Review of “Origami City: Fold More Than 30 Global Landmarks” by Shuki Kato & Jordan Langerak

As this book explains, origami is the Japanese word that means “folded paper.” It dates back at least 500 years in Japanese culture. Most early origami art involved cutting the paper, but “purists” don’t do any cutting, just folding. This book follows the purist tradition, providing diagrams for 30 landmarks and other city-themed objects (such as a pigeon and a park bench).

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It begins with “The Basics” to introduce you to notations and basic folds. (The book comes with 30 sheets of colored origami paper but you might want to get some additional papers so you can practice. I have found good supplies at both Michael’s and Costco.)

I love the names of the folds. It sounds like Yoga except you don’t even have to get up off the couch! (To me, that’s the best part.) There is the “squash fold,” the “swivel fold,” the “spread sink” and so on. The instructions are quite clear, and the authors provide helpful pictures for each step of the fold.

As you might expect, the projects start out simple, and then get more complex (but not undoable by any means). Like the recent craze for coloring books for adults, this craft will provide “relaxation support” (as the coloring books promise), as they can’t help but take your mind off of your worries. (Because trust me, you will need to concentrate to execute the folds.) Yet, readers will be pleased to note you can still listen to books as you work on these buildings!

Patterns include such iconic structures as The Washington Monument, The White House, The Empire State Building, Big Ben, The Burj Al Arab (that very cool hotel in Dubai that looks like the sail of a ship), and many more you will recognize instantly. They even show you how to make a leaning Tower of Pisa. It is absolutely amazing what you can make from folded paper!

Two projects in the book:  Left: Canary Wharf Tower Right: Taipei 101

Two projects in the book: Left: Canary Wharf Tower Right: Taipei 101

I really like the fact that before each project, the authors (each of whom contributed designs) tell you background about the building.

Evaluation: This book will provide hours of unexpected relaxation and preoccupation, as well as give you a huge sense of accomplishment as you complete the projects. Amaze your friends and family with your creations!

Published by Rockport Publishers, a member of Quarto Publishing Group USA, 2015

National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs” by Douglas Florian

What’s so great about Douglas Florian is that he excels at both writing and illustrations, and that he makes poetry so much fun. Here he takes a topic bound to appeal to many kids, which concerns those living things that go slithering, hopping, and moseying along in the grass or the sand, and that so fascinate people, especially little ones.

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His poetry is quite entertaining. Here is what he says about the cobra, for example:

It’s wise to stay clear
Of the dangerous cobra.
All months of the year,
Including Octobra.”

As someone who used to follow Gila Monsters around whenever I was lucky enough to see one in Tucson, I appreciated this one because it’s so true:

They call me monster just because
I have short legs and clumsy claws,
And poison in my jaws,
And look
Like someone’s composition book.”

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Kids will even learn some things about amphibians and reptiles painlessly and fun:

We polliwoggle.
We polliwiggle.
We shake in lakes,
Make wakes,
And wriggle.
We quiver,
We shiver,
We jiggle,
We jog.
We’re hearing
To turn ourselves
Into a frog.”

The illustrations, whimsical and clever, are done in watercolor on primed brown paper bags with collage. My favorite is the one of the box turtle.

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Evaluation: I don’t think anyone can go wrong by choosing a poetry book written and illustrated by Douglas Florian.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Harcourt, Inc., 2001

Be sure to stop by Jama’s blog to check out her roundup of other poetry-for-kids-posts in honor of National Poetry Month. In addition, Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit also has a collection of posts about poets and poetry by participants from around the blogisphere.

Review of “Empire of Night” by Kelley Armstrong

This is the sequel to Sea of Shadows, a story about Moria and Ashlyn, 16-year-old twins from the village of Edgewood, abutting The Forest of the Dead, a place thick with spiritual energy from the dead criminals who have been exiled there. Moria and Ashyn have been born with the ability to communicate with spirits, and thus Moria has become a “Keeper” and Ashyn is a “Seeker,” one of four such pairs of specially endowed twins in the Empire. Ancestral Spirits guide and direct them, and each girl is aided by a special beast. Moria has a Daigo, a wildcat, and Ashyn has Tova, a hound. It is thought that the spirits of former warriors reside in the beasts.

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At the end of Book One, their village has been destroyed and the children taken away by forces directed by Alvar Kitsune, a man with powers of a sorcerer who seeks to overtake the Empire. Moria and Ashlyn set out for the imperial capital to get help. There, Moria meets Tyrus, the kind bastard son of the Emperor who is interested in Moria. But Tyrus keeps his distance; he suspects Moria fell in love with Alvar’s son, Gavril, before she found out he was working for his father. She felt hurt and betrayed and so turned to Tyrus. But Tyrus, who had been childhood friends with Gavril, can’t believe Gavril is evil like his father. He fears that if and when Gavril would come and explain himself, Moria would give in to her feelings for Gavril, and Tyrus would be hurt.

Meanwhile, Tyrus and Moira set out to find out where the children are, accompanied by Ashyn and Ronan, an exiled criminal who miraculously has survived The Forest of the Dead. They are in extreme danger, especially since Alvar has spread the story that Tyrus and Moira betrayed the Emperor and should be executed for treason; a large bounty is on their heads.

As the tension builds, Armstrong throws in two huge cliffhanger twists, making it difficult to wait for Book Three.

Evaluation: Kelley adopts some standard YA tropes, but she manages to make them fresh and entertaining, with layered characters and always, strong female heroines. This book is not a standalone, however, and it would probably be in one’s best interest to wait for Book Three before starting the series.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2015

Review of “The Tragic Age” by Stephen Metcalfe

When I started this book I thought it was going to be a cute, snarky, coming of age update to Catcher in the Rye, but it turned out to be more like a cute, snarky, coming of age update to Dante’s Inferno. Certainly there was a nihilistic edge right from the beginning that should have clued me in, but I so wanted it to be just a modern Salinger I ignored it (and attributed it, moreover, to the inevitable reflection of our current, perhaps more cynical, age.)

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17-year-old Billy Kinsey lives in a rich enclave of fake people, his parents being his two primary exemplars of this type of hypocritical denizen. He has pretty much felt alone since his twin sister Dorie died of leukemia when they were eleven. Now he can’t sleep, because Dorie comes to him in dreams, presumably to accuse him of killing her since his transplanted bone marrow didn’t help her. [It is odd that Billy, who is otherwise so intelligent, even having a photographic memory, would not know that the bone marrow of an identical twin would not in fact be able to kill the cancer cells.] Billy also has a port-wine hemangioma on his face, adding to his sense of alienation and of being an outsider.

When a new kid comes to his high school, “Twom” (pronounced, portentiously, like tomb) Twomey, tattooed, pierced, and, as it turns out, dyslexic, Billy gravitates to him after the jocks try to put the very different Twom in his “place.” Soon their little group is enlarged by Ephraim, a loser-ish computer hacker nerd, and Deliza, a sort of walking oozing-sex-machine who is attracted to bad-boy Twom. The four of them begin to escape from real life by breaking and entering into (but not stealing from) the mansions of rich neighbors. The police call the perpetrators “The Night Visitors.”

But a catch has developed in Billy’s progress down through Hell. He has started a relationship with Gretchen Quinn, former BFF of Dorie, and as unrealistically perfect as Dante’s Beatrice. With Gretchen, Billy occasionally experiences happiness, but he doesn’t believe it:

The world suddenly seems like it has the potential to be an okay place. And this bothers me because I know deep inside the world isn’t and never will be.”

As he explains at another point:

I swear, if alien ants came to earth, they’d look around at the lack of planning and foresight and the poverty and the greed and selfishness and the ignorance and the intolerance and the overall wasted opportunity that, other than the occasional rare glimmer of light, is the basic human condition, and they’d say, Whoa! Whose great idea was this?”

Billy, gifted in so many ways, personifies at least part of what this potential alien scrutiny might reveal, in that he lacks planning, foresight, and wastes his opportunities. And as the group comprised of Billy, his fellow travelers, and their families spiral down to the innermost circle of Hell, no one seems to have learned anything.

Discussion: This is a disturbing story with lots of moments of cleverness, and a few oddly-dropped plot threads. It keeps you turning the pages, in the way in which people can’t turn away from newsreels of crashing planes or collapsing buildings. It also gives you a lot to think about, including all that your teenagers might be up to without your knowing about it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of MacMillan Publishers, 2015

Review of “A Fireproof Home for the Bride” by Amy Scheibe

Emmaline (“Emmy”) Nelson, 18, is living in a rural area of Minnesota in 1958 under the thumb of her mother Karin, a strict Lutheran who is “cold and firm, hardworking and driven, serving Jesus with her every breath.” But Karin’s idea of serving Jesus had nothing to do with a love of life or even a love of her family. Emmy wants to do good works in her life, but also wants to be a part of a larger world than the one circumscribed for her by her mother.

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It is only when the family moves into town and Emmy makes new friends that she begins to see there could be so much more to her existence. She also meets an attractive boy who seems interested in her. But not only is Bobby Doyle Catholic (anathema to Emmy’s family), but Karin has already picked out a husband for Emmy: their neighbor Ambrose Brann, ten years older than Emmy and at best, as cold and uncaring as her mother. Moreover, Emmy is soon to discover that Ambrose is much, much worse. (Karin’s response? In essence, Karin tells her to “get used to it.”)

And yet there is still more Emmy uncovers once her eyes are opened, including a horrific and vicious white supremacist movement in her community, preaching its hatred, fear, and subjugation of women in the name of Christianity and patriotism. Yet, amazingly enough , this is just the tip of the iceberg of violence, abuse, hypocrisy and betrayal that Emmy discovers in the people around her. Can she save her friends or her sister? Can she save herself?

Discussion: I found Emmy’s existence suffocating; I wanted to scream during the first half of the book. Thus I found it hard to believe Emmy seemed less affected by it than I; she had an open mind and heart that was a bit hard (albeit not impossible) to believe, especially considering she wasn’t allowed even to read anything except “approved” books. From whence came her sense of right and wrong? Clearly not from her family, her acquaintances, or her church.

And although some people will enjoy it, I thought the author spent too much time and narration on her meticulous recreation of the 1950’s.

Evaluation: Almost every conceivable aspect of race, class, gender, and religion are explored in this late coming of age story. Book clubs will find this book full of issues for discussion.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2015

Review of “That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us” by Erin Moore

This is a very fun book about the linguistic differences that divide the British English-speaker from the American English-speaker, and how this phenomenon reflects the cultural divergence between the two societies. The author grew up in the U.S. but now lives in Britain, and so she considers herself “bilingual.” This collection of short witty chapters (which can be read in any order, and savored in pieces), explains why.

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In many instances, words sound the same but mean something different in America than in Britain. And of course there are many words that are unique to each culture: When it rains in Britain, you look for a brolly, versus an umbrella in the States, and when your baby needs changing, you reach for nappies in Britain instead of diapers as in the U.S. In America, if you want a saloon, you are probably looking for a drink, whereas in Britain, you are undoubtedly car shopping. We may talk about something addictive as being like “eating M&M’s” but the English say it is “moreish.” We scarf our snacks, but they snaffle them. What they snaffle could be biscuits, which would be cookies to Americans, or it could be Cadbury’s chocolate, which the British much prefer to Hershey’s. Some of the word differences are slight: whinging versus whining, takeout versus takeaway, jam versus preserves.

Then there is a whole category of words that mean the same thing, but connote something different. For example, “quite.” The British use it to qualify, or more precisely, to “damn with faint praise” while the Americans use it to emphasize. The British are apt to refer to their heterosexual spouses as their “partners” whereas Americans like to reserve that term for gay couples. The cultural differences also reveal many laugh-out-loud differences. The Puritanical Americans can’t bear to say the word “toilet” – they much prefer euphemisms like “powder room.”

Americans may swear a lot, but they use the same old swear words all the time. The British, on the other hand, are apparently much more creative in that regard, even making up their own to get around censorship restrictions. They also make up and use lots of nicknames. Prince Charles is “Chazza,” Paul McCartney is “Macca,” and Christmas is “Crimbo.”

Some of the cultural differences are bizarre at first glance, but understandable once you see the reasoning behind it. It turns out that in England, redheads are referred to as “Gingers” and taunted and ridiculed, even bullied and targeted for violence. If you recall your history however, you will remember the intense animosity between England and Ireland, the results of which are still clearly visible in Ireland in the many ruins of so-called “Cromwell’s Towers” that even now dot the Irish countryside. [The Cromwell in question would be Oliver Cromwell, the sadist who oversaw massacres of Catholics in Ireland in the 17th Century. Over a third of the Irish population died, either killed by soldiers or dead of starvation. Others had their land appropriated, and new anti-Catholic laws imposed barbarous restrictions on the rest. When Cromwell’s forces destroyed a castle, they left one tower behind, lest anyone forget the crime of being Catholic. You can read more about Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland here.]

Then there are more benign cultural differences, like a preference for hot tea in Britain versus iced tea in America (85 percent of the tea Americans drink is iced), or drinking tea generally in Britain (residents of the U.K. each consume around 5 pounds of tea per year, versus less than one half pound in America), versus coffee in America.

Evaluation: The author peppers her explanations of the differences between American and British English with many humorous anecdotes. You won’t be able to resist sharing many of the little stories she includes. I laughed a lot and learn a lot reading the many fun and interesting facts in this book.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Gotham Books, a member of the Penguin Group (USA), 2015

National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “Little Poems for Tiny Ears” by Lin Oliver

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This book has cute and funny poems for little kids that will have them giggling and – here’s the possibly bad part – asking to have it read to them over and over and over. And over.

But the good news is that poems are so delightful, you may not mind….

I also like the fact that the poems suggest ways to recite them interactively with the child. For example:

My Nose
Upward from your feet and toes
You’ll find a thing they call your nose.
It’s in the middle of your face –
this is, I think, the perfect place.
For if it were inside your ear,
You’d find it very hard to hear,
And if it grew out from your knee,
How strange and silly would that be?”

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Or this one:

Noisy Me
Achoo, hiccup
Babble, burp
Gurgle, giggle,
Snort and slurp.
Noises come and noises go.
They really put on quite a show!”

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Any book illustrated by Tomie dePaola (pronounced Tommy da-POW-la) makes me sit up and take notice. In addition to awards for individual books, his work has been recognized by the Smithson Medal from the Smithsonian Institution, the Kerlan Award from the University of Minnesota for his “singular attainment in children’s literature,” the 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for his “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children” and the 2012 Original Art Lifetime Achievement Award form the Society of Illustrators. His pictures are warm and magical, and are loved by both children and adults.

Evaluation: Adorable poems and adorable illustrations make a winning combination for the very young. There are even free stickers included in the back.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), 2014

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Be sure to stop by Jama’s blog to check out her roundup of other poetry-for-kids-posts in honor of National Poetry Month. In addition, Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit also has a collection of posts about poets and poetry by participants from around the blogisphere.

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