Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, September 25, 2017

Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford



Schomburg: the Man Who Built a Library
By Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Candlewick Press. 2017
ISBN: 9780763680466
To write this review, I borrowed the book from my,local public library.

Note: While Cathy is on sabbatical until February, 2018, Louise is writing all the reviews.

Where is our historian to give us our side, to teach our people our own history?”

Afro-Puerto Rican, Arturo Schomburg spent his life amassing a large collect of over ten million items of print, music, and art.

“Like a detective, he hunted clues and found facts affirming the role of African descendants in building nations and shaping cultures.”

This stunning informational biography follows Arturo’s life, from his birth in Puerto Rico in 1874 to his arrival in the United States at age seventeen, and traces his life-long passion of searching for materials that confirmed African achievements in art, science, literature, and music. He died June 8, 1938.

 "History was not history unless it was complete from all angles."

Weatherford (Freedom in Congo Square) is a master at crafting poems that say so much with few words. Accompanying the text are the illustrations by Eric Velasquez. Rendered in oil on watercolor paper, these large, luscious paintings give a visual depth to Schomburg’s life.

It is remarkable to learn about some of the materials Schomburg was able to find. A copy of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral by Phyllis Wheatley, published in 1773. He purchased the military orders of Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the revolt to liberate slaves in Haiti and two volumes written by early American whaler, shipbuilder, and maritime trader, Paul Cuffee.

Arturo was inspired after reading the word written by Frederick Douglass, “his speeches awake Arturo to the power of the pen.”

Arturo wondered why the African heritage of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin and German composer Ludwig van Beethoven was never mentioned.

When his vast collection threatened to overrun his home and threaten his family’s happiness, Arturo sold his collection for $10,000 to the Carnegie Corporation where it was donated to the New York Public Library in 1926. In 1932, Stomburg added four thousand volumes to the Fisk University Library’s Negro Collection.

An extraordinary book about a remarkable man.

Back matter includes a time line, source notes, and bibliography.

“Schomburg placed his personal bookplate in every volume he collected. It featured an engraving of an enslaved woman in chains, hands clasped, looking heavenward. Her plight and her plea spark questions. Schomburg’’s collection holds answers: each artifact a window on the past, each book cover a door of possibilities, each page a passport to freedom.”

Friday, September 22, 2017

Bound By Ice Blog Tour

Bound By Ice: a True North Pole Survival Story 
By Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace
Calkins Creek. An imprint of Highlights. 2017
ISBN: 9781629794280

Note: While Cathy is on Sabbatical until February, 2018, Louise is writing all the reviews.


Today I'm taking part in the Bound By Ice blog tour. 

On July 8, 1879, Lieutenant Commander George De Long gazed at his wife, Emma. He had agreed to pilot the steamer Jeanette to the Arctic in search of the North Pole. It was believed there was a tropical ocean at the top of the world. Many expeditions had tried and failed, turned back or died from drowning, starvation or succumbed to diseases like scurvy, pneumonia, and lead poisoning. De Long’s expedition was supposed to be different. The U.S.S. Jeanette was better equipped, so success seemed possible. The voyage was expected to last two years. Holding back his emotions, De Long knew that if his ship got stuck in the ice, it was possible that he would never see his wife again.

Sandra and Rich Wallace have penned a thoroughly absorbing account of this ultimately unsuccessful quest. Using primary sources, the whole book leaves readers feeling like they are there on this doomed voyage, battling weather, hunger, and the fear of never seeing home again.  

Well-captioned historical photographs and actual etchings cement that you-are-there feeling. 

Well documented, back matter includes a note from the authors, bibliography, source notes, picture credits, and index. You can go here to download an educator's guide to the book.

I used a copy of the book sent by the publisher to write this review.

Be sure to visit other stops on the blog tour
9/17     Nerdy Book Club
 9/18   Mrs. Yingling Reads
 9/19   The Booklist Reader
9/20     KidLit Frenzy
 9/22       The Nonfiction Detectives



Monday, September 18, 2017

Fault Lines In The Constitution - Blog Tour and Giveaway

Fault Lines In The Constitution: the framers, their fight and the flaws that affect us today
by Cynthia Levinson & Sanford Levinson
PeachTree Press. 2017
ISBN:  9781561459452
Grades 6 and up

Note: While Cathy Potter is on Sabbatical, Louise is writing all the reviews. Cathy returns February, 2018.

Today I'm taking part in the Fault Lines in the Constitution blog tour. As part of the blog tour, I'm giving away one copy of the book donated by the publisher. The details and entry form can be found at the bottom of this page.


"Many of the political issues we struggle with today have their roots in the U.S. Constitution." 


The Fault In The Constitution offers a historical perspective on the creation of our Constitution in 1787 and how we are still struggling today with those issues. 

The Levinson’s suggest that our present system, the House of Representatives and the Senate, the presidential veto, and supermajority requirements for overcoming Senate filibusters make it extremely difficult to pass new and necessary laws which has led many Americans to lose faith in our government, especially Congress

“The Framer’s most basic aim was to transform the people who thought of their state as their country into citizens of the United States. We certainly have a more perfect union than we did in 1787 when the Constitution was written. On the other hand, many aspects of the Constitution produce problems as a well as pride.”

The book is divided up into seven parts with headings: "How Bills Become (Or, More Likely, Don’t Become) Law" ; "Hello, Can You Hear Me?" ; "If America Threw a Party, Would You Be Let In?" ; “Hurrah! I’m 18. Finally I can Vote for the President.” “Not So Fast.” ; "Who’ Running America?" ; "Emergency! Emergency!; Keeping Pace with the Times". Under each heading are chapters, twenty in all. Each chapter begins with a specific example of where a bill or amendment was stalled that the Levinson’s connect back to a specific section of the Constitution. Each example shows how this has influenced our present society and government. The author’s do include current events, such as the 2016 election. 

The ending chapter, "Now What?" offers suggestions on four ways to improve the constitution. The author's retain a nonpartisan attitude, never blaming one political party over another. 

The book is well documented with a timeline of key events cited, several pages of notes, bibliography, a list of the Articles and Amendments of the Constitution, and index.

Click here for the entry form:
Fault in the Constitution book giveaway

Click here to read a Q&A with the authors.
Visit the website by going here to learn more about this interesting and timely book.


I used a copy of the book sent by the publisher to write this review.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Jonah Winter

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R. B. G. vs. Inequality
Written by Jonah Winter: Illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2017
ISBN: 9781419725593

Note: While Cathy Potter is on Sabbatical, Louise is writing all the reviews. Cathy will return February, 2018.

The cover portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the subject of Jonah Winter’s latest picture book biography is striking.  Innerst's painting beckons readers to open and learn more about a remarkable woman who overcame many hardships to become the first female Jewish Supreme Court Justice. 

Winter presents Ginsburg’s story as a court trial. 
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: During this trial, you will learn about a little girl who had no clue just how important she would become. You will see the unfair world she was born into - where boys were valued more than girls, where women were not encouraged to achieve and aspire. You will see evidence of that unfairness, just as she herself has seen it all her life.”

Ruth Bader was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 15, 1933. Her parents were immigrants who fled Europe to escape anti-Jewish persecution. It would be Ruth’s mother, who graduated from high school at age fifteen and who would have gone on to college had it been an option to women at that time, that encouraged Ruth to have a good education. “Ruth saw her mother save every penny she could for her daughter to someday go to college.”

Not only would Ruth battle anti-semitism in 1930’s and 1940’s America, she would also come up against the attitude that only men needed a college education as she attended Cornell University, then Columbia where she graduated with her degree in law. 

Throughout her career, Ginsburg would be a strong voice for women’s rights. In 1972, Ginsburg became the leader of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Women’s Rights Project. “Though Ruth herself was not a revolutionary, what she did for women was revolutionary. She won the right for women to  get “equal protection” of the laws - to be treated as equal as men.”

And the verdict? There can be just one. “Because she did not give up, because she refused to let other people define her limitations as a person, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has herself become a symbol of justice in America.”

The illustrations, made with gouache, ink, and Photoshop, use an earthy palette of browns, sepia, and gray with highlights of pinks and reds; a perfect compliment to the text.

Back matter includes a glossary of terms and a lengthy author’s note. 

Perfect for including in any display of women for Women’s History Month.

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

Monday, September 4, 2017

The World Is Not a Rectangle by Jeanette Winter

The World is Not A Rectangle: a portrait of architect Zaha Hadid
Written and Illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Beach Lane Books: imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2017
ISBN: 9781481446993
All ages

Note: While Cathy Potter is on Sabbatical, Louise is writing all the reviews. Cathy will return February, 2018.

Jeanette Winter turns her talent as a writer and illustrator to tell the life of Iraqi architect, Zaha Mohammad Hadid. Zaha was “the most irreverent, controversial, and celebrated architect in the world.”  

Zaha, born on October 31, 1950, grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. With her father she would visit rivers, marshes, dunes, “and imagined what cities looked like thousand of years ago.” 

Zaha moved to London to attend college. After graduating, she would open a studio in an old school building. Nicknamed, "Queen of the Curve," her buildings were never a rectangular shape. She took inspiration from the surrounding landscapes, making her buildings unique. Zaha never wanted her work to fit nicely inside an accepted box.
Zaha Hadid’s Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku, Azerbaijan, completed in 2012.

This informational picture book biography is a brief introduction to a remarkable woman. In 2004, Zaha became the first woman and first Muslim to win the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize. Sadly, she passed away in March, 2016.

The book's design models how Zaha saw her world, not as a rectangle, but full of curves that reflect the flow of the environment where her buildings now stand. The text, instead of linear across the page seem to undulate above and below Winter's gorgeous art. 

Back matter includes a two page spread that identifies where each of Zaha's buildings, shown in the book, reside. Also, a brief author’s note, a few quotes from Zaha, and a bibliography of sources Winter used for research.

Share with students interested in design or put on display with other books about remarkable women. 

To write this review, I borrowed this book from my local public library.



Monday, August 28, 2017

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines: Designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
by Jeanne Walker Harvey; Illustrated by Dow Phumiruk
Christy Ottaviano Books; Henry Holt and Company. 2017
ISBN: 9781250112491
Grades 3 and up
To write this review, I borrowed the book from my local public library.

Note: While Cathy Potter is on Sabbatical, Louise is writing all the reviews. Cathy will return February, 2018.

“Maya grew up with art. Her father was an artist who made art with clay. Her mother was a poet who made art with words.”

Her parents, immigrants to the U.S., fled China because they didn’t like being told what to be and what to think. “Her parents never told Maya what to be or how to think.”

In 32 pages, including an author’s note, Walker introduces Chinese-American Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

Phumiruk’s detailed sketches, created digitally in Adobe Photoshop with scans of watercolor and texture, convey a sense of wonder at the world as seen through the eyes of Lin. Phumiruk uses tones of green, brown, grays that reflect a child who was silent, observant, and found solace in nature. 

Maya Lin was studying architecture at Yale when, in her last year of college, she entered a contest to design a memorial to those who died  during the Vietnam War. “The contest rules said that the memorial must blend with a park setting and include the names of every soldier who died fighting or was missing.”  That is almost 56,000 names. 

Maya’s design was chosen out of 1,421 entries. When the judges discovered she was only a student, they were furious. Yet, Maya stood strong and eventually her design was approved.

Harvey begins with Lin as a young girl and follows her journey, travel, college, the winning of the prestigious contest, and the building of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In one double-page spreads we watch the memorial being built and, turning the page, see the very personal experience individuals have visiting the memorial. Harvey ends this remarkable picture book biography briefly explaining Lin’s process for creating her projects.

A good introduction to creativity, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for all ages.



Monday, August 21, 2017

Amazon Adventure by Sy Montgomery

Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest
(Scientists in the Field series)
Written by Sy Montgomery;                        Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen
Houghton & Mifflin, Harcourt. 2017
ISBN: 9780544352995
Grades 4 and up

This week, we return to the Amazon in this new entry in the Scientists in the Field series. We travel to the Amazon basin, the planet’s richest ecosystem, but instead of searching for the mythical city of Z, award-winning author, Sy Montgomery explains how a group of local fishers - men and women (piabeiros), and some tiny fish, just may be the answer to saving this delicate habitat.

Covering 2,670,000 square feet, the Amazon rainforest is essential to our planet. Because its trees provide a full fifth of the world’s oxygen, it’s considered “the lungs of the world.” Five hundred species make their home in the basin. From frogs to insects, where a butterfly’s wing can grow as big as your hand. Yet it all could vanish—and soon. Each year mining, clearcutting, burning, and cattle ranching destroy an area of Amazon forest twice the size of the city of Los Angeles.” That's 2.7 million acres destroyed ever year!

Montgomery travels with scientist Scott Dowd, senior aquarist with the New England Aquarium in Boston, to Brazil’s Rio Negro river, one of the two main arteries that join to form the Amazon River. It’s here that dozens of species of fish, — locals call them piaba (pee-AH-bah), meaning “small fry” or “pip-squeak”, are prized the world over in freshwater aquariums, especially the Cardinal Tetra. In 1991, Project Piaba was officially founded by Dr. Ning Labbish Chao, then a professor at University of Amazon. Their slogan, “Buy a Fish, save a tree” aims to connect hobbyists and professional aquarists around the world with the people who provide their fish. Together, they can help support the health of the jungle environment that the fish, the piabeiros (local fishers), and more than a thousand other species - including humans - depend on to survive.”  

On their adventure, Montgomery and photographer Keith Ellenbogen travel farther up stream to the village of Barcelos to join in the celebration of the Festival of Ornamental Fish. A famous celebration to honor the little fish that are the life blood of this town.

Similar in format, the titles in this series are a treasure trove for budding scientists. As always, Montgomery’s writing is engaging as she makes science accessible and exciting to readers. Chapters are separated by short, interesting side stories. 

I first heard about Project Piaba a few years ago when my local aquarium store offered to set up a fresh water aquarium at my local library. We have Serpae and Rummy-nose Tetras that came from Rio Negro river! Kids are fascinated by the tiny fish. It is the first, and last thing they visit in the Youth Services area.

Listen to an interview with Sy discussing her Amazon adventure and Project Piabab at WGBH radio.

Project Piaba is not just about some little fish; it’s a solution to global problems.

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


Note: While Cathy Potter is on Sabbatical, Louise is writing all the reviews. Cathy returns February 2018.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli

The Quest for Z: the True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon
by Greg Pizzoli
Viking. 2017
ISBN: 9780670016532
Grades 3 and up (pretty exciting read for an adult, too)

Note: While Cathy Potter is on Sabbatical, Louise will be writing all the reviews. Cathy will return February, 2018. 

To me, books like The Quest for Z, which are introductions to interesting topics, can be a jumping off point for more research. A gateway drug, you might say, to learning more about the topic. So is the case with Pizzoli’s second nonfiction title (Tricky Vic) that recounts the adventures of British explorer Percy Fawcett, a surveyor for the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and his fascination with finding an ancient city believed to have thrived and then forgotten deep within the Amazon rain forest. 

“Less than one hundred years ago, maps of the world still included large “blank spots”: distant and dangerous lands that mapmakers and scientists had not yet explored. One of these blank spots was deep within the Amazon rain forest, in Brazil.” 

Percy Fawcett was born in Devon, England in 1867. Adventure ran in the Fawcett family. Percy’s father was a fellow for RGS and his older brother wrote adventure novels. After serving in the artillery in present-day Sri Lanka for over ten years, Fawcett, then married, returned to England, joined the RGS in London and spent over a year learning how to survive in the wild. Upon graduation, he was hired to survey the boundaries of Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru; his first expedition was in 1906. During his travels, Fawcett heard of the legend of an ancient city. “He called the mythical city “Z.” (Pronounced “zed” in British). Thus began his fascination, no obsession, with the seemingly impossible idea that large civilizations existed in the Amazon. His dream was to find it. Fawcett would travel to South America seven times (1906, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1921).  

His final trip, in 1925, was to find the lost city. Accompanying Fawcett was his eldest son, Jack, and Jack’s childhood friend Raleigh Rimell. To fund this trip Fawcett agreed to send out reports that newspapers published tracking their perilous jungle adventure. He became a star! Then, one month into their journey, after sending the last of the letters carried out by two guides, the three explores set off alone into the unexplored jungles of Brazil,  “They were never seen again.”

This informational picture book is an exciting true story of a man who seemed to thrive in the jungle. No matter how serious the danger, how many of his company fell ill and died, Fawcett always made it out alive. So his disappearance seemed impossible. The lively engaging text is combined with full-page illustrations that were made using silkscreen, photographic halftones, Zipatone, photocopy machines, newspapers, cut paper, and Photoshop. There are a few sidebars that offer more details on topics mentioned in the text. Backmatter includes an author’s note, list of Fawcett Hunters, glossary, and selected sources. 

Did Fawcett ever discover the lost city of Z? Was he ever found alive or his bones unearthed? You’ll have to read, The Quest for Z to find out.

Highly recommended. 

Go here to learn more about Greg Pizzoli.

And if older students are as fascinated about Percy Fawcett as I was, offer them this article from The New Yorker Magazine by David Grann or his book The Lost City of Z: a tale of deadly obsession in the Amazon. Be sure to have on hand Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Lost World: being an account of the recent amazing adventures of Professor George E. Challenger, Lord John Roxton, Professor Summerless, and Mr. E.D. Malone of the Daily gazette. Doyle based this book on the adventures of Percy Fawcett. 

A copy of this book was borrowed from my local public library to write this review.