Christmas 2011 Book Reviews

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor.

One Special Night: The Christmas Story Pop-up Book written by Lori C. Froeb, illustrated by Claudine Gevry; Standard Publishing Company; August 2010; 10 pp.; $16.99
This lovely book consists of only ten pages, but they are ten exceptional pages.  One Special Night tells the Christmas story with clear, child-friendly text on the left-hand page and a three-dimensional illustration on the right-hand page.  The five dioramas that illustrate the story of the birth of Jesus are what make this book special.  They are charming and quite amazing; from the first scene depicting Mary's visit from the angel Gabriel to the last page's portrayal of the visit from the three wise men.  Children-and the ones reading to them--will enjoy reading this delightful keepsake book.

Same, Same But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw; Henry Holt and Co.; September 2011; 40 pp.; $16.99
When Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw was little her dad traveled the world.  She remembers him telling her that people are the same everywhere and are good-hearted.  Inspired by her dad, Kostecki-Shaw has also traveled the world and has learned the same lessons about people.  While living in Southeast Asia, she learned a popular saying about the different cultures: "Same, same but different."  She worked on a project with students in Nepal who shared different parts of their culture and daily lives with students in the United States. This exchange of art work was the inspiration for Kostecki-Shaw's new children's picture book Same, Same But Different.  In the book, Elliot and Kailash are pen pals; Elliot lives in America and Kailash in India. Through their letters and pictures, they learn that they have a lot of similarities, even though their worlds look different.  Kostecki-Shaw's artwork is vibrant and adds to the clear, meaningful message of her book, one she learned years earlier from her father.

A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness-and a Trove of Letters-Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression by Ted Gup; Penguin Books; paperback edition, October 2011; 369 pp.; $16
In June, 2008, author and journalist Ted Gup was given an old suitcase that had belonged to his deceased grandparents.  The suitcase contained a packet of letters-- all of them dated December 18, 1933, along with 150 cancelled checks, each for $5, and signed by "B. Virdot."  Also in the packet was a Canton, Ohio newspaper clipping from the same day, with a story of a mysterious donor named Mr. B. Virdot, who was offering to send cash to 75 families who were suffering from financial hardship during the Great Depression.  The families were asked to write to Mr. Virdot, via General Delivery, describing their hardship, and in return they would receive cash to help them get through Christmas.  Gup discovered that B. Virdot was really his grandfather, Sam Stone, who ended up anonymously helping 150 families.  A Secret Gift is Gup's investigative journey to discover the stories behind the letters.  Gup traveled from coast to coast to track down descendants of the people his grandfather had helped.  His book, recently published in paperback, is a fascinating portrait of Depression-era America.  The Depression was an extremely difficult time period, but A Secret Gift gives readers a sense of the goodness and compassion of people.  It is an uplifting and well-told account of an important era in American history.

Love is the Explanation of Everything: 365 Meditations with the Pope by Pope John Paul II, texts selected by Isabella Planelli; Rizolli International Publications; October 2011; 736 pp.; $29.95
The meditations, thoughts, and reflections of Pope John Paul II that make up this new, substantial book are drawn from the Pope's writings, from his unpublished personal archives and also from published works, sermons, Youth Day messages, and encyclicals.  Love is the Explanation of Everything can be used as a daily devotional or as an inspirational read.  Each meditation is illustrated with either a photograph from the life of the Pope, a reproduction of a classic religious painting, an inspirational image, or simply a striking photograph that illuminates the corresponding reflection.  The book notes from where the reflection came and also identifies the photographs and illustrations.  A ribbon bookmark is attached to this handsome book, which makes a lovely and inspiring gift.

Little Minnesota: A Nostalgic Look at Minnesota's Smallest Towns by Jill A. Johnson; Photography by Deane L. Johnson; Adventure Publications; November 2011; 224 pp.; $16.95  
Little Minnesota features 100 charming small towns with populations from 5 to 141.  Each small town has a two-page spread, with color photographs that display the unique quality of each of the locations. Some interesting tidbits about the town and some information about the town today are included for each entry. Lake Henry, Spring Hill, St. Rosa, St. Anthony, Fort Ripley, Genola, Hillman, West Union, and Fort Ripley are some of the small towns featured in this lovely and informational book. The back of the book lists the men and women from the featured towns who served in the military and died in wars, from World War I to the present. Little Minnesota makes a great gift for anyone who currently lives in Minnesota or who once lived here.