Review: The Magic Paintbrush

“When Steve grasped the painting, it tingled against his fingertips. He felt as if he had rubbed his shoes fast over a carpet.” p. 19

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 2000.
Historical fantasy, 90 pages.
Lexile:  530L  .
AR Level:  3.8 (worth 2.0 points)  .

Eight-year-old Steve’s parents and all of his belongings are gone after a tragic fire, and now he shares a single room in Chinatown with his grandfather and Uncle Fong (no relation but a childhood friend of Grandfather’s).  They are so poor that after his paintbrush split in art class, he’s afraid to go home and tell his Grandfather, knowing that a new one is not possible.

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep cover resized
The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep, illustrated by Suling Wang.

For a book with magic in the title, this book takes a while to get to the fantasy part.  The first chapters are all about establishing the setting – early 1960s San Francisco – and characters.  The tale of a magic paintbrush given to a poor boy who uses it to spread happiness is a Chinese story that has been retold many times, mostly in picture books.  Yep has a unique historical Chinese-American spin to his version though.

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New Series: How I Get Books

This is something of a departure from the normal content of this blog.  I read about 200 books per year (some are rereads, children’s books, or graphic novels), and while I do buy a LOT of books, that’s not the only way I get books.  Talking with other book bloggers, it seemed that there was mild interest in some of my techniques for finding different titles, whether to purchase or just to read.

So I’ll be doing a series of posts called “How I Get Books” throughout 2020.  Feel free to skip over them if you are not interested, or leave a comment if you want to discuss further.  As posts go up, I’ll be linking them here on this post.  Hopefully one of these posts will give you an idea or help you find a book you’ve been looking for!

Review: Down Came the Rain

“Chris and I were suddenly alone with a brand-new baby, and we weren’t sure what to do. We stared at each other for a while and then tried to settle in.” page 61

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields.
Hyperion, New York, 2005.
Memoir, 226 pages.
Not leveled.

Actress and model Brooke Shields writes a very personal story about her experiences with infertility, postpartum depression, and more.

Down Came the Rain resized

This is not your typical celebrity memoir.  The few references to famous people or media are because they are directly relevant to Shields’ life and her theme.  The book actually does not start with postpartum depression.  It starts with her long and difficult journey through infertility and miscarriage and her father’s death.

After chasing the dream of motherhood for so many years, Shields was originally loath to admit that anything was wrong, even as she was spiraling into darkness.  She also doesn’t seem to have had the best support or encouragement from the medical team – some members were good but her birthing experience was scary and discouraging.

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Some Thoughts on Usborne

Later, a post will go up about a particular Usborne book I’ve decided to review.  But before that goes live, I thought readers of this blog might benefit from a brief background on Usborne.  In the USA at least (it might differ elsewhere), Usborne is a direct-sales company focusing on children’s books and related items such as puzzles, notebooks, etc.  They were originally known among teachers for having long lists of child-friendly internet links to back up every book.  Of course, with the nature of the internet getting better known and the passage of time, those printed lists no longer had the same value, and they are not a major part of Usborne’s marketing these days.

Usborne has a long history of being sold through company representatives, which is part of why I haven’t reviewed too many of their books.  However, it’s now possible to purchase through their website (where you will be assigned a consultant), buy select titles new through bookstores, find almost any title used, or buy them through Amazon (although I think those purchases are not endorsed by the company).  Basically, Usborne has gained enough traction that it’s possible to get the more popular titles even without going to a sales party or knowing a consultant.

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Review: Little Book of Life Hacks

“Getting your most important (or tedious) task out of the way will create a powerful momentum for the rest of your day.” page 187

The Little Book of Life Hacks: How to Make Your Life Happier, Healthier, and More Beautiful by Yumi Sakugawa.
St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.
Not leveled.

An illustrated guide to a wide variety of diys, life-hacks, how-tos, and helpful tips.

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It seems to be a pattern that I discover famous people and trends through reading.  This was a random pick at the craft store – however not chosen to be diverse (like my Target Picks), just a book I grabbed on a whim because the artwork was so cute.

The cover is really appealing although it doesn’t photograph well.  The gold elements are shiny and there is a lot of texture.  This book is easy to pick up, read a few pages, and put down, although I read through it traditionally the first time.  One element I disliked, is that while there are page numbers, only about half of the pages are numbered.  So it was difficult to refer to a specific page.

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Review: Greenglass House

“One of the problems with knowing nothing about the family that you were born into was that you never really stopped wondering about it. At least, Milo didn’t.” p. 53

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.
MG mystery/fantasy, 392 pages (including sneak peek at the next book).
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 15.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Greenglass House series.

Milo’s parents run, and live in, a smuggler’s inn – running prohibited goods is popular because Nagspeake is practically run by the Deacon and Morvengarde catalog company, and their place used to be the home of notorious smuggler Doc Holystone.  But even a smuggler’s inn is usually quiet during Christmas vacation in heavy snowfall.  So Milo’s understandably perturbed when a surprise guest turns up, and then another, and then another…

Greenglass House cover resized
Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

I nearly passed over this book when compiling my diverse fantasy list.  First because before reading, I couldn’t easily tell if it even was diverse.  The cover features the eponymous house, and while the blurb describes Milo as adopted, it doesn’t say anything about his race, so I was doubting if it would be a good candidate for this blog.  But lately I’ve been including some books about adoption, fostering, and kinship care, even if they aren’t necessarily otherwise diverse.  Then I got the book and started reading.

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Review: The Real Boy

“He looked at the note. Writing it had taken an eternity, and by all rights the words should have transformed into poetry somehow.” p. 284

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire.
Walden Pond Press Imprint, HarperCollins, New York, 2013.
MG fantasy, 341 pages.
Lexile:  730L .
AR Level:  4.9 (worth 10.0 points)  .

Oscar is content to mix up packages, serve the most powerful magician in the Barrow, avoid the cruel apprentice, and ignore the existence of the city of Asteri and the wealthy patrons who come to seek the magic his master makes.  His world is orderly and known, his thoughts consumed with plants and trees and cats.  Until disaster strikes and upends his life.

The Real Boy by Ursu
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire.

I’ve been wanting to read this book since 2016.  AICL doesn’t have a review, but found it good enough to mention in passing twice, first within the review of another book and then again at the end of this short story review (which reminds me I want to get to that book also).

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