Books read in May 2019

Ah, vacation reading, you let me do things like re-read a book so I can properly read the second and then the third in a series. So delightful.


Picture books: The Undefeated
Middle grade: Genesis Begins Again
Young Adult: On the Come Up
Young Nonfiction: Biddy Madison Speaks Up

Picture books

When Spring Comes to the DMZ
Uk-Bae Lee
Read for Librarian Book Group

An odd and interesting little book about the wildlife that has flourished in Korea’s DMZ. The illustrations were not my style, but there is a lot to look at.

If you’re looking for Baby’s First DMZ book, this is it.

The Undefeated
Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Read for Librarian Book Group

When Kwame Alexander isn’t slaying you with his words, Kadir Nelson is slaying you with his illustrations.

Middle grade

The Moon Within
Aida Salazar
Read for librarian book group

While Are You There God, it’s me, Margaret was a seminal book when it was published, when I read it in 1985, it was already dated. There’s a whole section about buying belts to hold the pads and even though I hadn’t yet gotten my period, I suspected that wasn’t how things worked anymore. And so it came to pass that many authors stepped in and wrote more books about that time around when a girl gets her period.

Kidding! Where are all the fiction books on this topic? There should be one every decade or so to capture various menstruation trends/practices.

Enter The Moon Within, which gets a lot of stars for exploring the topic. It’s also written in verse, which will make for quick reading.

That said, I personally found the ceremonial aspect of this transition that was emphasized to be the kind of thing I distance myself from, so from that perspective, it wasn’t a book that worked for me. I did like the friendship changes and the navigating that stage where someone you like likes you back for the first time.

Genesis Begins Again
Alicia D. Williams
Read for Librarian Book Group

I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a book for kids that so thoroughly explores feelings about how dark or light one’s skin is.

Genesis has to move all the time. It’s not unusual for her to come home to find all her belongings on the street. While that’s an unfortunate situation, what really made me ache is how hard she tries to change the color of her very dark skin.

This book is set in the suburbs. Genesis’s father has moved them to a house in a school district with a lot of things she hasn’t had in her school before. One of them is a choir teacher who encourages Genesis to find her voice.

Genesis also makes friends for the first time. And yet, while those things are going on, she’s going to a lot of extremes to lighten her skin.

I loved this book, and it was hard to read. I highly recommend it. And it’s got a great cover.

Young adult

On the Come Up
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

This was a great book on so many levels. My notes list six different things, all with plus signs. They are: main character; rap battles; dilemma (selling out vs staying true); people interpreting your words; friendships; church

It’s not unusual for me to finish a book and then not think about it again. But Angie Thomas is so good at creating worlds that I think about different scenes, characters and situations many times after the book is done. I particularly love main character Bri, who has a lot to balance: the neighborhood legacy of her father; her desire to be a successful rapper; struggles with how she is perceived at school; worry about her mother’s health.

I particularly loved Bri’s friends and the many different ways they responded to escalating tensions at school. I also found Bri’s observations of church members to be quietly amusing. There’s also a good dose of observing how it is to be female and looking to break into the music business.

We are so lucky to have Angie Thomas. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Every Day
David Levithan

I loved Every Day when it was first published I found it inventive and interesting. It was also a great book for introducing the concept of gender fluidity.

This was a re-read so I could read this and the two companion books in sequence. On second reading, it still held up.

Another Day
David Levithan

My plan to read this right after reading Every Day turned out to be not the best plan. It’s the same story, but from Rhiannon’s point of view. I knew this, but didn’t realize that 90% of the book is exactly the same book. Because I had finished Every Day the day before, entire passages were word-for-word familiar. I could picture Levithan’s copy/paste skills increasing as he wrote this book.

There were a few things worth reading for. I recommend reading this a month or so after Every Day.

David Levithan

This is the third book in the Every Day series. (Which I notice has a .5 digital-only book called Six Days Earlier.)

My book-loving friend mentioned that she had to put this book down because it was making her too anxious. I totally get it. The character X is not a good person.

And yet! This book is great! It’s got a complex plot: A and Rhiannon; A and X; A’s usual shifting from body to body. Plus there are other characters.

I think it’s a book-length exploration of what love is, when it can’t be love as we usually see it. There’s also a lot of drama, especially for David Leviathan.

I found the ending quite satisfying and well worth getting through the portions of the book that are X’s story.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss
Kasie West.

This was a perfectly serviceable YA romance. The main character was also a working actress, so there was that fame angle, which is always fun.

The Opposite of Always
Justin Reynolds

The first 100 pages of this book are marvelous, because Justin Reynolds knows how to write his way through a romance. [Main character] is so fun to watch while he’s working through quandaries, and his friends are very interesting. Plus, his parents are amusing. There’s even a time travel aspect hinted at.

And then. Once the time travel aspect kicks in we get shades of the same story three more times. Though there are variations, the repeat of the stories provides diminishing returns and the more pages I read, the more often I put the book down.

Still, the first 100 pages were fabulous. And my notes state: the best slog I’ve read in 2019!

There was so much to like about this book, I look forward to what Justin Reynolds can give us next.

Young nonfiction

Biddy Mason Speaks Up
Arisa White, Laura Atkins, and Laura Freeman
Read for librarian book group.

The story of Biddy Mason, who was a slave taken to California where she “spoke up” for her freedom.

I like how this series gives us the factual stuff. Words are defined on the page they are introduced and the layout is great with photos, illustrations and other supports. There’s very good back matter.

The one thing I wonder about is the alternating verse/nonfiction prose setup. While the verse is good for people who like stories told in verse, and the nonfiction is good for people who like fact-based books, I wonder if tumbling them both together might dilute the entire book?

Song of the Month May 2019: Harmony Hill

Vampire Weekend is killing it with their opening lines, of late. In this case:

We took a vow in summertime
Now we find ourselves in late December

There’s a great pre-chorus too:

Anger wants a voice
Voices wanna sing
Singers harmonize
‘Til they can’t hear anything
I thought that I was free
From all that questioning
But every time a problem ends
Another one begins

It’s a bit repetitive but that’s par for the course with music right now. (Kids today!)

The video is filled with bugs. Not recommended for anti-bug people.

Also, this version has extended solos that are not what I’ve been hearing on the radio.

SKS Postcard: Elmaro Vineyard

Two things have conspired to drop a lot of SKS postcards in my box of late.

  1. Sara & Shawn are moving, which means they are doing a lot of last-gasp trips in the Minnesota vicinity.
  2. Moving means cleaning things out, and Sara got rid of a lot of postcards by sending them to me.

I’m pretty lucky, eh?

This came from a winery with tasty wine and a great atmosphere. S&S had an impromptu overnight because their regular Sunday commitment has come to an end.

SKS Postcards: coffee promo and Minnesota Streetcar Museum

It’s another coffee promo card. The surface wasn’t much good for writing on, so Sara sent another card. Malawi, according to the postcard, is in “the Warm Heart of Africa.”

In this card, which gave her pen more purchase, SKS discusses the use of “endemic” on the previous postcard and reports on the weather, which was cold and rainy.

That streetcar TCRT 1239, according to the information on the back, was restored and placed into service in 2004.

Affordable housing coming to Kenton

The commercial building that was most recently a garage has been removed, as has the single family house that used to sit next to it. Next up? A 24-unit Habitat for Humanity structure.

And affordable housing is being built on an empty lot at the edge of downtown Kenton.

I’m excited to have both of these developments happening near me.* If there’s one thing this city needs, it’s more affordable housing. As someone who is only a homeowner because of Proud Ground, a housing program for first-time home buyers, I know how much of a difference affordable and stable housing can make in a person’s life.

*Which is not to say I don’t have worries that our easy-to-find street parking will disappear once that 24-unit Habitat for Humanity development is done and occupied. I would LOVE if the City Council would take some steps to establish an on-street parking permit system in Portland neighborhoods.

One More Walk

After the deluge of yesterday afternoon, look what I woke up to:

There was also a “wintry mix” forecast, which I experienced when I took one more walk before checking out of my room. Wintry mix! In May!

I had a bit of time to kill before my flight so I took one last walk of Minnesota neighborhoods.

I found this sculpture when getting to the start of the walk. Note the black framing in pictures is due to my camera’s lens not retracting all the way. I bump it open when I notice, but there are times I don’t notice.

New building going up here.

A grand vista of the art museum.

And a picture of the newer wing.

There were so many good apartment buildings in Minneapolis! I love the arches on this one, and clearly so do the current owners, given the name.

Behind the art museum is a college.

Another of those houses that make me weak in the knees.

I love all three of the signs on this sign. What happened on the 1989 Arbor Day???

In Portland it sometimes it seems that every single block hosts a houseless person. But this was one of the only sign of homelessness I spied in the Twin Cities. I saw people who looked like they were down on their luck, but they didn’t look like they were also living in a tent on the sidewalk or an old RV.

Informational sign telling us of a huge lovely house that is no more.

Look at this little gem!

And across the street this great church!

Some beautiful stone.

And a sort of mini castle.

I loved seeing a few different stages of development here. The three on the left, probably all built around the same time. Then the two on the right, also probably built around the same time. Were they built before or after the freeway was put in? For the first set, definitely before, for the second set, maybe after?

From the looks of that dirt pile, there is a big freeway project happening.

Gorgeous little mansion down the street from my lodgings.

Statue and center that are directly across the street from that lovely little mansion.

Walk over, I packed up. I left the book of neighborhood walks at the house, but first I added notes pointing out the three walks within walking distance of the address.

And then I took the Green Line all the way to downtown St. Paul. On the way there I looked out the window on one side of the car.

On the way back, I looked out of the opposite window.

I learned that I have some St. Paul exploring to do. Its downtown has a great number of beautiful buildings. Also, I saw the MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) headquarters!

After that, it was back to the airport for a flight home.

What a lovely trip!

Post-graduation Photos

There was a torrential rain falling, so we took photos inside. Here, Sara’s cousin takes a picture of Shawn & Sara

Kathy and Al take pictures.

More pictures with Sara’s dad, stepmom, and sister.


Shawn’s mom and dad.

Sara’s aunt and cousin

Sara’s aunt and uncle

Pictures taken, we headed out in the rain.

The next few hours weren’t great for me. I got lost on campus (because I never would ask anyone for directions) and sopping wet, and I was cold and eventually I found my way to the delightful meet-up area where we were scheduled to have dinner.

I bought some hot tea, read, went from sopping to damp, and bought some Pho when everyone else showed up. That warmed me up from the inside. Thus the day ended on a good note.

Dr. Sara K. Sterner’s Graduation

The defense finished, we moved to the graduation ceremony, which took place on the very next day.

Shawn holds Sara’s robes.

The graduation took place in the hockey arena and was for the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). This was all the future teachers, who sat on the house right side, and then a bunch of psychology-type (ish) majors. All the majors are listed here. The Human Development people sat on the the house left side and took much longer to seat themselves. Teachers know how to form an orderly line.

Looks like this graduate has a job waiting.

The nice thing about the hockey arena is that there was a big screen where the happenings were projected. That made this ceremony slightly more intimate.

After a long wait, we got to see Lee, Sara’s writing partner, hooded.

And then Dr. Sara Sterner herself.

Here’s the program:

You can see it has many pages. Look how many people also received PhDs at the same time as Sara. And this is just in the College of Education and Human Development!

There she is, on the next page.