Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, May 25, 2015

Doable: the girls' guide to accomplishing just about anything by Deborah Reber

Doable: the girls' guide to accomplishing just about anything

by Deborah Reber
Simon Pulse. 2015
ISBN: 9781582704678
Grades 10 thru adult
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

I’ve been taking a class in Leadership; it’s really a course in Coaching. I took it with the intention of becoming a more effective manager at work, but also a supportive friend and mentor (replace ego with listening and validation). As I go deeper into myself and my work style, I keep thinking about the various goals I’ve had over the years. Are they still doable or realistic? Was my inability to accomplish those goals based on fear? Were my goal too vague? Or was the problem that I didn’t know the necessary steps to take to make them work? But, you know how sometimes you keep chewing away at things? For me, it was thinking about goals, objectives and missed opportunities. And then this book fell into my path and I felt as if the author was speaking to me directly. The book that changed my thinking was Doable: the girls’ guide to accomplishing just about anything by Deborah Reber. 

The goal of Doable is to give teen girls the tools they need to be as productive as they want to be. To turn any goal or pursuit into a doable venture. Reber is a professional writer, blogger, and life coach who works to empower teen girls.

The book is set up like a workbook with each task broken up into eight “doable” steps all clearly explained. Step 1:  What do you want to do? Readers will go from naming their specific goal, mapping it out, defining all the tasks involved, actually doing the work, dealing with setbacks to finally delivering the goods. Reber combines actual real-life examples with her advice using a down-to-earth chatty tone that is always supportive. 

I especially liked how, right in the beginning, Reber explains that some “Doers” suffer from overly vague goals. When a goal is too vague, it can’t be measured, which means there’s no way of knowing when and if you’ve actually reached it. Working toward vague goals is about as productive as running on a life-sized hamster wheel (although at least in that case you’re getting a decent workout). Peppered throughout every chapter are sidebars that clarify what’s being discussed in the text or includes actions to be done before continuing on to the next step. A motivational summary that condenses all the information discussed ties up each chapter. 

I urge librarians to make this book available to those students who seem to be a bit lost. We all know those students who possess a certain charm that draws people to them. We describe them as lucky. They seem to have so much going for them. Maybe they had supportive parents, caring teachers or other adults who taught them early on how to make their goals a reality. I see Doable: the girls’ guide to accomplishing just about anything as an excellent resource to pass on to those other girls who, though they have dreams, often lack the necessary guidance to help them see it through.

I do have one very minor complaint about the book's layout. The font is grayscale, not black. Combined with the gray sidebars the font doesn't jump out, making reading the book seem more laborious. Still, the information is crucial to the very audience who might cast this book aside for its lack of visual appeal.

Doable is being marketed as a guide for teen girls, but, really, it is also extremely useful for boys and adults, too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gordon Parks: how the photographer captured Black & White America by Carole Boston Weatherford

Gordon Parks: How the photographer captured Black and White America
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Albert Whitman & Company. 2015
ISBN: 9780807530177
Grades 3 thru 12
I borrowed this book out of my local public library

As mentioned in the review of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, by 1902 the gains African Americans made for equality during the Reconstruction had slipped away. Though the Civil War had made them free men and women, still, the message was clearly stated that African Americans did not have the same rights, same educational or professional opportunities as whites. 

Gordon Parks was born in 1912 in the state of Kansas. His white teacher told her all-black class, You’ll all wind up as porters and waiters. At age twenty-five, Parks bought himself a camera and started taking picture after seeing a magazine spread on migrant farm workers. It wouldn’t be long before Parks would use his camera to lay bare rascism.

He would be the first black photographer for Vogue and Life Magazine; the first African American to write and direct a feature film.

Christoph’s double-page illustrations resemble a photograph that pays close attention to historic detail. He perfectly captures the essence written in the text, especially in the drawing of the dark alleys where African Americans are living in poverty while the bright white U.S. Capital shines against the blue sky as if saying that our laws only supported white America. 

Back matter includes a brief bio of Parks and Author’s note. 

Park's photographs brought racism to the foreground. He would remain active until his death in 2006. He published several books, and directed the hit movie, Shaft in 1971. 

For more information about Parks, visit the Gordon Parks Foundation. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374300227
Grades 6 and up
On shelves May 12, 2015

The reviewer received an advanced digital copy of the book from the publisher.

I enjoy reading about people and events from history that I had never heard of before, especially when it's from a time period that has been written about extensively. There are several nonfiction titles that fall into this category: The Port Chicago 50 by Steven Sheinkin,  Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin, Searching for Sarah Rector by Tanya Bolden and Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Hoose has a new nonfiction book for young adults that introduces readers to a little-known group of teens who made a difference. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler follows the work of brave boys from Denmark who created a club to sabotage the Nazis during World War II.

Hoose explains in the introduction that he got he idea for the book while on a bicycle tour of Denmark where he visited the Museum of Danish Resistance and viewed an exhibit about The Churchill Club.  The author researched the book by extensively interviewing Knud Pedersen in person and via email. The result is a gripping, edge-of-your seat, nonfiction book about how young saboteurs attempted to thwart the Nazis.

Hoose's narrative style includes interesting details that help readers picture the story in their minds. The Churchill Club met at Pedersen's home after school where they planned their missions. They named their club after Winston Churchill, whom they greatly admired. The most compelling aspect of the story comes from Pedersen's first person account of how the boys set fire to railway cars, stole weapons from German soldiers, and vandalized Nazi vehicles and buildings. Pedersen explains that the group decided to fight back despite the risks involved because they felt the Danish government had given up; they wanted to stand up to the Nazis like the Norwegians.

Black and white photographs and primary documents placed throughout the book provide more information about the events and time period. One memorable photo shows members of the Churchill Club posing with their prison numbers in the yard at the King Hans Gades Jail. Readers will enjoy reading about how the boys continued to wreak havoc with Nazi operations even as they served time in jail.  This is the perfect book for teens looking for an exciting, true adventure story. Pair The Boys Who Challenged Hitler with His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden or The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson.

Click here to access discussion questions for The Boys Who Challenged Hitler.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch written by Chris Barton; illustrated by Don Tate

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch
Written by Chris Barton; Illustrated by Don Tate
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2015
ISBN: 9780802853790
Grades 4-8
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

The Amazing Story of John Roy Lynch is about a man who went from a teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman in just ten years. It was quite a journey and Barton highlights Lynch's ingenuity, focus, and luck. 

John Roy Lynch was born in 1847, in Louisiana. His father was Irish and his mother was enslaved. His father worked as an overseer and hoped, one day, to save enough to buy his wife and children's freedom. Unfortunately, he died and John Roy, his mother and brother were sold.

Until he was fifteen, John Roy worked as a house slave, but after insulting the woman of the house he was sent to labor in the cotton fields. When the Civil War began, Lynch worked for the Union Army until the period we call Reconstruction. From 1865-1877, the U.S. government tried to figure out how to work with those southern states that chose succession; they attempted to convince all Americans to see African Americans as citizens with rights equal to white folks. By 1870, John Roy Lynch was one of sixteen African Americans from former Confederate States who served in the U.S. Congress.

Between 1902 and 1972, there were no African Americans in the U.S. Congress. Barton states in the historical notes. Put simply, white Southerners resisted and then reversed --through legislation and violence--the extensions of freedom to their black neighbors. And as Reconstruction neared its end, the U.S. government did not keep up its efforts to protect its African American citizens in those states.

Don Tate's mixed media full-page illustrations show a determined Lynch as he moves from childhood to congressman. Tate successfully balances the cheerfulness of Lynch's accomplishments with the dark times of violence. Readers see that even while Lynch was serving his country in Washington, D.C., back in the southern states the rise of violence towards African American escalated. Back home, white terrorists burn black schools and black churches. They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away. They even committed murder. 

The story of John Roy Lynch begins the dialogue about the period of Reconstruction and why it is so important to our understanding of the courage and dedication needed for the Civil Rights Movement to succeed. Back matter includes a historical note, timeline, author and illustrator note, suggestions for further reading, and a map of the Reconstructed United States in 1870.

The book closes with these words from Lynch that resonates today.
When every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

For more information about this book that includes a book trailer, go here.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Over the Hills and Far Away: a treasurey of nursery rhymes, collected by Elizabeth Hammill

Over the Hills and Far Away: a treasurey of nursery rhymes

Collected by Elizabether Hammill
Illustrated by more than 70 celebrated artists
Candlewick Press. 2015
ISBN: 9780763677299
Babies – Grade 3
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

I love nursery rhymes and so does Elizabeth Hammill, critic, bookseller and cofounder of Seven Stories, Britain’s National Center for Children’s Books

Hammill states in her introduction, Nursery rhymes have enlivened my life for as long as I can remember. Mine, too. As librarians, parents, and teachers, we all know that early exposure to books is an important element in a child’s development. It helps them master language and, hopefully, to love reading. Nursery rhymes, with their repetition, rhyme and beat is a pleasurable way to engage young children, especially babies. It's really fun to see toddlers stopping in mid-motion when their favorite rhyme is sung in toddler time. 

In this lovely anthology, Hammill has collected rhymes from various cultures around the world that will provide listeners with a genuine intercultural experience. Over 77 artists illustrate the rhymes. Hammill included those new to the field alongside our favorites: Jon Klassen, Polly Dunbar, Nina Crews, Shaun Tan, Helen Craig, Charlotte Voake, Axel Scheffler, and many more. Although a few of the pictures are recycled, most of the artwork is original. Eric Carle’s very hungry spider illustrates two rhymes about spiders.
At early morning the spiders spin/And by and by the flies drop in;/And when they call, the spiders say,/Take off your things, and stay all day. (American)

Ladybird, ladybird, /Fly away home. /Your house is on fire/And your children all gone;/All except one/And that’s little Ann/And she has crept under/The warming pan. (English)

Back matter includes notes about each artist, index of first lines, and sources.

All in all, this would make a wonderful addition to any library.

Read Betsy Bird's review at Fuse 8.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

A Nest is Noisy
Written by Dianna Hutts Aston; Illustrations by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books. 2015
ISBN: 9781452127132
Preschool on up
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

They’ve done it again! 

The award-winning duo, Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long, have added a fifth title to their informational science picture book series. (An Egg is Quiet, A Seed is Sleepy, A Butterfly is Patient, and A Rock is Lively). Their books stand out for their simplicity in language melded flawlessly with Long’s delicate, yet very expressive illustrations.

This book begins with a simple statement--A nest is noisy. It is a nursery of chirp-chirping buzzing squeaking peep-peeping bubbling babies—followed by brief paragraphs that gives just enough information about different types of nests without overwhelming readers. Aston packs a lot of information about a variety of nests. From birds to amphibians, mammals, insects and fish, this is one introductory science book budding naturalists will not want to miss.

Papery is the word that describes a nest for hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps. A lamprey’s nest is pebbly. I like the two-page spread, A nest is neighborly. We learn that some nest builders prefer colonies. Long has partnered the nests of the Baya Weaver bird that hang down from the top of the page with Black-tailed Prairie Dogs labyrinth of underground burrows below. 

Every illustration is clearly labeled. As Long did in the other titles, here the front shows a variety of nests and the actual animal that uses the listed nests at the back.

And, just like our own households that are noisy and chaotic when our children are little, everything changes once they are ready to fly, swim, or crawl away…Then a nest is Quiet.

 Read another review of A Nest is Noisy by our friend, Alyson Beecher over at KidLitFrenzy.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Gingerbread for Liberty!

Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution  
by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
ISBN: 9780544130012
Grades 2-5

Today is Patriots' Day in honor of the first battle of the American Revolution, so it seems like the perfect time to feature Gingerbread for Liberty. Mara Rockliff introduces young readers to Christopher Ludwick, a baker and little-known figure from the Revolutionary War. Ludwick's job was to make sure the soldiers were well-fed. He served as the baker for the Continental Army, and he also baked for prisoners of war (many were from his home country of Germany).

Kirsch's whimsical, watercolor illustrations look like gingerbread with masking fluid outlines that resemble icing.  The narrative style with many exclamatory sentences make Gingerbread for Liberty an engaging story for kids and an exciting book to read aloud. The story could also serve as a springboard for readers who want to learn more about the American Revolution. Although, the use of dialogue without source notes shifts the story from nonfiction to historical fiction.

Be sure to read the author's note to learn more specific information about Ludwick's work as a baker and his humanitarian efforts in Philadelphia. Readers who enjoy baking may be inspired to test the gingerbread recipe printed on the endpapers.

 Visit Vincent X. Kirsch's website to see illustrations from the book. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Out and About: a first book of poems by Shirley Hughes

Out and About: a first book of poems
Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
Candlewick Press. 2015
ISBN: 9780763676445
Preschool thru Grades 3
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Beloved British author/illustrator Shirley Hughes introduces a new generation of readers to her bustling, neighborhood where anything is possible. Her London is filled with diversity and multigenerational families all going about the day-to-day activities that make up a child’s life.

Out and About: a first book of poems is a year in the life of Katie and her younger brother, Olly. Hughes says, “This collection of poems gives a taste of what Katie and Olly might find when they are out and about.” Divided into the four seasons, we follow these two curious youngsters as they take pleasure playing in mud, enjoying the sunshine, rolling down a hill or a day at the beach.

I have to admit that the poem Spring Greens resonated with me, because as I write this I do believe Spring has finally arrived here in the Northeast.

Bulbs in pots,
Twigs in jars,
Dads in the streets, washing cars.
Greens in seasons,
Trees in bud,
Sky in puddles,
Ripples in mud.
Birds in bushes, singing loud.
Sun tucked up in a bed of cloud.

Accompanying every poem are Hughes joyful pen and watercolor illustrations that mirror the action perfectly. The combination of full and double-page spreads show children enjoying themselves as they open the back door to see what wonders each day has to offer.

The poems from Out and About are ideal for sharing at story time. Place one or two in your Poetry Jar and bring them out at that special time between stories. Use in the class room to spark conversations about how students spent their weekends or holidays. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Growing Up Pedro

Growing Up Pedro  
by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, 2015
ISBN: 9780763668242
Grades K-5

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

Red Sox fan and author/illustrator, Matt Tavares, has released a new baseball biography just in time for opening day. Growing Up Pedro follows the rise of pitcher, Pedro Martinez, from a childhood of poverty in the Dominican Republic to success as a Major League pitcher. Young readers are sure to find inspiration in Martinez's story.

Tavares organizes the sparse text into stanzas, like poetry. Martinez received support and guidance from his older Ramon as he navigated his way through the baseball system. Themes of persistence and remaining focused on your goals shine through as Martinez worked hard to hone his skills. He succeeded as a pitcher despite coaches telling him he was too small to play in the Major League.

"Every time he takes the mound,
he reminds everyone who doubted him.
with every pitch, he tries to prove them wrong."

Gorgeous, full-page, watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations compliment the narrative.  In a close-up illustration, Tavares captures the intense focus on Martinez's face as he pitches in a major league game. That focus and determination paid off when he led the Boston Red Sox to a World Series victory in 2004.

Growing Up Pedro is a recommended purchase for school and public libraries, and it would make an excellent gift for young sports fans of all ages. Be sure to read the author's note to learn more about how Martinez used his major league earnings to give back to his hometown in the Dominican Republic. Readers will also learn that Tavares traveled to the Dominican Republic and conducted interviews to research the book. Pair Growing Up Pedro with Henry Aaron's Dream and There Goes Ted Williams by Matt Tavares.

Visit Matt Tavares' site to see illustrations from the book and to access a guide for educators.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Case for Loving by Selina Alko

The Case for Loving: the fight for interracial marriage
By Selina Alko; Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Arthur A. Levine Books: an imprint of Scholastic, Inc. 2015
ISBN: 9780545478533
Grades 5 thru 12.
I borrowed this book from my local public library.

Richard Loving was a caring man; he didn’t see differences.                              There was one person Richard loved more than the rest. Mildred Jeter was part African-American, part Cherokee.  

Ever since Jacqueline Woodson won the National book Award prize for Brown Girl Dreaming and the 2015 ALSC book awards were announced in January, the importance of diversity has been an ongoing topic of conversation. (A Crossover Year for Diversity). Now, adding to the list of excellent informational books about the fight for equality comes, The Case for Loving: the fight for interracial marriage written and illustrated by husband and wife Selink Alko and Sean Qualls.

The book begins in 1958, telling the true story of Richard Loving, a fair-skinned boy, and Mildred Jeter, a girl whose skin was “a creamy caramel” who wished to be married. They were denied that right because in their home state of Virginia it was illegal for two individuals of different races to marry. They were so much in love Richard and Mildred knew they had find a way to tie the knot.

And there was. By crossing the state lines into Washington, D.C. were the law allowed interracial marriage. At the ceremony, in front of a few friends and family, nobody objected when Richard said, “I do,” and Mildred said, “I do,” too. The Lovings were officially pronounced man and wife!

Richard and Mildred were courageous. Knowing it could mean imprisonment they still set up housekeeping in their hometown of Central Point, Virginia. Eventually, they were arrested for unlawful cohabitation. Richard and Mildred left Virginia and didn’t return until nine years later, 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor (Loving vs Virginia). Finally, the Lovings, with their three children, had won the right to their love and could return home to Virginia.

Qualls and Alko, both celebrated authors and illustrators, decided to collaborate on this project because the topic is so personal. As a mixed-race couple, Alko states in her author's note, I found it hard to imagine that just decades ago couples just like us not only faced discrimination, but were told by their government that their love was unlawful. The illustrations, done mostly in earth tones using mixed media paint (gouache and acrylic), collage, and colored pencil on bristol board mirrors the text and radiates happy emotions. In the note about the art Alko shares, Just like a marriage is the joining of two people, the illustrations for this book could not be achieved individually, but only by Sean and me working together.

The Color of Loving is an important addition to any collection. This book celebrates the right of two individuals who love each other deeply, and their right to marry regardless of their race. Be sure to include The Color of Loving with other books about the Civil Rights Movement and marriage equality. The book offers children another opportunity to see the immense struggle that has taken place over the years for equality that, unfortunately, still continues to this day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Egg: Nature's Perfect Package

Egg: Nature's Perfect Package  
by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
ISBN: 9780547959092
Grades K-3

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.

Louise and I have been on the lookout for the best nonfiction books of 2015. So far this year (as in past years)  biographies and history books outnumber science books by a large margin. However, there is good news! The nonfiction duo of Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have released a new science picture book for the K-3 crowd.

Egg: Nature's Perfect Gift provides young readers with an overview of eggs including sizes, egg design, incubation, and locations where animals lay eggs. The first two pages show a variety of creatures that lay eggs: the banana slug, tarantula, skink, and crow. Dozens of animals are shown throughout the book carrying eggs, eating eggs, and protecting their eggs.

The illustrations are classic Jenkins- cut and torn paper collage in a variety of colors and textures.  On several pages eggs are illustrated in their actual sizes, and silhouettes are also used to show scale. Each illustration is accompanied by a caption that includes interesting egg facts. For a slim picture book Egg packs a lot of facts into each page.

"When she spawns, a female blue crab may release as many as eight million eggs into the water."

Readers who are interested in nature will spend time poring over the additional animal facts in the back of the book. Pair Egg: Nature's Perfect Package with An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston

Click here to view how Jenkins and Page researched, wrote and illustrated Egg.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fatal Fever Blog Tour and Giveaway

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary  
by Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek, 2015
ISBN: 9781620915974
Grades 5 and up

We received copies of the book from the publisher.

We are thrilled to take part in the Fatal Fever blog tour today! As part of the tour we will give away one copy of the book. (See below.)

In Fatal Fever, Gail Jarrow masterfully describes how Dr. George Soper tracked down Mary Mallon, a cook in the New York area, who had been unknowingly spreading typhoid fever to people around her. This exciting nonfiction text reads like a mystery as Soper and his team attempt to locate and contain the spread of the deadly disease at the turn of the 20th century.

Louise's Thoughts
Based on our criteria for high quality nonfiction, Gail Jarrow’s Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary is right up there at the top. This narrative nonfiction is well-organized, contains lots of historic photos that are well-captioned, and includes important back matter: author’s note, glossary of scientific words, bibliography of books & websites for further reading, source notes, index, and my favorite, a timeline. What really makes Jarrow’s book stand out is the writing. Jarrow, as she did in Red Madness, expertly weaves in historical details with scientific information to make this an exciting read.

I especially enjoyed the history behind many of the precautions we take for granted today that new discoveries in the early 1900, such as washing our hands before preparing foods and creating water purification standards to keep our drinking water from becoming contaminated with animal and human waste. I felt sorry for the woman that would become known throughout history as Typhoid Mary. Mostly, her inability to fully comprehend that though she was very healthy her body still contained high levels of the typhoid bacteria that caused many to become sick and even die.  

I know several middle school students who will find Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary an exciting read.

Cathy's Thoughts
I was captivated with the story of Dr. Soper and Mary Mallon from the opening paragraphs. Gail Jarrow hooks readers by starting the book with an exciting event. In the first chapter, Mallon is located by public health officials in 1907 who suspect she was a typhoid carrier, and she runs away and hides in closet.

"Mary shut the door behind her an crouched down. She didn't know it, but she wasn't alone in that cramped, cold closet. Deep inside her body, billions of deadly microorganisms were hiding, too" (p. 9).

Jarrow then provides readers with background information about typhoid fever, how it was spread, and its impact on communities, before bringing the story back to Mary Mallon, a carrier of the disease. The author's extensive research is evident in the detail and quotes used to tell the story. The numerous photographs and primary documents (a handwritten letter from Mary Mallon, health notices, and telegrams) help to paint the picture of the seriousness of the typhoid epidemic between 1900-1937.

History buffs and science-minded readers alike will enjoying learning how Dr. George Soper investigated typhoid outbreaks in different parts of the U.S.  Fatal Fever would make an excellent text to read in middle school or high school classes and could provide topics for debate. Many connections to modern diseases such as Ebola could be made along with the idea of an individual's rights vs. public health and safety.

Fatal Fever Book Giveaway
One winner will receive a copy of Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. (U.S. addresses only)

Giveaway Rules
Complete the form below to enter.
One entry per person
You must be 13 years or older to enter.
Entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, March 22nd.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spectacular Spots

Spectacular Spots 
by Susan Stockdale
Peachtree, 2015
ISBN: 9781561458172
Grades PreS-2

The reviewer received a galley from the publisher.

Susan Stockdale, author and illustrator of Stripes of All Types and Bring on the Birds, has a new informational picture book for very young readers.

Spectacular Spots features spotted creatures in their natural habitats. Each page includes a colorful acrylic painting with a few words of rhyming text on the bottom of the page, making the book accessible to emergent readers. Readers will enjoy reading about animals that are familiar (snakes, owls and turtles) and even a few that are not familiar such as the quail.

"Crawling crabs 
and munching bugs.
Charging cheetahs, 
creeping slugs."

The text is short, but Stockdale does not shy away from using rich vocabulary words such as "strutting," "grazing" and "flair." A two-page spread in the back of the book provides facts about each animal featured in the book. For example, the spots on the sea slug warns predators that it's poisonous. Turn the page, and you will find twenty different spotted patterns that readers can try to identify for fun.

It may appear to be a simple book, but there is a lot packed into this beautiful picture book. Spectacular Spots can read by an adult to a child, it may be read aloud in a story time setting, and early readers will enjoy reading the rhyming text on their own. It may also serve as a jumping off point for readers who are interested in learning about science and animals.

Visit Susan Stockdale's website to view examples of artwork from the book.

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.