Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, March 18, 2019

Dreaming in Code

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer 
by Emily Arnold McCully
Candlewick Press, 2019
Grades 6-12

Dreaming in Code is an in-depth look at the life and work of Ada Byron Lovelace, the first computer programmer. McCully lays out the biography into four sections and traces Lovelace's early life through her work with high level science, mathematics and programming. Part One describes Lovelace's early years as the daughter of the poet Lord Byron. Ada's parents separated when she was young, and she was raised by her strict mother who made sure Ada was highly educated.

Part Two describes Ada's teen years and her battle with measles that left her bed-ridden for two years. In Part Three, Ada meets inventor and mathematician, Charles Babbage. She also tours a factory where she sees a Jacquard loom, which gives her the idea of using punch cards to create loops for computing. Part Four focuses on Lovelace's marriage and children.  In Part Five, Lovelace writes about her idea of loops that can be used to program computers. She applies her computer theories and ideas to Babbage's Analytical Engine.

Primary documents including letters, a page from a lesson book, and drawings of Babbage's Difference Engine are effectively placed throughout the story. McCully's thorough research enables the author to paint a complex picture of a brilliant and conflicted woman who made a huge impact on computer programming. Lovelace was referenced by Alan Turing in his work as a code breaker, and her work has influences the debate about artificial intelligence. Back matter includes source notes, a lengthy bibliography, and a glossary. Dreaming in Code is a recommended purchase for middle school and high school biography collections.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Rocket To The Moon by Don Brown

Rocket To The Moon: Big Ideas that Changed the World series
By Don Brown
Amulet. 2019
Grades 3 and up
A new graphic novel series, Big Ideas That Changed the World celebrates the “hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately changed the world.”

In Rocket To The Moon, Brown focuses on the people and inventions that would eventually lead to the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in 1969.

Brown uses Rodman Law, (January 21, 1885-October 14, 1919), a real daredevil, to this well-researched, nonfiction title told in comic format.

Though the Chinese invented gunpowder in the first century, it was not until the fifteenth century that the English and French began using rockets as weapons and fireworks. The rockets the British launched at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner. “And the rocket’s red glare…”

“Then the ideas dried up, and nothing much happened with rockets until the beginning of the twentieth century, when three honest-to-goodness rocket scientists showed up: Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, American Robert Goddard, and Romanian Hermann Oberth.”

What inspired all three? The book by French novelist Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon and a Trip Around It. Published in 1865, the science fiction tale was all about traveling through outer space. This book would change the lives of all three men.

Brown incorporates lots of fascinating details, such as how the astronauts went to the bathroom in space. In his author's note, he explains that the development of the rocket and its usage was mostly in the hands of white men. Katherine Johnson, a mathematician working for NASA, is mentioned. Brown also acknowledges that today NASA is made up of a diverse group of people.  

Back matter includes a timeline, source notes for the quotes used throughout the story, an extensive bibliography of books, magazines, television, movie and website resources. An author’s note, brief bio of Rodman Law (his sister was Ruth Law, the famous record-setting flyer), and index.

This is a fascinating, well done addition to books on the race to the moon.

To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.

Monday, March 11, 2019


Barbara Bash is an extraordinary artist and a good writer, which you will discover when sharing these four books with students. Sponsored by the Sierra Club, in Tree Tales, Bash highlights the interconnectivity of trees for all life on our planet.

Ancient Ones: the World of the Old-Growth Douglas Fir
Sierra Club Books. 1994
Takes readers to an old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. We discover that the spotted salamanders, golden banana slugs, along with the red tree voles and flying squirrels, make their homes in giant Douglas firs.

Desert Giant: the World of the Saguaro Cactus
Little, Brown, and Company. 1989 
We travel to the American southwest where the Saguaro Cactus grows. "It's armlike branches can reach fifty feet into the air." Though one might think these giant cactus are devoid of life, appearances can be deceptive. "In fact, this tree of the desert is alive with activity. Gila woodpeckers and miniature elf owls make this their home."

In The Heart of the Village: the World of the Indian Banyan Tree
Sierra Club Books. 1996
To the people in India, the banyan tree is sacred. “It is home to their gods. For many generations, they have protected the tree and nourished its spirits with their offerings.” The tree provides food, shelter, and a communal resting place in a small village in India.

Tree of Life: the World of the African Baobab 
Little, Brown, and Company. 1989
When the rains come twice a year, the baobab tree comes to life, and the yellow-collared lovebird, the orange-bellied parrot, lilac-breasted roller, and yellow-billed hornbill, and others, make their homes in the tree where they raise their young.

The text for each book is written out in calligraphy by Bash and placed against the double-page spreads of her delicious watercolor illustrations in vibrant colors that reflect each environment explained in the narrative. Readers will learn about the variety of birds, insects, and animals, and humans that depend on these trees.

These books offer readers a better understanding of how important trees are to all creatures. The perfect informational book to display with Redwoods by Jason Chin and fiction titles: Ida B. and her plans to Maximize Fun and Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World by Katherine Hannigan, Operation Redwood by S. Terrill French, and The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor. 

To write this review I borrowed the books from my local public library.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Like a Lizard

Like a Lizard
by April Pulley Sayre
illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Boyds Mill Press, 2019
Grades PreK-2

Dedicated to "all the lizards and all the librarians," April Pulley Sayre's latest nonfiction poetry picture book introduces very young readers to a variety of unique lizards. Each page poses a question to the reader using active verbs.

Can you...

Swoop like a lizard?
Scoop like a lizard?
Dip your dewlap like a lizard?

Bold, digital illustrations depict lizards eating, swimming, dashing, and lunging. Illustrations are labeled to indicate the type of lizards. The colorful illustrations, poetic writing style and intriguing lizards make this an exciting nonfiction read aloud to share during preschool storyline. Children who want to learn more about each lizard should turn to the back matter for a list of lizards featured in the book along with the location, length and a description.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Karl's New Beak

Karl's New Beak: 3-D Printing Builds a Bird a Better Life
by Lela Nargi
illustrated by Harriet Popham
Capstone, 2019
Grades K-6

Karl's New Beak tells the story of an Abyssinian ground hornbill living in the Smithsonian Zoo. Karl has difficulty catching food, which made him unable to find a mate. What female hornbill would be attracted to a male that can't feed his family? With the aid of a ground hornbill skeleton and a 3-D printer, the zoo's veterinarian designed and built a new lower beak for Karl.

The nonfiction narrative's conversational tone and descriptive language make this an enjoyable read for kids and adults. Karl's New Beak is an excellent example of the problem and solution structure for classrooms studying nonfiction text structures.

The bright, engaging artwork combines photographs and illustrations on a background of blueprint paper. Back matter includes additional facts about ground hornbills and a glossary. Capstone also offers a related video that can be downloaded using the 4D app. Karl's New Beak is an inspirational story that will inspire young readers to look for solutions to problems in their every day lives.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

New Nonfiction Releases- March 2019

Here are some nonfiction titles that hit the shelves in March.

Superlative Birds
by Leslie Bulion and Robert Meganck
On shelves March 1st

Karl’s New Beak: 3-D Printing Builds a Bird a Better Life
by Lela Nargi
On shelves March 1st

by Lori Mortensen and Kristy Caldwell
On shelves March 1st

When Plants Attack: Strange and Terrifying Plants
by Rebecca E. Hirsch
On shelves March 1st

The Woolly Monkey Mysteries: The Quest to Save a Rain Forest Species
by Sandra Markle
On shelves March 1st

Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon
by Suzanne Slade and Alan Marks
On shelves March 5th

Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible Story of the Man Behind the Machines
by Sarah Aronson and Robert Neubecker
On shelves March 12th

Like a Lizard
by April Pulley Sayre and Stephen Laberis
On shelves March 12th

Beware of the Crocodile
by Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura
On shelves March 12th

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer
by Emily Arnold McCully
On shelves March 12th

Finding the Speed of Light: The 1676 Discovery That Dazzled the World
by Mark Weston and Rebecca Evans
On shelves March 12th

Baby Animals with Their Families
by Suzi Eszterhas
On shelves March 15th

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Roots of Rap

The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the Pillar of Hip-Hop  
by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Little Bee Books, 2019
Grades K-6

Weatherford and Morrison pay homage to the history of rap in this gorgeous nonfiction picture book for readers of all ages. The bold, realistic-style illustrations fill the page as the lyrical narrative scrolls along the bottom of the page. Weatherford pays respect to poets Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar as she takes readers on a musical journey that traces the history of hip-hop.

"A generation voicing stories, hopes and fears founds a hip-hop nation-wide. Say holler if you hear."

Graffiti, breakdancing, boom boxes and turn tables play an important role in the musical genre. Influential rappers, deejays and artists are represented in the stunning illustrations: DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Furious Five, Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, The Sugarhill Gang and more. Readers can learn more about the artists by reading Hip-Hop Who's Who in the back matter.

Give The Roots of Rap to the music lover in your family. It would also make the perfect book for an interactive, preschool story time.

The Roots of Rap Book Trailer

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Away With Words: the Daring Story of Isabella Bird by Lori Mortensen

Away With Words: the Daring Story of Isabella Bird
Written by Lori Mortensen; Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell
Peachtree. March 2019
Grades 2 and up

In the English countryside, in 1831, Isabella Bird was born. A sickly child until a doctor suggested she spend more time in the fresh air. The more time spent in the fresh air the more she saw, the more she saw the more questions she asked and the more Isabella flourished. The world was full of amazing places and thrilling possibilities. “What faraway places would she explore/ What stunning details would fill her letters?” But the expectation of women during the Victorian era, confined to a dull existence caring for a home, sent Isabella into another depression. 

The doctor’s advice? “A change of air – this time, a sea voyage.”  And travel she did. Mortensen’s picture book biography tells the story of Isabella Bird who had many adventures traveling around the world. She turned her amazing journeys into bestselling books. (My library system has most of her titles available). 

Caldwell’s digitally rendered color illustrations bring to life the sparse text about a fascinating, inspiring female explorer.  

Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline of Isabella Bird’s travels and publications, source notes, and a bibliography.

The publisher sent me an ARC that I used to review this title.