Reviews and Comments

nerd teacher [books]

Joined 2 years, 3 months ago

Anarchist educator who can be found at where I muse about school and education-related things, and all my links are here. My non-book posts are mostly at, occasionally I hide on, or you can email me at [they/them]

I was a secondary literature and humanities teacher who has swapped to being a tutor, so it's best to expect a ridiculously huge range of books.

And yes, I do spend a lot of time making sure book entries are as complete as I can make them. Please send help.

This link opens in a pop-up window

C.S. Fritz: A Fig for All the Devils (Paperback, 2021, Albatross Book Co.) 3 stars

An abused, grief-stricken, and impoverished Sonny has all but given up on life. That is, …

Liked what it attempted to do, but don't feel it actually succeeded in doing it well.

2 stars

I feel like this book failed to actually hit the notes it was attempting to hit. It wanted to work through abuse, death, and grief but really felt like it was forcing the wrong characters to learn lessons when they were meant to be the narrative devices through which the protagonist Sonny (and his family) were meant to learn.

Much of the exploration felt incredibly superficial, with Sonny just moving on through processing the abuses he endured. This isn't to say that there's one right way to process and deal with abuse, but there was nothing that actually made Sonny engage with what he experienced. In a good chunk of the novel, it was very much "tell don't show" or "show but gloss over."

Overall, it's an interesting attempt, but I left it feeling very unsatisfied. I was even left frustrated by the ending, which I think should've had consequences …

Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (2015, HarperCollins) 3 stars

And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by the English writer Agatha Christie, …

Still Interesting

3 stars

It's been a long time since I last read this book, and I remembered liking it. I don't think I caught all the ways in which the movie Clue either references it or uses it as a guide for their detective spoof before, and that was partially the reason for why I wanted to read it again.

I still very much like the idea that the point of the book is to target those who cannot be touched by the law or who haven't done something that can be considered "criminal." It really feels, particularly in an age where so many people in specific positions view themselves as untouchable because they're either "not doing something illegal" or the law refuses to do anything about them, like a concept we should be revisiting in our narrative fiction.

This novel is enough to bring me back to detective works, something which I've …

Eric Litwin: Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons (2012, Harper) 2 stars

Pete the Cat loves the buttons on his shirt so much that he makes up …

Too Much Like Leveled Readers

2 stars

Leveled readers are books that are generally designed for new readers and English learners, which supposedly build language skills by making sure a book 'fits' a level. Personally, I find these leveled readers suspect, as they don't so much build independent readers but create stories that are generally dull for the sake of "being easy" and "using appropriate vocabulary."

This book reads like that, though it doesn't look like a traditional leveled reader because of the art. I've tried using this book with a range of young students, and they all say things that indicate to me that the book is 'speaking down' to them rather than treating them like actual readers. For example, a few kids who like repetition in books (and think it's fun because they can sing it like a song) find the repetition of asking them to do simple maths problems (4-1, 3-1, 2-1, 1-1) to …

Lauren Child: I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato (Paperback, 2003, Candlewick) 2 stars

Lola is a fussy eater. A very fussy eater. She won’t eat her carrots (until …

I find it a bit troublesome.

1 star

I'm just going to focus on the thing that I find obnoxious: I don't like when people trick others into eating foods they openly state that they don't like. I actually think that indicates a form of abuse that we see as being acceptable, and I label it as abuse because it's explicitly ignoring the body autonomy that we should all have. Children, like all people, should have a right to determine what they eat and do not eat. Tricking them into eating things because you call them by another name is just... I'm not a fan.

There are numerous reasons a person would choose to not eat something. Some people find certain textures appalling, while others can't handle certain tastes. Others just aren't ready to try certain foods, opting not to eat them at that moment. And those aren't even all the reasons that people don't like and choose …

Chelsea Clinton, Alexandra Boiger: She Persisted Around the World (2018, Philomel Books) 1 star

Women around the world have long dreamed big, even when they've been told their dreams …

Constant Rehashing

1 star

Every single book I've read includes the same few women, even as they're telling us to learn about more women. It's a bizarre pattern to notice when we're being told to diversify and expand our knowledge, and Chelsea's book doesn't help it.

Expand only as far as you're allowed, I guess.

On top of everything, JK Rowling is featured in this book as an amazing woman. This book was published in 2018. We knew then, as we know now, that she was not an amazing person of any kind. I think we're fine without her persistence. In fact, we could use less of it.

Chelsea Clinton, Alexandra Boiger: She Persisted (2017, Penguin Young Readers Group) 1 star

Continuing the Individualist Garbage

1 star

Someone ought not let Chelsea Clinton write books for kids because, as with many of the more "political" books about injustice for kids (which also attempt to be somehow apolitical), she's not capable of saying anything of value.

Many of these thirteen women faced a range of abuse, persecution, and harassment... which came from outside of their own abilities. There is no focus on the fact that society should change, there is nothing saying that the people putting them down were wrong... The overall message is that we must be resilient in the face of bigotries and abuse. There is no message saying that people should stop being bigoted or stop abusing people.

It's absolutely bonkers. This should not be the message of our kids' books.

Vashti Harrison: Little Dreamers (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers) 1 star

Featuring the true stories of 35 women creators, ranging from writers to inventors, artists to …

Great Man Theory for Little Girls

1 star

I hated this book from the introduction, and I hate how much of it glosses over the shared work of other people. This is a persistent theme, especially from books for kids that are developed for the US market. Individualism reigns supreme, to the point where we get New Great Person Theory instead of genuine feminism. It's so annoying.

This is even true of Marie Curie's (very short) story, which glosses over the fact that her husband did fight for her recognition. This is something that is directly contradictory to many women in science during and after the Industrial Revolution, like Mileva Einstein-Marie (who was just as brilliant as Albert... but he never ensured her work was acknowledged). This doesn't even negate the feminist slant the book pretends to have; it very literally would highlight that part of the reason we know about Marie Curie's contributions is because someone else …

Andrea Beaty: Sofia Valdez, Future Prez (Hardcover, 2019, Harry N. Abrams) 1 star

Every morning, Abuelo walks Sofia to school . . . until one day, when Abuelo …

Hits My Least Favourite Tropes

1 star

Tolerable. Could be useful if you want your kids to be participants in traditional "democracy," which doesn't tend to be very democratic. The book does at least point at the obstacles, but it makes them seem entirely surmountable despite the fact we know they wouldn't be and would have to be done a dozen times over until you've done them "correctly." (We also know that they'd likely go backwards, as things would be time-delayed and elections would constantly keep them on the "democratic" teeter-totter.)

The two major tropes it hits include One Person Can Do It All (or One Person Can Lead Everyone To Do Everything) and The Youth Shall Fix the Planet, and I loathe them both.

Jason Chin: Gravity (Roaring Brook Press) 3 stars

What keeps objects from floating out of your hand? What if your feet drifted away …

Extremely Short and Concise

3 stars

For the lower half of the intended age range (5-8, according to the publisher's website), it's not bad. It might be too simplistic for an eight-year old, but they'd probably still enjoy the illustrations of the concepts. It's very short and concise, and it illustrates the principles of gravity rather well and in ways that kids could learn about it (along with having access to specific language that would be used in science discussions, improving their vocabulary).

There's also a bit at the back to explain more, which is probably very helpful for adults who may need a refresher as they go through this incredibly short book. (Seriously, there's like 1-4 words per page, if that.)

Helaine Becker: Counting on Katherine (2018) 3 stars

"You've likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 [mission]. But do you know about the …

Not Bad, but It's Boring

3 stars

It seems like a lot of kids' biographies often get this treatment of being a bit too dull. They're styled as stories, but they're written in the same structure as if the author is adapting the Wikipedia article. The only difference is that, instead of a webpage, we get to have the entries spread across thirty-something pages of (generally lovely) illustrations. As such, it doesn't really provide a narrative for the person. They also seem to think you have to include as much time in the story as possible, rather than focusing on single events.

The text itself really doesn't have much interaction between the characters. They don't really highlight the relationships between Katherine Johnson and those around her. It's very much, with the exception of her father working so hard that they could move to a neighbourhood with a high school for Black kids, everything is presented as if …

Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean: The Wolves in the Walls (2003) 4 stars

Lucy is sure there are wolves living in the walls of their house—and, as everybody …

Fun Story

4 stars

Neil Gaiman infuriates me constantly because I do genuinely like most of his work and find it to be quite fun and engaging, but he also consistently sticks his foot in his mouth too often for my liking.

Still, this story is very well-done and fun. It's a little dark, and the illustrations highlight this. They're all gorgeous and engaging, building upon the story that's been written. It feels like a camp story, and it doesn't feel like it talks down to the audience. This is something that is definitely better read aloud and amongst people, but it's still good on your own.

Andrea Beaty: Iggy Peck, Architect (2007, Abrams Books for Young Readers) 2 stars

Iggy Peck has been building fabulous creations since he was two. His parents are proud …

Cute Despite Being Frustrating

2 stars

This book has a frustrating story structure. It's cute in showing the ways in which the titular character Iggy has an interest in architecture and building initially, but the overarching lesson is a bit wonky? Especially when combined with the other books in the series, which can create a really off-putting shift in tone.

The first thing that I noticed is that Iggy, unlike the girls in later installments of the series, gets to be a bit rambunctious. He gets to be a little naughty up to a point (such as how his mom thinks it's so cute that he built a tower of diapers and glue... until she realises that he used dirty diapers). He's also shown to be allowed to inconvenience other people with little or no consequence.

But then he goes to school! And his teacher outright says that "architecture doesn't belong in grade two," which immediately …

Andrea Beaty: Aaron Slater, Illustrator (2021, Abrams, Inc.) 3 stars

Aaron Slater loves listening to stories and dreams of one day writing them himself. But …

Tolerable Start

3 stars

This book does something that the others don't: It actually engages with a disability. Sort of.

The titular character, Aaron, struggles with dyslexia (though this isn't made explicit in the text of the story—it's only made explicit in the author's note). In the illustrations, it shows a lot of the words as being backwards and doesn't really engage with common forms of dyslexia.

It also doesn't do much with the characters other than have Aaron work really hard to overcome his struggle without having any of the characters doing much to collectively work with him. I know it's a book with text, but it's still reinforcing literacy as an end-all-be-all skill. This isn't to say literacy isn't useful, but it should try to highlight that our hyperfocus on literacy as being a core necessity to exist and how there are people who will struggle with that.

Perhaps it's because I …

Presents designer Coco Chanel's early life in an orphanage, where her sewing genius leads her …

Garbage and Lies

1 star

This book, like many others in the series, does the girl boss shit that I loathe so much. This one is even worse because... There are blatant lies in it! Like how corsetry was why people couldn't breathe (rather than them being ill-fitting or improperly/overly laced). It also claims that she showed women that they didn't need corsets or sequins to be stylish! Which... just feels like it's shaming other people's fashion choices, honestly.

Oh, and it casually ignores the fact that Coco Chanel was a Nazi informant who wasn't charged as a collaborator because Winston Churchill intervened? Like, that fact alone should've given the author (and publisher) pause... But it's fine! She was a celebrated fashion designer! Ugh.

Also, amusingly, portraying a girl in a school as being weird and different for liking to sew. When Chanel was a child and would've been of age, it would've been part …