Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, November 24, 2014

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos 
by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781596439603
Grades K-4

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

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos is an engaging picture book biography that will inspire young readers to ask "why" and "how" as they wonder about the universe. Stephanie Roth Sisson writes in a narrative style and uses comic-style illustrations and speech bubbles to describe the life and accomplishments of astronomer, Sagan.

As a child, Carl Sagan visited the 1939 World's Fair where he saw time capsules and mechanical men. His inquisitive nature and passion for learning led him to the library where he read books about stars, planets and the solar system. As young Carl Sagan reads about the solar system in the library, the layout of the picture book changes from horizontal to vertical with a fold-out page depicting the sun.

The book's title refers to Sagan's theory that "stars made the ingredients of life." Sisson explains Sagan's theories and work in a clear and concise manner that young readers will understand. Children with an interest in science will be interested in learning about the messages Sagan sent into space on the Voyager mission in an attempt to communicate with other life forms.

Two pages of back matter are chock full of source notes, an author's note, bibliography and other notes. In the author's note, Sisson explains that the hardest part of writing the book was figuring out how capture Carl Sagan's many accomplishments. Sisson decided to focus on "how a boy from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York became one of the world's most beloved and recognized scientists."  Pair Star Stuff with On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein and Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

SPIC-AND-SPAN! by Monica Kulling

Spic-And-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen
By Monica Kulling; Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781770493803
Grades 4-6
To evaluate this title for review, the publisher sent me a copy of the book.

Candian author, Kulling, adds a new title in Tundra’s Great Idea series. Spic-And-Span! looks at the life of efficiency expert, industrial engineer, and psychologist Lillian Moller Gilbreth. (Cheaper By the Dozen) This lively picture book biography offers readers a brief introduction to Gilbreth’s many inventions, yet lacks any bibliography or suggestions for further reading, which is unfortunate.*(correction: there is a list of thee books and one website under  "Sources of Inspiration" found on the back of the title page.)

Born in 1878 in Oakland, California, Lillian Moller came from a very wealthy family, but had no desire for a pampered life. 

Unlike most girls of her time, she decided to go to university. Lillian wanted a life of adventure and challenge. When she married Frank Gilbreth in 1904, that’s exactly what she got.

After marrying Frank, the two formed the business, Gilbreth Inc. The husband and wife team sought ways to cut out wasteful actions as a way to get more work done and be less tired. Frank and Lillian would have twelve children and ran their home efficiently using the “Gilbreth System.”

They lost one child, and after Frank’s death in 1924, the mother of eleven had to find work. Over her lifetime, Lillian is credited with many innovations that we still use today. She came up with the circular approach to kitchen design, invented the electric mixer, a garbage can with a lid that opens by stepping on a foot pedal, the butter and egg shelf in the refrigerator door, and was a pioneer in “ergonomics.” Gilbreth was the first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and the first woman psychologist to have her face on a U.S. postage stamp.

Parkin’s illustrations, done in pen and ink with watercolor on paper greatly enhance the text.

Cathy and I interviewed Kulling in 2012 for her book in the Great Idea series, Going Up!

Go here to 49th Shelf, a blog that promotes Canadian writers, to read a more recent interview with Kulling as she talks about Spic-And-Span!.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Right Word

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus
by Jen Bryant
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Eerdman's, 2014
Grades K-5
ISBN: 9780802853851

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

Jen Bryant and Melissa Stewart are the dream team of children's nonfiction picture books. A River of Words won a Caldecott Honor in 2009, and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin won a Sibert Honor and a Schneider Family Book Award in 2014.

The pair has collaborated on another picture book biography, and it's a real gem! The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus follows the life of Peter Roget, a shy man who enjoyed making lists, collecting words, and observing the world around him. Roget spent years collecting and organizing words by topic and published his thesaurus in 1852. Bryant writes in an engaging narrative style that captures the essence of Roget's story. At times the text is arranged vertical panels to reflect Roget's lists.

Sweet's signature water color and mixed media collages are perfect for conveying Roget's story. Sweet masterfully places words throughout the illustrations to show how Roget was an observer of the world and a collector of words. Covers of old books and pages from texts are used creatively in the collages. Young readers will enjoy poring over the book's endpapers that contain Roget's thousand word "Plan of Classification."

Even though many young readers (K-2) won't be familiar with a thesaurus, they will enjoy reading about the man who created it and learning about how its helps writers improve their word choice. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus is one of the best nonfiction books I have read this year and is a must-buy for any school or public library.

Melissa Sweet shares her process for creating the illustrations on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Download a classroom discussion guide.

Other Reviews:

Donalyn Miller on The Nerdy Book Club blog
Monica Edinger at Educating Alice
Waking Brain Cells
Watch, Connect, Read

Monday, November 10, 2014


Edward Hopper Paints His World
By Robert Burleigh; Paintings by Wendell Minor
Christy Ottaviano Books: Henry Holt and Company. 2014
ISBN: 780805087529
Grades 2-12
To write this review, I checked this book out of my local public library.

Little Edward Hopper had many dreams. 
But one dream was biggest of all—he was going to be a painter when he grew up.

In Edward Hopper Paints His World, Burleigh & Minor offer a beautiful tribute to Edward Hopper, one of America's most important painters. The marriage between text and illustrations is dazzling.

Edward Hopper was born July 22, 1882 in Nyack, New York. Hopper never gave up on his dream to be an artist. He drew all the time and after studying in New York and Paris, Hopper worked as an illustrator for magazines. Though his magazine illustrations won him prizes, he longed to paint what he wanted, not what others told him to draw. Even after success, he continued to paint what he saw: lighthouses, old houses, cityscapes, lonely roads, and deserted buildings. 

Minor used gouache watercolor on Strathmore 500 Bristol paper to create the illustrations in this book. Minor explains that Edward Hopper's style has influenced his approach to the use of light, color, and composition. Of the paintings in this book Minor explains, I tried to create the feeling of Hopper’s art while maintaining my own style.

Back matter includes an author’s note, Hopper quotes on art, reproductions of four of Hopper paintings, important dates in the life of Edward Hopper, author’s references, artist’s sources, and websites.

In my opinion, introducing children to the lives and works of great artists is important, not only for their development and to stimulate creativity and problem solving, but because being exposed to art is as essential as…breathing. 

drawing by Louise Capizzo
Besides the obvious use of Edward Hopper Paints His World in an art class, pair it with other picture book biographies of artists. For intermediate, middle and high schoolers, first read Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. One of my all-time favorites, Framed is the perfect book to emphasize how one can see life from a new angle after being introduced to great art.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Nonfiction News

Nonfiction author, Melissa Stewart, has written a series of blog posts about the style and structure of nonfiction books. The posts are informative and definitely worth reading if you are a teacher or children's librarian.

Behind the Books: Nonfiction That Reads Like a Story
Behind the Books: Thinking About Nonfiction Styles
What CCSS Says About Nonfiction Types
Behind the Books: Nonfiction Types
Behind the Books: Deep Thinking About Nonfiction

Nominations for the CYBILS closed last month, and there are some excellent nonfiction titles on the nominated lists this year. We're excited that Louise is a second round judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category this year.

Here are the CYBILS nominations in the Young Adult Nonfiction category.

Here are the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction CYBILS nominations.

Dorcas Hand wrote an interesting piece this week for the Consider the Source column in School Library Journal. Hand asks where is the stellar nonfiction that students should read to meet the Common Core Standards? It can be challenging to locate quality nonfiction for kids.  She encourages librarians to go out and read some rich nonfiction and demand publishers make more nonfiction available.

Last week the Heavy Medal Blog at School Library Journal looked at nonfiction contenders for the Newbery Medal. 

We're entering the "Best of the Year" season. Publishers Weekly recently revealed its choices for Best Books of 2014. Several nonfiction books for children made the list.

Monday, November 3, 2014


OwlKids Books promotes awareness of our world to encourage young readers to become more astute observers of how their choices can affect the natural world. OwlKids Books appeal to readers who enjoy bold graphics with quick facts using minimal text.

Why We Live Where We Live
Written by Kira Vermond; Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
ISBN: 9781771470117
Grades 4-6
Vermond takes readers on a tour of the various ways humans moved from hunters and gatherers to the rise of cities after the Industrial Revolution to how we’ve transformed challenging environments to make them more habitable. Geography, topography, climate, landscape, food security, politics, economics, and more all play a role in how we choose the place we call home. Readers are given tips on planning a city and how the climate changes and rising oceans will affect us in the future. Is moving to another planet an option? 

Branching Out: How trees are part of our world
By Joan Marie Galat
ISBN: 9781771470490
Grades 4-6
Galat explains how trees are very important to life on Earth. (Photosynthesis) Not only would there be no air for humans to breathe, but look around your room and notice the items made from wood. Guitars, violins, wooden pencils, not to mention trees provide habitats for birds, howler monkeys and flying squirrels. And what about food? Trees give us apples, cherries, pears, and…chocolate? Eleven chapters features trees from the pau brasil to the Scotch pine, from the camphor laurel to the cork oak – to its integral role to humans to the animal world.

How to Save a Species
Written by Marilyn Baillie, Jonathan Baillie, and Ellen Butcher
ISBN: 9781771470636
Grades 4-6
It is sad to say, but there are many, many species whose numbers are so low they are in danger of becoming extinct. How to Save a Species discusses seventeen of the most threatened species and offers budding scientists a brief, one-page explanation as to where the animal, bird or insect lives, their habitat, and what is the cause of their near extinction. For example, the Red River Giant Softshell Turtles live in the Red River area of Vietnam and China, but due to hunting and pollution there are only four left in the whole world. In every example, the message is often the same: educate local people of the species importance and to stop the encroachment and destruction of their habitat.

It’s Catching: the infectious world of germs and microbes
By Jennifer Gardy, PhD; Illustrated by Josh Holinaty
ISBN: 9781771470018
Grades 4-6

Surrounding us are millions of tiny, microscopic creatures. Scientists call them microbes. All germs are microbes, but not all microbes are germs. Most microbes are friendly; only a very small number can cause diseases. Dr. Grady, who calls herself a disease detective, invites readers to step inside and learn about a range of germs and the diseases they cause. From the common cold to food poisoning to the Ebola virus, It’s Catching offers factual information, without generating fear.

To write these reviews, the publisher sent me paperback copies of each title.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla 
by Katherine Applegate
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Clarion Books, 2014
Grades K-5

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

In an accessible, narrative style, Katherine Applegate shares the story of Ivan the Shopping Mall Gorilla with young readers in this nonfiction picture book. Many readers will be familiar with Ivan's heart wrenching story from the Newbery Medal winning book, The One and Only Ivan by Applegate.

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of a Shopping Mall Gorilla traces the story of how a young gorilla was caught by poachers and taken away from his parents and his home in central Africa. Illustrator G. Brian Karas captures the seriousness of the situation with dark, somber illustrations depicting Ivan and another young gorilla inside a crate as they are shipped to the U.S. Karas uses the vast, empty space on another double-page spread as he shows how alone Ivan was when his gorilla companion died.

Readers will be surprised and saddened as they read about how Ivan spent twenty-seven years of his life in a cage at the mall. The simple text and cartoon-like illustrations make this serious and poignant story accessible to very young readers, and it's sure to elicit a strong response from children who will see the injustices and cruelty Ivan endured.

After Ivan is moved to Zoo Atlanta, the story ends on a positive note. A photograph of Ivan holding a flower is placed on the last page opposite from this text:

"In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began

Readers should take time to explore the back matter that includes a page "About Ivan" and a note from Jodi Carrigan, Ivan's keeper at Zoo Atlanta.

Also reviewed by...
100 Scope Notes
Kid Lit Frenzy
Librarian's Quest

Monday, October 27, 2014

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo
Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
Amulet Books; an imprint of Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781409710209
Grades 3-12
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Everyone has a superpower. What is yours?

In El Deafo, author-illustrator Cece Bell shares her experience growing up deaf. 
I was a regular little kid. I played with my mom’s stuff. I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley, and big sister, Sarah.
Everything was fine until, at 4 ½, she contracted meningitis. We are not told how long Bell was in the hospital recovering, but when she got better something was different.

She couldn’t hear.  

Bell does a terrific job conveying her frustration at being different, especially when wearing the clunky hearing devices, so different from what children use today. Though she could hear people talking, Bell couldn’t always make out what they were actually saying. Things changed when she gets The Phonic Ear. Paired with a microphone, the Phonic Ear allowed Bell to hear her teacher, Mrs. Lufton. The Phonic Ear, clarifies her voice-really sharpens it! Even when I don’t see Mrs. Lufton’s face, I can understand every word she says without having to lip-read at all. In fact, the Phonic Ear was so powerful Mrs. Lufton could be heard wherever she was in the school building...even the bathroom!  FLUSH!!!!

There are some very funny moments in El Deafo, and heartbreaking, too. Readers will relate to the universal feeling of wanting to fit in and have a best friend. As Bell states in the author’s note, I was a deaf kid surrounded by kids who could hear. I felt different, and in my mind, being different was not a good thing. It is unfortunate that it is only when we are adults can one truly appreciate our uniqueness. Only then can we accept that, being different can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.

This memoir, told in graphic format, is both amusing and very moving. It will appeal to fans of Smile by Raina Telgemeier. El Deafo is a must-read for every one.

Watch the video of Cece Bell talking about El Deafo.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Neighborhood Sharks

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands 
by Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio (Roaring Brook Press), 2014
Grades 2-5

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

The shark section gets a lot of traffic in my elementary school library. Many young readers are fascinated by the creatures, so I was excited when I heard about Neighborhood Sharks at a Macmillan preview over the summer. Neighborhood Sharks is not your typical, informational book about sharks. The book focuses on great white sharks that live near the Farallon Islands near San Francisco and includes bold illustrations instead of photographs. The text alternates between narrative and expository writing. After introducing readers to a shark stalking its prey, Roy describes the special features that aid sharks in their search for food: teeth, jaws, sense of smell and more. One page explains how the design of a shark's body is ideal for swiftly swimming though the water. The concept is reinforced in a diagram that compares the body of a shark to the design of a jet plane.

Roy's writing style is engaging and the book packed full of important information about great whites. The complex vocabulary, science concepts and illustrations of seals being eaten make this a book for older elementary school readers (grades two and up). Back matter includes an author's note, list of sources, recommended books and sites, and a map.

Visit Katherine Roy's blog for more information about Neighborhood Sharks.

Monday, October 20, 2014


ISBN: 9781847803016
ISBN: 9781847802996
ISBN: 9781847805171
Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas
Frances Lincoln Children's Books. 2014
Preschool to Grade 2
I received these titles from the publisher.

After a long night of hunting in the forests of India, a mother tigress carefully returns to her den. She crawls into this secret place where she has hidden treasure - her tiny babies. The babies are called cubs and she is the only one in the whole world who knows they are there.  From Tigers

I was excited to see this new series about wild animals and how they grow in their natural habitat for a younger audience. Each book, in the Eyes on the Wild series, begins with the moment the animals is born and follows it until they are grown, ready to be on their own. The book concludes with a one page list of animal facts where it includes a few brief sentences explaining why the animal is endangered and a website for more information. There is no bibliography.

Eszterhas, a well-known wildlife photographer for National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick, and Your Big Back Yard, fills the books with beautiful color photos. Each picture, some filling the page, perfectly mirrors what she describes in the text.

These books will be useful for the yearly unit on wild animals for primary grade students in my community.

For a list of other titles in the series, visit the author's website.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Buried Sunlight by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

Buried Sunlight: how fossil fuels have changed our world
Written by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm; Illustrated by Molly Bang
Blue Sky Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780545577854
Grades 3-12
To review this book, I borrowed it from my local public library.

Author-illustrator Molly Bang has now written four books about the sun’s life-sustaining role in our world. She began with My Light that explained the sun’s role in creating electricity. Partnering with MIT professor Penny Chisholm, the two wrote Living Sunlight: how plants bring the Earth to life and Ocean Sunlight: how tiny plants feed the seas. Living Sunlight is about how the sun gives us life through photosynthesis, the most important process on Earth and how that process connects all of life. Ocean Sunlight explains how phytoplankton, tiny sunlight-fueled plants feed all life in the seas. 

In Buried Sunlight: how fossil fuels have changed our world, Bang & Chisholm continue the series to explain how fossil fuels came to exist and how civilizations dependence on them has seriously altered our world. 

When we humans started using fossil fuels, we did not understand that our actions could influence the entire planet. Now we know that they can have a profound impact on our Earth and its biosphere. We must consider carefully the impact our choices have on our current world as well as on future generations.

Bang & Chisholm do an excellent job simplifying the process of photosynthesis and its role in the cycle of life on Earth. When a world is in balance the exchange of CO2 and O is in balance. Yet our increased dependency on fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas,  has created a world out of balance; what scientists call Global Warming.  
Some people still ask, “So What?” Earth has changed a LOT over the billions of years since it was born! It’s been MUCH warmer, and MUCH colder, than it is today! Why NOT burn fossil fuels?  The changes that are happening now are progressing too rapidly; many living creatures are unable to adjust to them. Bang calls for action when she asks, "What will happen to humans when there are no plants and water is scarce?"

Bang's illustrations are colorful and fill every inch of the page. They mirror precisely what is being explained in the text. The best part of the book is the author notes. Six pages further explain what is being discussed in the book. 

To help children gain knowledge of basic scientific principals, all four titles in this series are highly recommended. To see some of the illustrations, go here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Super Sniffers by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job
By Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Bloomsbury. 2014
ISBN: 9780802736185
Grades 3-6
To review this book, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.

I couldn't resist reviewing another book about dogs who use their incredible sense of smell to help get the job done.

Take any dog, any dog, for a walk along a sidewalk or in a park, and you won’t be walking much—you’ll be standing there holding a leash while the dog sniffs at every bush and every lamppost.

That’s good, because with their keen sense of smell –a bloodhound has over three hundred million sensitive cells that can detect odors–dogs have been recruited to help in a variety of service areas. In Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job, veteran science writer Dorothy Hinshaw Patent combines how dogs are trained with some real-life examples. There are search-and-rescue dogs, law enforcement canines and dogs who are helping save our planet by sniffing out invasive weeds, locating the scat of endangered species, and detecting contaminated water.

Entries are one to two pages. Sidebars highlight a specific dog and their job. Lots of color photos enhance the text. Back matter includes further reading, and index.

Patent is a master at engaging her readers as she combines scientific information with examples of dogs at work. Pair Super Sniffers with another book by Patent, Dogs on Duty: soldiers best friends on the battlefield and beyond and Sniffer Dogs: how dogs (and their noses) save the world by Nancy F. Castaldo

Friday, October 10, 2014

Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks 
by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press, 2014
Grades K-3

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

Young readers will enjoy learning about animals tracks in this engaging science picture books. The writing style alternates between descriptive poems and expository paragraphs as readers try to guess the animals based on the tracks and the clues in the text.

"A saw-toothed swimmer left this trail, 
dragging its flat, paddle-shaped tail.
Its family works as a busy team, 
piling sticks to build a dam in the stream."

Upon turning the page, readers see an illustration of the animal in its habitat along with information about the animal.

"Beavers have five toes. Their hind feet are webbed to help them swim."

The soft, earth tones  and textures in the water color and mixed media collage illustrations make this a book readers will want to revisit, and the tracks are illustrated in actual size. The book contains tracks from animals that live in different habitats including black bears, kangaroos, and hippos. Back matter includes tips for looking for animal tracks and a list of related books and websites.

Pair Who Was Here? with Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman or What in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns

Beetle Busters: a rogue insect and the people who track it

By Loree Griffin Burns; 
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Scientists in the Field
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780547792675
Grades 5-12
I reviewed a copy of this book sent by the publisher.

If cutting trees in one community today would save the trees in your backyard tomorrow, would it be worth it?
Would you feel the same way if you lived in that community and the trees being cut down were the only ones in your entire neighborhood?

The Asian longhornd beetle is from China and spends most if its life inside trees.  One beetle cannot kill a tree, but one beetle will lay more than twenty-five eggs in its lifetime. And since beetles lay their eggs on the same tree, it is only a matter of time before the tree is weakened to the point of collapse. The first Asian longhorned bettle made its way to the US in 1996. The larva was lurking in the wood of shipping pallets, spools, and crates that came from China. The first Asian longhorn beetle was discovered in maple trees in Brooklyn, New York. Clint McFarland, federal project manager for the Asian Longhorned Beetle Cooperative Eradication Program in Massachusetts believes that the only way to kill Asian longhorned beetles is to cut down the infected tree and chip it to pieces.

In her author’s note, Burns explains that the idea to write this book came after Asian longhorned beetles were found in her small town in Massachusetts. She wanted to believe in what McFarland and other scientists thought was the best way to destroy the beetles, but she also wanted to save her beloved trees. Like she did in Citizen Scientists, Burns challenges readers to roll up their sleeves and become a beetle buster. If we all work together, maybe we can eradicate this invasive pest that threatens to destroy our entire northeastern hardwood forests.  

The color photographs, maps, sidebars and absorbing text work together to make this new title in the Scientists in the Field series a must read. Back matter includes glossary, bibliography, and index.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch

The Next Wave: 
the quest to harness the power of the oceans

Scientists in the Field
Elizabeth Rusch
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780544099999
Grades 5-12
The publisher sent me this book for reviewing.

When I first moved to Maine I lived on an island where I experienced first hand the strength and power of the ocean. From being trapped on the island when the weather was too rough for the ferry to travel from the mainland to standing on the beach watching the pounding surf, I found that the ocean is always in motion from the wind and the pull of the tides. How to harness that energy to create electricity is the subject of Elizabeth Rusch’s new book, The Next Wave: the quest to harness the power of the oceans.

A great deal of energy generated around the world is lost from resistance in wires when transported long distances. One of the benefits of ocean energy is that the electricity can be generated –and used—near where people live.

Humans use a lot of electricity to power our homes and hobbies. Since most of the world’s population lives near an ocean, it makes sense to come up with a way to trap this type of renewable energy, thus allowing humanity to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels. Harnessing the oceans energy is not an easy task.

Rusch takes us to the Pacific Northwest where we meet Professor Annette von Jouanne, her students, and her private company partners together work diligently to create a wave-energy device that floats on top of the water. Will it be able to withstand the punishing waves of the ocean in order to turn those waves into electricity? Just maybe, with the work of Ocean Power Technologies, utilizing this technology may happen sooner than we think.

Cathy and I are fans of the Scientists in the Field series. The partnership between writer and photographer, as they work together to make the science accessible, relevant and interesting is one of the cornerstones of this award winning series. The books are well researched and the addition of sidebars offers in-depth explanations on key points from the text. Back matter includes a glossary, source notes, bibliography, often an author’s note, and an index. I especially enjoy how each title highlights a scientist whose life work is immersed in the unpredictable and dynamic natural world.

When introducing The Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch to students, I suggest you first share the wordless picture book, Wave by Suzy Lee. The illustrations will highlight why you should never turn your back on the ocean.

Friday, October 3, 2014

CYBILS Nominations

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS) nominations are now open. Readers may nominate their favorite children's books and book apps for the 2014 CYBILS. To be eligible, books must be published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014. Click for more information on how to nominate books.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tomboy: a graphic memoir by Liz Prince

Tomboy: a graphic memoir
by Liz Prince
Zest Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781936976553
Grades 8 thru 12
The publisher sent me a copy of this book.

What defines who you are? Is it how you dress or is it who you are inside?

Artist Liz Prince explores these questions in graphic memoir, Tomboy. Prince shares her personal experience growing up being a girl who preferred things traditionally meant for boys. Instead of playing with dolls, having tea parties and loving the color pink, Liz loved pants, drawing dinosaurs and the genie from the movie Aladdin, and playing catch. She grew up totally happy as long as she wasn’t expected to dress and act girly.

I didn’t know what a tomboy was until I started school and was expected to follow the ‘rules of gender.

Prince’s frankness throughout is powerful. Her cartoonish illustrations convey her frustrations toward gender norms and builds to a crescendo when at age 16 she reads a Zine by Ariel Schrag that changed her thinking:

I subscribed to the idea that there was only one form of femininity and that it was inferior to being a man. I don’t want to be a girl on society’s terms. I wanted to be a girl on my own terms!

Tomboy: a graphic memoir is an excellent addition to your teen collection. Prince's self-confidence permeates the text and champions readers to be strong and remain true to themselves, even if it means being bullied...or not getting the guy. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone 
by Katheryn Russell-Brown
illustrated by Frank Morrison
Lee & Low Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781600608988
Grades K-5

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

"Spread the word! Little Melba Doretta Liston was something special." 

The first line of this picture book biography announces to readers that they are about to meet an amazing individual. Melba Liston was greatly influenced by jazz music she heard as a child growing up in Kansas City in the 1920s. When her mother bought her a trombone, Melba was hooked. She taught herself to play the trombone relying on her "keen ears" later joining the Melodic Dots, a music club at her high school in Los Angeles in the 1940s.

Katheryn Russell-Brown's engaging narrative style incorporates the sounds of jazz music. Readers will enjoy following Liston's rise from a young girl who loved listening to music to a renowned jazz musician composing, arranging and performing across the country. The author writes about the racism and sexism Liston faced in way that young readers will understand.

"Still, Melba was lonely. She was the only woman in the band. Some of the men were cruel. Others acted as if she wasn't there. Melba let the music in her head keep her company."

Morrison's curved, earth-toned illustrations capture the feeling of the music as well as Liston's strength and determination. The final two-page spread of the story is beautiful. Liston performs on stage, alone, playing her trombone to a sold out audience.

Little Melba and her Big Trombone would make an excellent read aloud for a range of ages. Be sure to play Liston's music for readers. An afterword provides readers with more details about Liston's life and music. Additional back matter includes a discography and list of sources. Pair Little Melba and Her Big Trombone with Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter, When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan, and Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

Visit the Lee & Low blog to see a playlist of jazz tunes recommended by Frank Morrison.

Watch Melba Liston perform with the Quincy Jones Band in 1960.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Because They Marched by Russell Freedman

Because They Marched: the people's campaign for voting rights that changed America

by Russell Freedman
Holiday House. 2014
ISBN: 9780824329219
Grades 9 thru 12
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

While campaigning in 2007 for the presidency, Barack Obama spoke at a ceremony commemorating the forty-second anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery.  Obama told his audience, It is because they marched that I stand here before you today.

In, Because they Marched: the people’s campaign for voting rights that changed America, nonfiction writer extraordinaire, Russell Freedman documents events that led up to that historic march to Montgomery, Alabama and how the U.S. Congress, including Southern lawmakers, would then approve the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia said, We can’t deny the Negroes a basic constitutional right to vote.

Though the protesters practiced nonviolence, local and state law officials met them with acts of violence. Impeccably researched and packed with historic black & white photographs, Because they Marched helps us remember the courage of the Civil Rights activists who risked their lives to ensure all U.S. citizens, especially minorities or the poor, have the right to vote.

The right to vote continues to be challenged and the meaning of American democracy remains a topic of debate and struggle. It will be in the news as we near another presidential election in 2016, because key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was not upheld by the Supreme Court in 2013. The controversial 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder released nine states, mostly in the South, from the requirement that they must seek advance federal approval before making any change in their election laws. Now states can make it harder for minority voters, older people, students, legal immigrants, and the poor of all races to register and vote.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Nonfiction News

Have you seen the new nonfiction blog in town? The Nonfiction Minute is a project from the creators of Interesting Nonfiction for Kids. The blog features high interest articles and essays written by various nonfiction authors. There's also a page that provides educators with ideas for how to use the articles with students. Be sure to read Pamela S. Turner's post Why Crows Peck Eyeballs.

Betsy Bird recently tackled the issue of invented dialogue in children's biographies. Here's the post if you missed it.  Be sure to scroll down and read the comments below the post.

Tanya Lee Stone wrote a guest post for School Library Journal's Consider the Source column where she explores the issue of what happens when authors blur the lines between fiction and nonfiction. These are issues Louise and I often discuss when evaluating nonfiction for children. Where did the author find the information? Are source notes provided for dialogue? How do we, as readers, know if it is true? Lots of food for thought about children's books, how we define nonfiction and how authors research and present information in nonfiction books.

The 2014 Longlists for National Book Awards were announced this week, and two of the books in the young people's literature category are nonfiction.  The Port Chicago 50 and Brown Girl Dreaming both made the longlist this year.

Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy has written a series of blog posts to help classroom teachers build nonfiction collections. This has been an invaluable series for both educators and librarians who are looking to beef up their nonfiction sections. Here are Alyson's suggestions for books about marine life. 

Judges for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS) were announced this week, and The Nonfiction Detectives will be well represented. Louise was selected to serve as a second round judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category, and I am the chair of the Book Apps category. Nominations open Oct. 1st.