Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why'd They Wear That?

Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History 
by Sarah Albee
National Geographic, 2015
ISBN: 9781426319198
Grades 5 and up

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

Sarah Albee's latest nonfiction book for tweens and teens is a fascinating look at the history of fashion through the ages. Why'd They Wear That? is the kind of book you can sit down and read from cover to cover (like I did) or readers may select chapters and passages of interest to read.

Albee explains in the Introduction, "What people wore can tell us about human history because fashion never stands still." There is a plethora of information in the book about fashion, history, society, and religion, Albee organizes the chapters by time periods and uses catchy headings like "Wrapper's Delight," "Dressed to Kill" and "Going for Baroque."

Readers will learn about culture, social classes, religious beliefs and science from this book. For example, purple is considered a royal color because it was so rare. The Phoenicians created Tyrian purple from the mucus of a snail, so it was in short supply. Hundreds of years later, it was still hard to produce purple dyes, so it was only worn by royalty.

The comprehensive book describes the history of armor, undergarments, shoes, makeup, wigs, and much more.  Not only does the book document centuries of fashion, but it explores how and why people wore what they did during each time period and across the continents.

Albee's conversational writing style will appeal to kids.

"Pestered by fleas? You could try a flea fur to rid yourself of those pesky bugs. This solution was popular among Europeans of high rank in the mid-1500s. Here's what you you: Take a small dead animal- head, claws, tail, and all- and drape it jauntily over one of your arms. Then wait for awhile." (p. 64)

By the way, flea furs didn't work as a way of getting rid of fleas. According to the book, fleas are attracted to body heat not fur.

The design and layout of the book are outstanding. The size of the book (9 1/8" x 10 7/8") allows ample space for the numerous photographs and artwork. Fact boxes and sidebars are off-set in colorful blue and yellow, which doesn't interrupt the flow of the main text. The images are effectively placed near text on that that subject. One amazing photograph shows a young woman in an extremely tight corset. On the next page readers will be astonished by a series of four photographs that illustrate how a woman wore a hoop under a dress in 1860.

Albee's extensive research process is evident in her writing and the hundreds of images used in the book. Back matter includes a lengthy bibliography and a list of the images used. Why'd They Wear That is a highly recommended purchase for a school or public library collection, and it would make a fun gift for a middle grade reader.

Other books by Sarah Albee include Bugged: How Insects Changed History and Poop Happened!: A History of the Wold from the Bottom Up.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Turning Fifteen On The Road to Freedom

Turning 15 On the Road to Freedom: my story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
By Lynda Blackmon Lowery; as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; Illustrated by PJ Loughran
Dial Books. 2015
ISBN: 9780803741232
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.
Grades 4 thru 12

Joining the Civil Rights Movement to help end segregation and allow African Americans the right to vote, Lynda Blackmon Lowery, born in Selma, Alabama in 1950, was too young to take part in the sit-ins. Instead, she was a "gopher," Her job was to go for help. 

By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times.

The Civil Rights march in Selma took place on Sunday, March 7, 1965; Lynda Blackmon Lowery was only fourteen when she took part in that historic march now called, Bloody Sunday.  She was sprayed with tear gas and beaten, but those seven stitches over her eye and twenty-eight in the back of her head did not deter her from joining in march to Montgomery. Dr. King’s march from Selma to Montgomery would show Governor George Wallace and the world that black people still demanded the right to vote—that beatings and violence would not stop us. Lowery would turn fifteen on the second day of the march.

Lowery’s memoir is engaging as she recounts her experience being an African-American teenager and an active member in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama during a very tumultuous time in our country’s history.  Her commitment to the movement despite her terror illustrates the tremendous dedication and determination it took for all those involved, both black and white, to win the right for all U.S. citizens to vote.

Well-selected historic photos are interspersed throughout the text along with Loughran’s graphic style illustrations. In her author's note, Lowery gives a brief explanation of what historical events lead up to that infamous march from Selma to Montgomery. She also includes brief bios of three who lost their lives days before or after Bloody Sunday.

Listen to an interview with Lynda Blackmon Lowery on

Lowery states: We were determined to do something and we did it. If you are determined, you can overcome your fears, and then you can change the world.

Pair this with the graphic novel March. Book One and March. Book Two by John Lewis, Russell Freedman’s Because They Marched: the people's campaign for voting rights that changed America, and Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin, and  BrownGirl Dreaming and The Other Side, both by Jacqueline Woodson.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2014 CYBILS Winners

Yesterday the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS) announced the winners for 2014. The CYBILS recognizes books that have both literary merit and kid appeal. 

Louise was a 2nd round judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category. 
The winner of the YA Nonfiction Award was The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming. 

Congratulations to Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen for winning in the Elementary/ Middle Grade Nonfiction category for Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

Cathy was the chair of the Book Apps committee. This year the winner was the interactive STEM story, Kalley's Machine Plus Cats.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Draw What You See

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews 
by Kathleen Benson
illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews
Clarion Books, 2015
ISBN: 9780544104877
Grades 2-5

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Picture book biographies are in demand at my elementary school library. Many classroom teachers ask students to select biographies to read as part of book challenges and reading units. When a child asks me for a biography recommendation, I often pull out books about people that are unfamiliar to young readers. Some of my favorite picture book biographies to recommend to children are Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas by Meghan McCarthy, and Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

Draw What You See is an inspiring, picture book biography that recently hit shelves, and I'm looking forward to adding it to my list of recommended books. American artist, Benny Andrews, began drawing in 1933 at the age of three. His family worked in cotton fields in Georgia, and his mother made sure he went to high school instead of working in the fields. After college, Andrews traveled around the world with the Air Force. The G.I. Bill funded his tuition at art school in Chicago in 1954 where he painted people around him from jazz musicians to the janitors at his school. He continued to paint when he moved to New York City; he also fought to have the works of African American artists displayed in museums.

Kathleen Benson's narrative writing captures the essence of Benny Andrew's life and work in thirty-two pages. Andrews' oil and collage paintings make the perfect illustrations for a book about an artist who saw art everywhere. Before his death, Andrews traveled to New Orleans to work with children affected by Hurricane Katrina. He was a talented artist who used his art to help make an impact on society.

Benson includes a timeline, list of sources, and more information about the artist in the back of the book. Pair Draw What You See with A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet and The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan.

Friday, February 6, 2015

2015 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

Despite a snow storm raging in Chicago -- and in the Northeast -- on Monday, February 2, the 2015 Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA's Midwinter meeting. Cathy and I were thrilled by the titles chosen by the 2015 Robert F. Sibert Committee. We reviewed all of the honor books and the winner -- and placed them on our Best of 2014 list! We would like to give a huge thank you to all the individuals on all the book award committees, who spent pretty much all their free time for a whole year reading hundreds of books.

The Robert F. Sibert Medal is for the most distinguished informational book for children.

2015 Sibert Honor Books

And the winner is....

Go here for a complete listing of all the youth media award winners.

Happy reading! 

Louise and Cathy

Monday, February 2, 2015

Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine

Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink
by Gail Carson Levine
Harper. 2014
ISBN: 9780062275301
Grades 4 -12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

Looking back at a book from 2014.

In Write to Writer: from think to ink, Levine guides hopeful writers on creating stories that will captivate readers. Picking up where she left off in Writing Magic: creating stories that fly--and using the same format--Levine breaks down the writing process into thirty-nine chapters organized in eight sections emphasizing building characters, developing a plot, aspects of a story to her thoughts on blogging. 

Levine does a wonderful job of explaining and using examples to make her point. Every chapter ends with writing exercises. She even includes a section for those interested in writing prose and poetry. 

Students will find Levine's writing engaging and her advice very accessible. 

Encourage students to visit Levine's blog where she continues to offer tips on writing. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats

The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats: A Scientific Mystery 
by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press, 2015
ISBN: 9781467714631
Grades 4-7

Sandra Markle's third book in the Scientific Mystery series is just as engrossing as The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs and The Case of the Vanishing Honey Bees.  In The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats readers are introduced to a problem: bats are mysteriously dying. Scientists have discovered the bodies of bats on the floors of caves in the northeastern United States.

The book is organized in a question & answer format will will keep readers engaged.  Markle poses various questions then shows how scientists tested each theory.

"Could climate change be the problem?"
"Could pesticides be the killer?"

As each question is answered, readers learn about the physical features of bats, their habitats, and the importance of bats to the ecosystem.

Photographs throughout the book show scientists at work in labs, observing bats in caves, downloading data from computers, and swabbing bats to test for bacteria and fungus. The length of the book, layout of the pages, size of the print, and writing style make this an ideal book for middle grade readers who are not quite ready to tackle the more complex Scientist in the Field series.

The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bats could serve as an excellent, nonfiction read aloud for grades four and up. Not only does the book encourage kids to see problems through the eyes of scientists, but it also will motivate readers to protect bats in their own backyard.

Back matter includes an author's note, glossary, tips for helping bats, and a list of global efforts to protect bats.

Visit the Lerner Publishing site to look inside the book.

Read Sandra Markle's blog post about bats.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Librarian is a Camel by Margriet Ruurs

My Librarian is a Camel: how books are brought to children around the world
By Margriet Ruurs

Boyds Mills Press. 2015
ISBN: 9781590780930
Grades K-12
I went into my local public library and borrowed a copy of this book.

In My Librarian is a Camel, author Margriet Ruurs contacted librarians around the world and asked them to share their stories about their efforts to connect books with people. Whether it is at a refugee camp or a street corner, these mobile libraries are often the only way books can be transported. 

When we think of a library, we picture a building on a street or perhaps a room in a school. Some move from place to place in the most remarkable of ways: by bus, by boat, by elephant, by donkey, by train, even by wheelbarrow.

From Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, we learn just how inventive librarians will go to be sure everyone has books. In England, the Blackpool Beach Library brings books to folks who are enjoying their summer holidays at the beach using a wheelbarrow. One librarian states, “Libraries are services, not buildings.” These librarians are passionate and believe that, as one librarian states, “the mobile library is as important as air or water.”

Organized alphabetically by country, each two-page spread gives a brief explanation on how books are transported and includes color photos taken by the librarians in that country showing children laughing and enjoying books! In addition, an insert with map displays where the country is located, its flag, name of the capital, estimated population and country facts.

My Librarian is a Camel is a wonderful book to share with students studying other cultures. Pair it with Material World by Peter Menzel.

Watch the book trailer.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Emmanuel's Dream- Blog Tour and Giveaway

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah 
by Laurie Ann Thompson
illustrated by Sean Qualls
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015
Grades K-4

We received copies of the book from the publisher.

Today we are pleased to take part in the Emmanuel's Dream blog tour and book giveaway!

Laurie Ann Thompson introduces readers to Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah's inspirational story in this picture book biography. Emmanuel grew up in Ghana and was born with only "one strong leg." Through the encouragement of his loving mother, Emmanuel learned to walk on crutches, ride a bike, and attended school. When his mother fell ill, thirteen year-old Emmanuel traveled to the city of Accra where he worked at a food stand and shined shoes to help support his family. Determined to prove to his country that he could accomplish great things, Emmanuel rode a bicycle 400 miles across Ghana.

"He proved that one leg is enough to do great things- and one person is enough to change the world."

CATHY'S THOUGHTS: Emmanuel is an amazing individual and role model for children and adults. I can't believe I hadn't heard his story before. Emmanuel's Dream is a book that teachers and parents will want to read and discuss with children. The narrative writing is accessible to young readers who want to read it independently, too. Sean Qualls' bold illustrations in orange and blue hues will appeal to kids. 

Don't miss the author's note at the end of the book where Thompson provides more information about how she learned about Emmanuel and about his scholarship fund for children with disabilities. Emmanuel has also worked with leaders in Ghana to pass laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. I would pair Emmanuel's Dream with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and focus on the themes of determination and overcoming obstacles.

LOUISE’S THOUGHTS: I love everything about this book. From the artwork to the text, Emmanuel’s Dream is truly a must read for everyone. Quall’s mixed media illustrations capture Emmanuel’s strength and determination. They pair perfectly with Thompson’s rich language that packs in lots of information about the incredible obstacles Emmanuel overcame. Not just physical obstacles, but attitudes regarding people with disabilities as well.  

“Most kids with disabilities couldn’t go to school. Still, Emmanuel’s mother carried him there, until one day she said, “You are too heavy. From then on Emmanuel hopped to school and back, two miles each way, on one leg, by himself.”

Emmanuel’s dream of cycling around Ghana to change the perception of those with disabilities is such an important message for children to hear. It took Emmanuel ten days to ride four hundred miles. At the end of his journey, Emmanuel became a national hero.

To see Emmanuel talk about his journey, watch this video produced by
Laurie Ann Thompson is the author of Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters, a how-to guide for teens who want to change the world. An advocate for social justice,  Laurie is dedicated to inspiring and empowering young readers. Emmanuel's Dream is her picture book debut. Visit her at
Be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour.
Mon., Jan 12: Great Kid Books
Tues., Jan 13: 5 Minutes for Books
Wed., Jan 14: Unleashing Readers
Thu., Jan 15: Sharpread
Fri, Jan 16: Cracking the Cover
Sat, Jan 17: Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 19: Once Upon a Story
Tues, Jan 20: Proseandkahn
Wed, Jan 21: Geo Librarian
Fri, Jan 23: The Fourth Musketeer
Mon, Jan 26: NC Teacher Stuff
Tues, Jan 27: Teach Mentor Texts

One lucky winner will receive a copy of EMMANUEL’S DREAM: THE TRUE STORY OF EMMANUEL OFOSU YEBOAH by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls.
(U.S. addresses only)

Giveaway Rules
Complete the form below to enter the giveaway.
One entry per person
You must be 13 years old or older to enter.
Entries will be accepted until Sunday January 25th at 11:59 p.m.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chernobyl's Wild Kingdom by Rebecca L. Johnson

Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom: life in the Dead Zone
By Rebecca L. Johnson
Twenty-First Century Books. 2015
ISBN: 9781467711548
Grades 5-12
To review this book, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.

On April 26, 1986, Reactor Number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded sending extremely high levels of ionizing radiation into the atmosphere that would cover the area. Liquidators worked to clean up the mess. In the countryside around the power plant, the top inches of radioactive soil, placed in steel drums were then buried deep in the ground. When as much as could be done cleaning up, an 18.6 miles radius (30 km) was set around the power plant and fenced off. This would be known as the Exclusion Zone.

Most people, including many scientists, assumed that Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone would become a barren wasteland –an empty, lifeless landscape like something from a science fiction story about the end of the world. But that’s not what happened. To almost everyone’s surprise, life in the Zone wasn’t extinguished at all.

Similar in scope and quality to the Scientists in the Field series, yet written for a younger audience, science writer, Rebecca Johnson, follows the work of four scientists who have been studying the various life forms that inhabit the Exclusion Zone, also known as the Dead Zone for the past twenty-five years. Whereas mammals seem to have little mutations to their DNA from the radiation, Barn swallows(birds) and insects seem to be more affected. Why that is has yet to be determined.

The information these scientists discovered would be invaluable to Japan when, in March of 2011 there was another nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

Learning how radiation affects plants and animals is crucial, because however it affects them is also how it will affect us.

In 2013, around the globe there are 423 electricity-generating nuclear reactors in operation, according to the World Nuclear Association, with the United States having the most.  

The more we know, the better prepared we will be before the next accident—which may happen sooner than we think.

Color photographs are placed throughout, as are sidebars that offer more details on topics mentioned in the text. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, source notes and selected bibliography and a table of contents and index.

An excellent addition to nonfiction collections.

Watch a short film with biologist Timothy Mousseau on the animals of Chernobyl by the New York Times.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker

Winnie: the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh

By Sally M. Walker; Illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss
Henry Holt. 2015
ISBN: 9780805097153
Grades K-5
To write this review I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Children the world over have been loving the adventures of A. A. Milne’s beloved bear Winnie-the-Pooh since it was published in 1926. Sally Walker tells the story of the real bear who inspired Milne’s classic tale in this informational picture book.

It all began in Canada. Harry Coleburn, a young lieutenant in the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, looked out of the train window, he couldn’t believe what he saw: a bear at the station! It was a cub and Harry bought it for $20. Harry named the bear Winnipeg, after our company’s hometown. By the time Harry and the trainload of soldiers reached their military training camp in Quebec, Winnipeg had been shortened to Winnie.

Jonathan Voss’ watercolor illustrations, rendered with pen and ink on Arches Hot Press Watercolor Board support the text of this remarkable bear as he goes from Canada to England. Under Harry’s care Winnie thrived and was so gentle that he became a playmate of the other soldiers. When Harry’s regiment was sent to France, Harry made a difficult decision to place Winnie at the London Zoo. It was during a visit to the London Zoo that A. A. Milne's son, Christopher Robin met Winnie...and the rest is history.

The writing is simple and accessible. Walker includes an author’s note, sources and websites.

Share Winnie, the true story of the bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh with students in all grades. They will enjoy learning all about this remarkable bear and the veterinary who raised him.

Go here and at about two minutes and forty seconds you will see Winnie.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Animal Teachers

Animal Teachers 
by Janet Halfmann
illustrated by Katy Hudson
Blue Apple, 2014
ISBN: 9781609053918
Grades PreS-2

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the author.

Janet Halfmann shares interesting facts about how animals learn from their parents in her latest nonfiction picture book.

Children will enjoy learning how otters teach their young to swim, mother kangaroos teach joeys to kick for defense, and prairie dog pups learn to shout by copying adults.

The accessible text combines narrative and expository styles and incorporates questions that will engage young readers.

"Prairie dog pups live in big groups called towns. They have to know how to be heard among a crowd. So prairie dog parents give them shouting lessons. Chee-chee! Yip-yip! Wee-oo! Wee-oo! Wee-oo!

Readers are asked:
"Do you yip? Can you bark? Or shout? Or yelp? How do you make yourself heard?

Hudson uses a realistic style in the watercolor, ink and digital illustrations to depict animals in their habitats. A mother chimpanzee teaches her baby chimp to crack a nut, and penguins give singing lessons to their young. The interesting topic, engaging writing style and gorgeous illustrations make Animal Teachers an ideal read aloud for young children at home, school or in the library.
Pair Animal Teachers with My First Day by Steve Jenkins or Born in the Wild by Lita Judge.

Visit Katy Hudson's blog to learn how she created the illustrations for the book.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Earmuffs for Everyone by Meghan McCarthy

Earmuffs for Everyone: how Chester Greenwood became known as the inventor of earmuffs
Written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy
A Paula Wiseman Book: Simon & Schuster. 2014
ISBN: 9781481406376
All ages
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

In Earmuffs for Everyone, the clever and talented Meghan McCarthy offers readers an explanation as to how Chester Greenwood (from Maine) was credited with inventing earmuffs.

The word “muff” has been around since the Middle Ages. Starting in the 1700s, people wore muffs on their hands to keep them warm. It wasn’t until 1858 when William Ware invented a type of muff that was named for different body parts “ear, cheek, and chin muffs.” Over the years other people improved on the design.

Then along came Chester Greenwood. Born in 1858, rumor has it that Greenwood had large ears that were sensitive to the cold. After testing various versions of muffs to keep his ears warm, Greenwood got a patent from the US government for a new improved design at age nineteen.

By 1939, two years after Greenwood’s death, only he was remembered as the inventor of earmuffs.

McCarthy’s wit is evident in her writing and comic illustrations in this informational picture book. Back matter includes a note about the book, explanation on patents, and bibliography.

Highly recommended when studying inventions and/or creativity.

Learn more about Meghan McCarthy at PW.