English professor who has been teaching Shakespeare for years, both in colleges and in prisons. This book recounts her experiences with the latter, particularly in a supermax--or solitary confinement--unit. A great number of my family members work in corrections, including in prisons, and I myself had helped start a writing and spoken word program at a women's prison here in Nova Scotia. So I didn't need to be convinced of the value of prisoner education. And, as I mentioned, I'd recently started a Shakespeare in a Year project in which I was attempting to read the Complete Works of Shakespeare (or at the very least the plays) before the end of the year. So I didn't need to be convinced of the value of Shakespeare.

Still, this book surprised me in a lot of ways. 

The thing that struck me most about Laura Bates' experiences teaching Shakespeare in prison was the way the inmates interpreted certain passages. Dr. Bates deliberately chose plays she thought might speak to them, plays about crime (Macbeth) or imprisonment (Richard III) or loss of power (King Lear) or violence and revenge (Titus Andronicus).  Even so, the inmates' reactions to them often changed the way I myself was reading the material. 

As an example, when discussing the murder of King Duncan in Macbeth, one part that often stumps literary critics is why Macbeth is able to kill Duncan but cannot seem to complete the plan by planting the bloody daggers on the sleeping guards, implicating them. He balks at this and wanders off, forcing Lady Macbeth to complete the task. Why? I, like many critics, interpreted Macbeth's actions as evidence of doubt, of lack of conviction to the plan. Lady Macbeth, by contrast, seems like the pushier of the two in this scene ("Fine! I have to do everything myself, do I?"). 

But the inmates had a different interpretation:
"'He needs for her to get her hands dirty too', said the new student in the group named Bentley...When Bentley made the observation about Macbeth's need for a partner in crime, the others, all serving time for murder convictions, agreed. It is easier to bear the burden of guilt, especially of such a heavy crime, my students said, with an accomplice.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

VIDEO: The History of English in Ten Minutes

This is hands down the best thing I've seen in a while. It's a video about the history of the English language...in ten minutes. So cool!

Thanks to Amy K, who shared this with me because she knows I'm always wondering what happened to the Jutes.

Friday, April 5, 2013

When Mermaids Sleep, by Ann Bonwill (illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher)

When Mermaids Sleep
Author: Ann Bonwill
Illustrators: Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
The illustrations are gorgeous--fanciful and evocative and detailed--and the tone of the book is both exciting and soothing at the same time. It reminds me a little of The Tickle Tree

Hit the jump for more, including more pictures from the book...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Good Night, Monkey Boy, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Good Night, Monkey Boy
Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Publisher: Knopf (Random House)
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
It's time for Monkey Boy to go to bed but first he must take a bath (without climbing the shower curtains!), clean up his toys and brush his teeth (and no more bananas!). Any parent of a toddler or preschooler can relate to the hijinks of a child before bedtime, with or without their trusty monkey pajamas.

Fans of the "No, David" books by David Shannon will love this new board book by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of Punk Farm.

Hit the jump for illustrations from the book!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Love and Money Languages, by Scott and Bethany Palmer

The 5 Money Personalities:

Speaking the Same Love and Money Language
Authors: Scott Palmer and Bethany Palmer 
Published by Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
I'm not one who reads a lot of self-help books, particularly those aimed at couples. I find the advice is usually so general (because it has to be if it's going to apply to everybody) that I could figure it out on my own, or else it's specific but certainly not specific to me (i.e. it makes assumptions about my religion, philosophy or goals). A lot of them just seem like gimmicks.

But The 5 Money Personalities is a little different. Everyone can relate to money. Everyone sharing a household and sharing expenses has to figure out how to make money decisions together. And a lot of us feel intimidated by the prospect.

The 5 Money Personalities is not a financial planning guide. It's not there to chastise you for the poor financial decisions you've made in the past, nor to tell you what investments to make in the future. It's a book for couples--or anyone who shares finances with someone else--to help take stock of the decisions we make and why, and to understand why our partners may make very different decisions.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef
A Memoir
Author: Marcus Samuelsson
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
I expected the memoir of Marcus Samuelsson--possibly the most likable person to ever wear the mantle of "celebrity chef"--to be interesting, but I never expected it to be so poetic. It starts with Samuelsson's description of his birth mother, or rather his inability to describe her properly. He has no photos of her because no photos of her exist. But there is so much he can learn about her by learning about her food, the food of the region where she lived, the flavours of Ethiopia where he spent his very earliest years. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was just two years old, after walking for miles and miles to take him and his sister to a hospital in Ababa Addis. Marcus and his sister survived--thanks to his mother--and were adopted by a family in Sweden. Today, Marcus Samuelsson's food is influenced by his two families, his extensive travels and the place he now calls home: Harlem in New York.

There is not a great deal of celebrity gossip in Yes, Chef, though he does speak frankly about his dislike of Gordon Ramsay and the exhaustion he felt while filming Top Chef Masters at the same time he was preparing for the first state dinner for the Obamas. Mostly the book is about food. About gravlax and berbere spice and smoked salmon and fried chicken. It's about the food memories of a person whose life story is not only unusual but remarkable.

Monday, April 1, 2013

UPDATE: Grant: Savior of the Union or Subject of Plagiarism?

A few months ago, I wrote this review for a book I got for free from Booksneeze. It's published by Thomas Nelson and it's part of the The Generals series edited by Stephen Mansfield. The author is listed as Mitchell Yockelson, who is--according to his website bio--a professor of military history and an archivist who works as a U.S. investigator into stolen documents. There's an irony in that, and here's why.

It has come to my attention that many long passages throughout Yockelson's book have been previously published. By other people. In various articles about Ulysses S. Grant published by history journals and readily available on the internet. Articles that predate this book. And again, that were written by other people.

I first became aware of this when I read this blog post by fellow book blogger Stewatry. She outlines in detail many of the passages that she searched and found verbatim in other articles. Articles that were not credited in Yockelson's book (even I noticed the shoddy footnoting when I originally reviewed it). Stewatry is very careful not to specifically mention which book she's describing, and she doesn't mention Yockelson by name as a plagiarist. She was concerned she would be accused of libel even though she was very careful to back up her claims with a whole heaping pile of research. But I was able to figure it out because I have the same book and I could easily check the passages she was referencing, as well as her claims of copying. It's this book and she's absolutely right.

When book blogger Stewatry discovered how much of this book had been copied verbatim from other sources (or nearly verbatim; in many cases Yockelson had changed some words to make the sentence less complicated, which often resulted in his sentence making less sense), she contacted Booksneeze, the publisher, some of the authors of the original articles, and Amazon. Everyone seemed very eager to address her concerns in ways that amounted to absolutely nothing. 

I feel just sick about this. I'm not even sure what I should do next. Can I even trust any of the books by this publisher? Should I delete or update all of my reviews of this book? I generally copy my reviews on to a number of sites, such as Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and more. I don't want to recommend a book that may have been (but probably was) plagiarized from uncredited sources?