Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery

Chasing Cheetahs: the race to save Africa's fastest cats
Scientists in the Field Series
Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop

Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780547815497

Grades 5 thru 12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

The decision as to who reviews what goes fairly smoothly between Cathy and I until there is a new Scientists in the Field book, then, Watch Out! I won this time because Cathy is allergic to cats! What we love about the series is the variety of fascinating topics, the quality of writing, and the stunning photographs. Chasing Cheetahs: the race to save Africa’s fastest cats continues the tradition. It is by far one of the best books about these beautiful mammals...the fastest predatory animal on Earth. 

Sibert Medal winners, Sy Montgomery and Nick Bishop are a terrific team. Montgomery’s prose is perfect and though packed with lots of scientific information, the narrative is riveting and never overwhelms the reader.

In Chasing Cheetah’s, the dynamic writing team travels to the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s headquarters (CCF) in Namibia, Africa where they meet Laurie Marker. She and her team work tirelessly to save the cheetahs from extinction. In Namibia many cheetahs are shot by African farmers thinking they are after their livestock. When Marker moved to Namibia from the 1991, where 20 percent of the cheetahs live, she began visiting farmers and asking the questions that lead to a surprising conclusion: The way to save cheetahs is all about people, goats, and dogs. 

Accompanying the text are lots of photos taken by Nic Bishop. His keen eye and steady camera has captured some phenomenal scenes of the work being done at the CCF. Most of the pictures are of cheetahs, but I have to say my very favorite is of a chameleon cautiously marching across open ground found on page 45.

Sidebars with additional information that are placed throughout do not detract from the flow of the narrative. In fact, they enhance the reading experience. Montgomery is a master at making complex scientific information accessible. For example, read her explanation on "Secrets of DNA." Rounding out this award-worthy book is a bibliography, photo credits, and index. 

Chasing Cheetahs is great addition for middle school summer reading lists. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life 
by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781442435711
Grades PreS-3

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

I think I have found my favorite nonfiction book of the year. One glance at the cover of The Scraps Book, and I knew it was something special. This picture book autobiography about the life and work of Lois Ehlert full of kid-appeal!

The first pages of the book instruct readers in colorful block letters:

DON'T READ THIS BOOK (unless you love books and art)

Ehlert tells the story of her life in a simple yet engaging style for young readers. She embeds photos from her past throughout the story. Bright collage and paint illustrations are placed throughout the book. A trip to the grocery store provided the inspiration for the fruit and vegetable illustrations from Eating the Alphabet. Her sister's cat gave her the idea for Feathers for Lunch. Readers will enjoy seeing Ehlert's sketches as she plans out the pages of Feathers for Lunch.

With each page turn, readers will discover more examples of Ehlert's signature collage and primary color illustrations accompanied by a narrative explaining how or why she created the pieces. Illustrations from Snowballs show readers how art can be made with everyday objects. A toothbrush was used to spatter paint on the owl in Lots of Spots.

The Scraps Book is more than an autobiography; it's an homage to making art, instructing readers to use material from around the house. Ehlert tells readers it's o.k. to make a mess. It's the perfect book for an author study of Ehlert, but I also hope librarians and teachers share it with children to inspire them to be creative.

Also reviewed by:
 100 Scope Notes
A Year of Reading

Monday, March 31, 2014

Firefly July by Paul Janeczko

Firefly July: a year of very short poems
Selected by Paul Janeczko; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780763648428
All ages (Preschool up through high school)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

There are times when a book comes across my desk that is so perfect I am at a loss for the best words to describe it. From the design, selection of poems, to the illustrations done by the incredibly talented Maine artist Melissa SweetFirefly July: a year of very short poems, selected by anthologist Paul Janeczko is one of those books. It is the combination of poems and Sweet’s attention to the smallest detail as she interprets those poems, all just a few lines long, that makes this book so appealing.

Starting with spring, readers are taken though the four seasons. Sweet’s signature collage art captures the playfulness and essence of each poem. The pictures and text do play nicely together. It is possible to interpret the meaning of each poem by looking at the pictures. In April Halprin Wayland’s poem, Sandpipers, you can actually see the sandpipers hemming the ocean.
Sandpipers run with
their needle beaks digging—they’re
hemming the ocean.

Whoever was responsible for the design of this book had a keen eye for detail, for many of the poems are placed directly on the object they describe. For example, Screen Door by James Stevenson is placed on a screen door.

Contributors include Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, X.J. Kennedy, Richard Wright, Alice Shertle; 36 in all. The art even matches up across the gutters. The only minor flaw, and it does not detract from the book's overall quality, is with the double-page spread for Fall. It takes awhile to find the letters that spell F-A-L-L.

Firefly July can be used in a myriad of ways with students. Not only as an introduction to poetry, but when studying the night sky show the page with the poem by Charles Reznikoff. When sharing Kittens First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, read, In the Alley by Alice Schertle. 
            In the alley, a
stray cat drinks the round white moon
from a rain puddle.

In closing, the final poem by Jim Harrison and Ted Kosser, shows a sleeping child wrapped in a quilt made of fabric that has snippets of illustrations from the book; a beautiful conclusion to a book that will be read again and again.

The End.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale
by Demi
Henry Holt and Company, 2014
ISBN: 9780805097290
Grades 2-5

The reviewer received a galley from the publisher.

Elementary school students are often assigned a project in which students are asked to choose a biography from the school or public library, read the book, then write a report or create a project that highlights the accomplishments of the person. As a school librarian, I am pleased when teachers require students go beyond the fiction section of the library to explore biographies. When ordering books, I'm always on the lookout for biographies that are meaty enough for the research project yet written in a manner that an elementary reader can access. Florence Nightingale by Demi is exactly that kind of book.

On page one, the author introduces the time and place (Florence, Italy in 1820), which provides young readers with an historical context. From an early age, Florence knew she wanted to become a nurse, but her wealthy parents did not approve. Eventually, Florence convinced her parents that she was determined to help others, and she worked in an orphanage in Germany where she became trained in nursing.

In just forty pages, Demi captures the importance of Nightingale's work as she transformed the terrible conditions of hospitals and battlefield infirmaries into healthy and hygienic places for patients to heal. Nightingale's theories about cleanliness and germs were used to train nurses in London and were put into practice in the Civil War in the U.S. The information is laid out in a clear, concise and chronological manner and contains enough facts for research assignments, and it will also satisfy readers who are interested in the history of medicine.

Young readers will enjoy Demi's intricate, patterned illustrations that reflect the 1800s. Demi's beautifully illustrated and accessible picture book biography is the perfect book to introduce Nightingale to a new generation of readers. Visit the Macmillan site to view pages from the book.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the advent of The Civil
Rights Movement
by Teri Kanefield
Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781419707964
Grades 6-12
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

In 1950, fifteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns was sick and tired of the horrible conditions she and other black students endured attending the Robert R. Moton High School. Nothing more than tar paper shacks, the buildings were called “the chicken coops. The roof leaked when it rained. Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn’t run. Potbellied wood stoves instead of furnaces heated the makeshift classrooms. Students sitting near the stove were too hot; those farther away too cold.  Joan asked herself, why couldn’t the black students attend Farmville High School with its superior facilities?

Teri Kanefield writes a very readable narrative that is part biography, part social history, recounts the courageous actions of the high school student whose act of rebellion is credited with starting the modern civil rights movement. The author's use of historical images and photographs that have never before been published perfectly complements the text. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline of selected important events in Civil Rights, endnotes, sources, and index.

Barbara was described as smart, yet quiet. Yet, her classmates were eager to participate in her strike that began at eleven o’clock on Monday, April 23, 1951 during a regularly scheduled assembly.

Barbara gave a speech that students later described as electrifying and inspiring. She talked about the appalling conditions at their school and the inability of the PTA and others to secure better facilities. She said the students had the right to equal facilities, and it was clear that nothing would happen unless the students banded together and took action.

The NAACP supported the strike and the case went to the Supreme Court. Though things did not go as hoped, the strike helped outlaw segregation in the famous court decision (Brown vs Board of Educaiton) that declared segregation of schools unconstitutional.  

I found the quiet courage of Barbara Johns a real page-turner. To think that she had the fortitude to stage a nonviolent protest years before Rosa Park refused to give up her seat on the segregated bus is inspiring. What I also liked was the fact that after finishing high school, Barbara quietly faded from the public. She raised a family and, after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in library science in 1979, worked for twenty-four years as a school librarian. She passed away in 1991.

The Girl from the Tar Paper School is an excellent addition to the wealth of titles about The Civil Rights Movement. I recommend this book for all libraries and be sure to include it in displays for Black History Month, courageous women, and especially about people who did make a difference.

 Visit the author's blog to learn more about Barbara Johns. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kidlit Celebrates Women's History

The Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month blog is back again this year with many wonderful guest bloggers and reviews of books featuring women who made a difference. Be sure to check out today's post written by Louise and Mary Ann Scheuer from the Great Kid Books blog.

Mary Ann and Louise have written a joint review of Clara and Davie by Patricia Polacco, and they include many excellent books and resources on Clara Barton.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Feathers: Not Just for Flying 
by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Charlesbridge, 2014
ISBN: 9781580894302
Grades K-5

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

Melissa Stewart is the author of over 100 nonfiction books for children including Under the Snow, No Monkeys, No Chocolate and Inside Volcanoes. She is a prolific writer and researcher of all things science, and I had the pleasure of hosting her for an author event at my school last week.

I'm really excited about Melissa's latest science picture book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying. This is a book that is going to please everyone: children, parents, teachers and librarians. Kids will enjoy learning about how different species of birds use their feathers. Teachers will want to share the book with classes because of the rich language and similes used to describe the feathers and their uses. Parents and grandparents will want to share this book with the children in their lives.

The book is designed to look like a scrapbook full of bird photos. The primary text at the top of the page is poetic as it introduces readers to the various functions of feathers. Secondary text placed in boxes that appear as paper taped into a scrapbook, provide more information about the birds. Stewart pointed out that this format makes the book accessible to both younger children and older children.

"Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella...or protect skin like sunscreen."

Brannen's gorgeous watercolor illustrations will make readers think they are looking at real feathers. The illustrator effectively captures the colors, textures, and shapes of the feathers. Captions and labels provide readers with more information about each feather and bird.

Bird lovers and science-minded readers will enjoy reading the page about the different feather designs. Pair this book with Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard to inspire readers to notice birds in their own lives. Visit the Charlesbridge Publishing site to download a readers' theater script and a curriculum guide.

Images published with permission from Charlesbridge.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Determining Nonfiction Writing Styles

Today I had the pleasure of co-moderating a School Library Journal webcast with my friend, Amy Koester from The Show Me Librarian blog. The webcast focused on using nonfiction series in schools and public libraries, and we heard about new books from Scholastic, Gale, and Reference Point Press. Visit The Show Me Librarian Blog for programming ideas related to the titles mentioned in the webcast. If you missed today's webcast, you may view the archive on the SLJ site.

While Amy and I were sharing our ideas about recent trends in nonfiction series, I mentioned different nonfiction writing styles. Here's a recap of the different nonfiction writing styles discussed today.


The information is presented in a straight-forward manner. Facts are organized in paragraphs by topic. This style of writing is helpful to students doing research.


 The information is presented as a story.


 The author describes the topic in great detail using rich language so that readers may picture it in their minds.


The author presents the information in a manner that will sway readers to think a certain way about a topic.


The information is presented in poetic form.

This is also the perfect time to re-visit a blog post that Louise and I wrote together last year. To learn more about evaluating nonfiction, check out our blog post from January 2013: The Nonfiction Detectives' Tips for Evaluating Nonfiction.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Plastic, Ahoy! by Patricia Newman

Plastic, Ahoy!: investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Written by Patricia Newman; Photographs by Annie Crawley
Millbrook Press. 2014
Grades 4 thru high school
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Located in the Pacific Ocean, 1,000 miles out to sea between San Francisco and Japan is the North Pacific Central Gyre, which covers an area three times bigger than the United States. Floating within this “oceanic desert” is the largest accumulation of trash, mostly plastic in the world. This massive accumulation of plastic which is pushed together by ocean currents is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and scientists estimate the size is two times bigger than the state of Texas. It was first discovered in 1997 by racing boat captain, Charles Moore,
He found abandoned fishing nets, plastic bottles, bottle caps, toothbrushes, containers, boxes, and tiny pieces of plastic. The litter came from rivers and streams, from people visiting the beach or riding on ships who did not properly dispose of their plastic.
All this plastic presents hazards not only to marine life, but also the fishing and tourist industry. According to Greenpeace, of the more than 200 billion pounds of plastic the world produces each year, about 10 percent ends up in the ocean. 

In Plastic, Ahoy! author Patricia Newman tags along with three scientists, Miriam Goldstein, Chelsea Rochman, and Darcy Taniguchi as they travel more than 1,000 miles into open water, off the coast of California to investigate the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For three weeks, as part of the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX), they will conduct tests to try and answer some big questions: How much plastic is in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Are fish eating the plastic? Are the chemicals used to make plastics poisoning the water? Are any animals and plants living on the floating plastic? The process to find the answers to these questions and more make for exciting reading.

Complementing the easy to understand text are stunning photos snapped by professional underwater photographer and filmmaker, Annie Crawley. The pictures are well captioned and capture how intertwined plastics have become with marine life. Their students uncovered a sobering fact: The open ocean is no longer a wild place untouched by humans. At 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from land, SEAPLEX scientists saw evidence of human pollution in almost every net tow. Miriam found that a single piece of plastic is home to several flying fish eggs. Mussels, crabs, and sea anemones live on one piece of discarded rope.

Back matter includes source notes, glossary, books and websites for further reading, and index.

Earth Day is right around the corner (April 22). Include Plastic, Ahoy! in any display about the environment, oceans, and pair it with Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns, another excellent book about disturbing effects of trash in our oceans.

To grab students attention, watch this Great Pacific Garbage Patch Awareness Video.

After reading Plastic, Ahoy! I wonder why we can’t scoop up all that plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and take it to a recycling center.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Secrets of the Sky Caves

Secrets of the Sky Caves: Danger and Discovery on Nepal's Mustang Cliffs 
by Sandra K. Athans
Millbrook Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781467700160
Grades 4-8

The reviewer received an electronic galley from the publisher.

High in the mountains in a region between India and Tibet, there are a series of caves carved out by people thousands of years ago. Sandra K. Athans takes readers on an adventure to discover that secrets of what was left behind thousands of years ago in the Sky Caves.

Secrets of the Sky Caves takes place in the Mustang region which is controlled by Nepal. In 2007 a team that included climbers, archaeologists, an author and two children spent thirty days traveling to the "Sky Caves" in Mustang. The caves were carved to be used as dwellings and burial chambers beginning around 1000 BCE. The 2007 expedition was led by Pete Athans, brother of the author. Using climbing gear, the team was able to reach caves high in the mountainous region where they discovered cave paintings dating back to the 1100s. They also located ancient, clay artifacts and rare manuscript papers containing religious writing. The team returned several times with the permission of the government of Nepal and Buddhist leaders. Their mission was to remove artifacts and papers and to document what they had discovered including numerous mummified bodied and the heads of mummified animals.

The unique topic along with the narrative writing style will hold the attention of middle grade readers. The book is well-organized and contains text features including maps, a timeline, and detailed captions that will help readers understand the information presented. Stunning photographs are thoughtfully placed throughout the book giving readers a glimpse into the beauty of the region and the amazing caves.

It is evident the author spent a great deal of time interviewing members of the expedition and researching the Mustang region. In addition to learning about the work of archeologists and translators, readers will also gain an understanding of the history and religion of Mustang.

Fans of the Scientist in the Field series will want to check out Secrets of the Sky Caves. It gives readers a glimpse of the important and interesting work of archeologists and historians.

Visit the Lerner Publishing site to preview pages from the book.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Wild Animal Neighbors: sharing our urban world by Ann Downer

Wild Animal Neighbors: sharing our urban world
Ann Downer
Twenty-First Century Books. 2014
ISBN: 9780761390213
Grades 4 thru 12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

As our human population grows and spreads, wild animals are running out of space. What would you do if you found an alligator in your garage? Or spotted a mountain lion during your morning run through city streets? Ann Downer, known for her absorbing fantasy books, has turned her hand to writing nonfiction with a science theme. In Wild Animal Neighbors, she asks readers to think about what is bringing these creatures out of the wild and into our paved-over, glassed-in, and built-up human habitats, our concrete jungles?

Each chapter focuses on a specific wild animal: raccoons, mountain lions, Japan’s Jungle Crow, coyotes, Australian Flying Foxes, sea turtles, and alligators. She examines what is bringing them into our neighborhoods and what can we do to create space so possibly animals and people can live side by side. Within each chapter are well-captioned color photos and sidebars giving animal facts. Back matter includes source notes, selected bibliography, books & websites for further reading, and index.

Human impact on the environment is an ongoing research topic for students. It is important for students to understand how our actions can affect the world around us. Wild Animal Neighbors is a good title to use as an introduction to the subject of urban animals. 

Go here to visit Ann Downer’s blog.

As I read Wild Animal Neighbors and how humans are encroaching more and more into wild area, it brought to mind the book, The Dark Hills Divide by Patrick Carmen, the first in The Land of Elyon series. In this enjoyable fantasy, high stone walls surround the towns and roads in the kingdom of Elyon. The walls were built to keep out an unnamed evil, yet what they have done is divide local animals from their food supplies, homes, and families. To prevent an impending invasion, the forest dwellers seek the help of twelve-year-old Alexa whose connection to those of influence helps bring down the walls. I often wonder if Carmen wrote it as an allegory to our modern day problems.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CYBILS Winners Announced!!!

I had the pleasure of serving as second round judge in the Book Apps category for the 2013 Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS).

The winner of the 2013 CYBILS in the Book Apps category is...

Disney Animated by Touch Press

Touch Press has created yet another engaging and multi-layered app that fully takes advantage of the interactive features of the iPad. Disney Animated is not your typical storybook app that is meant to be read from beginning to end in one sitting.  Readers will want to digest this informational book app over time. The app is chock full of information about how Disney movie are created from the storyboards to the animation and music. Because of the depth and breadth of information in Disney Animated, the ideal audience is a middle grade or teen reader, however younger children could also read this app with the help of an adult.

Here's what the CYBILS judges had to say about Disney Animated:
"Disney Animated brings to life the outstanding animation heritage of Disney Studios through the expertise of Touch Press, one of the most exacting and innovative developers in the app space today. Appealing to the entire family, Disney Animated meets all the criteria we seek in outstanding interactive media. The technical elements are impeccably rendered, the interactive elements are directly linked to the content, and the narrative content is endlessly fascinating. From stills to studies, animated shorts, soundtracks, interviews, and games that illustrate the points being made, this app is one you'll have trouble putting down.
Like any good non-fiction book, you can read this app in linear or non-linear fashion. Interactive workshops built into the app not only give hands-on explanations of how animation works, they challenge our understanding of physics in a game-like way. The app makes every use of the medium, animating just about everything, even the text. You can pinch, enlarge, move, examine and share just about everything in this app. With Disney Animated, Touch Press models what the digital environment is capable of and what a truly great book app can be."

Trailer for Disney Animated 

The 2013 CYBILS winner in the Middle Grade Nonfiction category is...
Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard by Anne LeBlanc Cate

The 2013 CYBILS winner in the Young Adult Nonfiction category is....
Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sea Turtle Scientist

Sea Turtle Scientist 
by Stephen R. Swinburne
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN: 9780547367552
Grades 5-8

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

I am really pleased with the topic of the latest Scientist in the Field book. This book will immediately circulate with the upper elementary students and teachers in my library. Two classrooms at my school recently adopted sea turtles, and students had the opportunity to Skype with the sea turtle facility in Georgia where their turtles live.

Stephen R. Swinburne takes readers to the beaches of St. Kitts to meet biologist Dr. Kimberly Stewart in Sea Turtle Scientist. Stewart works with the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) to study, track, and conserve leatherback sea turtles. 

The book is well-organized and provides readers with information about the adaptations and survival techniques of leatherback turtles. Readers will be amazed at the journey a hatchling undergoes after hatching from an egg buried two feet under the sand. The hatchling must make it out of the sand to the open ocean without being eaten by a predator or scorched by the sun. 

Children interested in science will gain an understanding of Stewart's job. Part of her work is at the beach tracking leatherbacks, observing hatchlings and evaluating the habitat. Another aspect of what Stewart does is education. She works with WIDECAST to provide programs for school-age students as well as educating the community about the importance of sea turtles to the ecosystem. Readers will be enamored with Theophilus Taylor, a former sea turtle fisherman who now helps Stewart study sea turtles and educate children about the importance of conservation. 

Swinburne also traces the history of leatherback turtles from an abundant population to the source of meals for explorers and islanders. WIDECAST is currently working on a project to provide alternative jobs to turtle fisherman like Taylor so they may maintain their income without harming the leatherback population.

The book does an excellent job of showing readers how important it is to save the sea turtle. Sea turtles eat jellyfish, which keeps the jellyfish population under control. If sea turtles die out, then the jellyfish population will explode. Jellyfish eat fish larvae and plankton, so having a huge jellyfish population would be devastating to fish. 

Middle grade readers will enjoy seeing children help out in the conservation effort in Chapter 7: It Takes a Community to Save a Sea Turtle. There is even a page listing the items scientists bring to a turtle-watch including a handheld GPS to mark down the latitude and longitude, flipper tags and laundry bags to relocate eggs.

Back matter is rich and includes a glossary, ways to help a sea turtle, information on adopting a sea turtle, lists of web sites & books, and an index.

Dr. Stewart's work saving leatherbacks is an inspiring story that should be shared with middle grade and young adult readers.

View the Sea Turtle Scientist book trailer.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Historical Heartthrobs Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Historical Heartthrobs: 50 timeless crushes - from Cleopatra to Camus 
by Kelly Murphy with Hallie Fryd
Zest Books. 2014
ISBN: 978193676102
Grades 9 and up
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Historical Heartthrobs Blog Tour and Book Giveaway

Today we are taking part in Zest Book’s Historical Heartthrobs blog tour. In honor of the event, and Valentine’s Day being a few days away, we will give away one copy of the book to a lucky reader. See contest details and entry form at the bottom of this post.

Zest Books is an award-winning publisher of smart and edgy titles that cover timely topics. Books that have found an audience with the teens in my library include Don’t Sit on the Baby: the ultimate guide to sane, skilled, and safe babysitting by Halley Bondy, Dead Strange: the bizarre truths behind 50 world-famous mysteries by Matt Lamy, Scandalous! : 50 shocking events you should know about (so you can impress your friends) By Hallie Fryd, and The End: 50 apocalyptic visions from pop culture that you should know about—before it’s too late by Laura Barcella. Each book incorporates solid life advice, practical how-to instruction, and humorous commentary in creative ways. Teens waiting for parents to pick them up afterschool can dip into the short, easy-to-read format and learn something interesting.

Historical Heartthrobs looks at 50 of the sexiest men and women from history from a wide range of countries, ethnicities, and historical epochs. Some are artists, some are scientists, and many are political or military leaders, but all have had a lasting impact on human life—and a sizable impact on their admirers as well. The authors Kelly Murphy with Hallie Fryd ask the question: Would you really want to date them?

Everyone included made their mark on the world – but not everyone did so in an equally admirable fashion. Pablo Picasso was a smoldering Spanish artist who broke the rule – but wasn’t one for commitment. Nikola Tesla was a brilliant inventor who made Victorians swoon, but he seems incapable of swooning back. Che Guevara had the smoldering good looks, but would he for only look out for himself in a relationship? And what about Nelly Bly?

Each entry includes a photo, vital stats (place of birth, lifespan, and major areas of influence), the inside scoop on peccadilloes, noteworthy liaisons, and long-standing relationships, plus an overall heat reading that factors in sex appeal, charisma, accomplishments, and of course, moral virtue. A list of further reading and index rounds out this fun read.

Historical Heartthrobs Blog Tour Dates:
February 6:
February 7:
February 10:
February 11:
February 11:
February 11:
February 12:
February 12:
February 13:
February 13:
February 13:
February 14:
February 14:

  Giveaway Rules
                Complete the entry form below.
                Only one entry per person will be accepted.
                You must be 13 years or older to enter.
                Entries will be accepted from February 5, 2014 until 11:59 p.m. on February 9, 2014.

The winner will be contacted by email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, we will select a new winner.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Port Chicago 50

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights  
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press, 2014.
ISBN: 9781596437968
Grades 7 and up

The reviewer received a galley from the publisher.

Steve Sheinkin is proving to be the master of the nonfiction narrative for kids. Sheinkin has a knack for bringing in interesting details to paint a vivid picture for middle grade and teen readers. He's done it again with his latest work, The Port Chicago 50.

The Port Chicago 50 is a riveting account of how fifty African American sailors were tried for mutiny in 1944. Sheinkin weaves together quotes, photos, and primary documents to detail the injustice and prejudice African American sailors faced in the Navy during World War II.

The story is set at the Navy docks of Port Chicago on the coast of California. African American sailors were not allowed to serve on board Navy ships except as mess attendants. Hundreds of black sailors were assigned to load bombs and ammunition aboard Navy ships at Port Chicago. Working conditions were unsafe, and training was not provided. When two ships exploded at Port Chicago killing over 300 sailors during the summer of 1944, many black sailors refused to return to the unsafe job of loading bombs onto ships. Young adult readers will be outraged and surprised by the injustice that followed.

Sheinkin's meticulous research is evident; much of the information included in the book came from oral histories conducted with the sailors in the 1970s. The author also pulled out information from a 1,400 page court transcript to describe the Navy trial of the Port Chicago 50.

Readers who enjoy The Port Chicago 50 would like Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone.
Read a blog post about The Port Chicago 50 written by Steve Sheinkin for the Interesting Nonfiction for Kids blog.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

2014 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

View of Philadelphia from my hotel room.

I recently returned from ALA's Midwinter Conference in Philadelphia where I had the pleasure of serving on the 2014 Sibert Medal Committee. I was seated with the other members of the Sibert Committee during the ALA Youth Media Awards announcement. The excitement was contagious as audience members (mainly librarians, reviewers, and publicists) cheered, "oohed" and "ahhed" with the announcement of each winning title. The rumor is true... members of the Sibert committee flapped our arms like parrots when we stood to be recognized.

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

2014 Sibert Medal
Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore and illustrated by Susan L. Roth

2014 Sibert Honor Books

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Locomotive by Brian Floca

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

I would like to thank Louise for keeping our blog running, for her thoughtful reviews of 2013 titles over the past year, and for her support while I served on my first ALSC awards committee. Now that my work with the 2014 Sibert Medal committee is complete, I am able to review new nonfiction titles on the blog. I'm excited about a number of 2014 nonfiction titles I saw while I was in Philadelphia. Look for those reviews in upcoming months.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nonfiction News- January 2014

It's an exciting time of year for book awards. Here are some awards you may know and some that may be new to you.

The Cook Prize
The Bank Street Center for Children's Literature has named its finalists for the 2014 Cook Prize for best STEM picture books. Third and fourth grade students are invited to help choose the winner.

The ALA Youth Media Awards will be announced live from Philadelphia next Monday at 8:00 a.m. Viewers may stream the announcements live. 

ALA's Notable Children's Books committee will be discussing books from this list during ALA's Midwinter Conference later this week. The list contains fiction, nonfiction and poetry published in 2013.

School Library Journal's Battle of the Books announced this year's contenders. Two nonfiction titles made the cut. The Animal Book by Steve Jenkins and March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell.

Round two judges are currently reading and deliberating for the Children and Young Adult Literary Bloggers' Award (CYBILS). Winners will be announced on February 14th.

Calling Caldecott Ballot Now Open
The Horn Book's Calling Caldecott blog has opened the ballot for the first round of voting until 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Click here to see access the ballot.

Mock Sibert Award
Two blogs, Kid Lit Frenzy and Unleashing Readers, have announced their picks for Mock Sibert Award. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Angel Island by Russell Freedman

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
By Russell Freedman; Chinese poems translated by Evans Chan
Clarion Books. 2014
ISBN: 9780547903781
Grades 7 to 12
I received a copy of this book from the publisher

Award-winning author, Russell Freedom, a master at writing nonfiction, again broadens our understanding of American history.

America is a nation of immigrants. People still arrive daily from all over the world with one thing in common; they come for a chance at a better life: The American Dream. Both of my grandfathers were immigrants from Italy and Canada, respectively. The majority of immigrants from Eastern Europe, until 1954, were processed through Ellis Island in New York City. Those half a million people coming to our western shores, between 1910 to 1940, were mostly from China and other Asian countries. They were processed at the Angel Island Immigration Station located on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. It was called, “the other Ellis Island”, or “the Ellis Island of the West.” Freedman offers readers an accessible, informative history of Angel Island and its role in the Chinese immigration story. 

It was the California Gold Rush of 1848 that brought young men from China to America. By 1853, some 25,000 Chinese immigrants had reached the gold fields. But these men, hoping for a better life, were met with hatred and violence. To prevent too many Chinese from sharing in the wealth, the United States enacted exclusion laws towards only the Chinese. While awaiting their fate at the Angel Island Immigration Station the Chinese expressed their fears and anguish in poems brushed or carved on the interior walls of the detention center buildings. 

These emotional poems, many translated and placed within the narrative, were forgotten until by chance a California park ranger, Alexander Weiss, decided to venture into a “two-story wooden structure” that was scheduled for demolition. Recognizing the historical importance, Weiss alerted the Asian American community who launched a campaign to save the building.

For more than twenty days I fed on wind and tasted waves.
With luck, I arrived safely in the United States.
I thought I could land in a few days.
How was I to know that I would become a prisoner
suffering in this wooden building?

In Angel Island, Freedman conveys the misery along with the determination, while placing the Chinese immigration experience firmly in US history by referencing actual historic events from that era. Scattered throughout the book to complement the text are historic black & white photos, and endpapers showing an enlarged picture of how the Chinese characters looked carved on the walls of the station. Back matter includes source notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, picture credits, and index.

Visit the California State Parks website to learn more about Angel Island. 

Here are a few nonfiction books about the California Gold Rush(there were quite a few). Gold! Gold from the American River! By Don Brown, The California Gold Rush by Dennis B. Fradin, How to Get Rich in the California Gold Rush: an adventurer’s guide to the fabulous riches discovered in 1848 by Tod Olson, and The California Gold Rush by Linda Jacobs Altman. 

Fiction books about the Angel Island: The Dragon’s Child: a story of Angel Island by Laurence Yep and Landed by Milly Lee. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Handle with Care

Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey 
by Loree Griffin Burns
photos by Ellen Harasimowicz
Millbrook Press, 2014
Grades 2-6

Reviewed from an electronic galley sent by the publisher.

It's no secret, Louise and I are fans of Loree Griffin Burns. In 2010 we coordinated a Mock Newbery program for readers in grades 3-6, and we included The Hive Detectives on the reading list. We reviewed Citizen Scientists and named it one of the top ten math and science books of 2012. I was excited when I learned a new book by Burns would be released in 2014.

In Handle with Care, Burns turns her attention to butterflies, but this is not your typical informational book about butterflies. The story begins at the Boston Museum of Science where a package has arrived. Inside the box is Blue Morpho butterfly pupa. The pupa traveled to Boston from a butterfly farm in Costa Rica. In a clear, accessible narrative accompanied by up-close, colorful photographs, readers learn how farmers care for caterpillars and butterflies at the El Bosque Nuevo farm. The farm raises butterflies for museums where visitors can see them in live exhibits.

Handle with Care is a teacher's dream. It's the kind of book that kids will be eager to pick up on their own for pleasure reading, and it would be an excellent book to use in science classes. Students in elementary school will be able to read it independently and understand the concepts presented. Back matter includes a glossary, bibliography, index and information about visiting a live butterfly exhibit.

Several years ago I visited the butterfly garden at the Boston Museum of Science. I was in awe of the gorgeous butterflies, but I never thought about how they got to the museum. Now I know!

Photo taken by Cathy at the Butterfly Garden at the Boston Museum of Science.