Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Libba: the Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs

Libba: the Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten
by Laura Veirs; Illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh
Chronicle Books. 2018
ISBN: 9781452148571

This picture book biography is a loving tribute to one our greatest folk musicians, Elizabeth Cotten. Veirs states, “I hope readers will explore the life and music of Libba Cotten, a beautiful tributary of the great river that is American folk music.”

Born around 1893 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten heard music everywhere. She taught herself how to play the guitar using her brother’s instrument. Only thing is that Libba was left-handed. She had to re-string the guitar “upside-down and played it backwards. Kind of like brushing your teeth with your foot.” 

She played all the time, then stopped at around age sixteen. She put the guitar away while she raised her child. In her forties, Libba became housekeeper to American folk music specialist, Ruth Crawford Seeger. (Ruth was the mother of Mike and Peggy Seeger, stepmother to Pete Seeger) While working at the Seeger’s, the house was filled with music day and night. And, once again, Libba heard music.

When the Seeger family and friends heard Libba sing, “it was like a thousand songbirds singing.” 

For the rest of her life, Libba never stopped singing. She died in 1987 at age 94,  Her most famous folk song, 'Freight Train', was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, and even The Grateful Dead, to name a few!

The book is enhanced by the illustrations of artist Tatyana Fzalaizadeh. Rendered in graphite and digital color, the artwork uses muted tones that bring the narrative alive. 

Back matter includes an extensive author’s note and a bibliography of works cited. 

Share this book with students of all ages. Round out their experience by playing some of Cotten's cds you've checked out from your local public library. Her voice is so graceful, engaging, and you will agree that she does sound like a thousand songbirds singing.

Click here to hear Libba Cotten perform a song written with the help of the four generations of children and grandchildren she took care of...'Shake Sugaree'.

Click on this link to hear the author, Laura Veirs, who is a singer-songwriter, performing Freight Train.

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School by Janet Halfmann

Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and her Secret School
by Janet Halfmann; Illustrated by London Ladd
Lee & Low. 2018
ISBN: 9781620141632

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

The power of reading and how it can transform lives is the subject of this informational picture book biography about Lilly Ann Granderson. Born into slavery around 1821 in Petersburg, Virginia, Lilly Ann was taught how to read and write by the master’s children.  As she grew and her reading improved, Lilly Ann read everything she could get her hands on. She even read the newspapers found lying around. “That is how she learned of places in the North where slavery had been abolished.” 

The better she got at reading, the more Lilly Ann wanted to share her knowledge with others. Though it was not illegal for slaves to read and write in Kentucky, it was strongly discouraged. Sundays were the perfect opportunity for teaching while the master’s family went to church and visited friends. Lilly Ann found a hidden spot in the nearby woods where she gathered other enslaved children and began teaching them the alphabet. She did this for years, until her master died and she was sold to a planation in Natchez, Mississippi. 

In Mississippi, it was illegal for enslaved people to read and write. “Landowners feared that if the enslaved could read, they would discover that some northerners wanted slavery abolished. this might lead to rebellion agains the owners.” Another fear was that If a slave could write, they might forge a travel pass and escape to the north. Yet, Lilly Ann found a way, despite the risk to her life.

The engaging narrative is enhanced by the illustrations, done primarily in acrylic paint in a painterly style, by artist, London Ladd. Click here to learn more about Ladd. 

Lilly Ann changed the lives of many children. She continued to teach until late in life. “Lilly Ann Granderson’s inspiration lives on today through all the generations changed forever by her dedication to helping others gain freedom and improve their lives through education.”

The lengthy author’s note gives more detailed information about Granderson. Back matter also includes selected references, and quotation sources.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Geology Is a Piece of Cake

Geology is a Piece of Cake  
by Katie Coppens
Tumblehome Learning, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-943431-28-1
Grades 4-8

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

I am fortunate to work with the talented middle school teacher, Katie Coppens. Katie teaches science and English Language Arts to sixth grade students. She often weaves the arts (music, creative writing, art and movement) into science lessons. In addition to being a gifted teacher, Katie is also an author of books for kids and educators.

Science teachers should take note of Katie's new geology book, Geology Is a Piece of Cake. The picture book is cross between an expository nonfiction book and a cookbook. The text covers an array of geology topics including the rock cycle, weathering, plate tectonics, and fossils. Each page poses questions which are followed by clearly written answers. What is a Metamporphic Rock? How Does This Relate to Cake? 

Throughout the book, cake is used as a "model to help you understand various concepts in geology." The cake comparisons are an effective way to help kids visualize and comprehend complex science concepts. Recipes for various types of cakes are included in the book including "Igneous Rock" Carrot Cake and Extrusive Molten Lava Cake. My favorite section uses cake pops to show readers how the Earth orbits around the sun. In addition to cake photographs, the book includes diagrams and photographs of rocks, fossils, and plates.

Pick up a copy of Geology Is a Piece of Cake to use in an elementary or middle school earth science class, for science programming in the public library or as a gift for the budding geologist in your life.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and American’s First Bookmobile By Sharlee Glenn


Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and American’s First Bookmobile
By Sharlee Glenn
Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2018
ISBN: 9781419728754
Grades 4 and up

Glenn has written a loving homage to librarians, those dedicated individuals who work hard to guarentee that people in their communities have easy access to materials and services. Mary Lemist Titcomb was such a librarian. Born in 1852, Titcomb, in 1914, served as the second vice president of ALA. It was while working as the director of the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Maryland, that Titcomb made her mark. Titcomb knew that over half of the residents, 25,00 people, lived on farms and were not able to get in to the library. “Miss Titcomb was determined that everyone should have access to the library, not just adults, not just the rich or educated, not just those who lived in town.”   

How did she manage this?
  •  By opening one of the first children’s rooms in the nation
  •  By Providing village schools with rotating collections of good books and pictures from the library
  • Going on the road, offering story times in remote areas of the county
  •  Setting up over seventy-five deposit stations, like Little Free Libraries, around the county
Yet, Titcomb felt there were still some residents the library was not serving. How to reach them? She came up with the idea of using a horse-drawn “book wagon.” The first book wagon, pulled by two horses, Black Beauty and Dandy, made its maiden voyage in 1905.  It was an immediate success. By 1922, bookmobiles began appearing up in other parts of the country.

Readers learn how Titcomb overcame the prejudices of her time. People told her she couldn’t do this or that. Why? Because she was either too young or a girl. “But Mary never gave up.”  

Supporting Glenn's engaging narrative are many historic photos, some copies of letters and an article about Titcomb. The photos enhance what is being explained in the text. 

Back matter includes an author’s note, source notes, bibliography of materials used for research, and index.

How did Glenn come up with the idea to write about a little known librarian? Glenn explains in her author’s note, "I was doing research for another book when I ran across an obscure reference to a woman named Mary Lemist Titcomb who was credited with the invention of the bookmobile in America. A woman had invented the bookmobile! I was immediately intrigued.”  

Share this book with children, and adults. When I booktalk Library on Wheels is gives me another opportunity to share that a librarians job is more than sitting around reading all day.  

In addition...I loved the book because I have always wanted to work on a bookmobile. 

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Seed is the Start

A Seed is the Start 
by Melissa Stewart
National Geographic Kids, 2018
Preschool-Grade 3
978-1-4263-2978-4


Melissa Stewart's new nonfiction book about seeds hits all the right notes. Upon opening A Seed Is the Start, readers are introduced to important vocabulary words related to the topic. Each two-page spread has large yellow and white headings that introduce the concept. Paragraphs of expository text provide readers with key details about how seeds travel and grow. Close-up photographs accompany the text and show burrs, nuts, seeds, pods and berries in nature. One impressive photograph near the beginning of the book illustrates the stages of a corn seed growing into a plant. Captions describe each stage of the growth process.

A Seed Is the Start is a highly recommended purchase for school libraries, classrooms and public libraries. It could be read as part of a plant unit in an elementary classroom and could be used for science programming and story time in a public library. Publishers and authors of nonfiction should take note of A Seed Is the Start as an example of excellent book design, layout, visuals, and quality science writing aimed at very young readers. Visit Melissa Stewart's website to read notes about A Seed Is the Start.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Terrific Tongues! Blog Tour


Terrific Tongues!
by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Jia Liu
Boyds Mills Press, 2018
ISBN: 9781620917848

To write this review, the publisher sent us advanced copies of the book.

Today we are taking part in the Terrific Tongues! Blog Tour. As part of this blog tour, we are giving away one copy of Terrific Tongues! donated by the publisher. Details and the entry form can be found at the bottom of this page.

In this engaging informational picture book, Gianferrari, the author of Coyote Moon, celebrates the wonders of the tongue! A monkey is our host as we are taken through the many terrific things a tongue can do.


Gianferrari blends two writing styles: narrative and expository to make an informative and interesting story for young readers. The narrative parts include similes and comparisons that illustrate the diversity of tongues found in the animal kingdom: "If you had a tongue like a nose, you might be..." and with a turn of the page, we learn it is ..."a snake!" Each comparison is accompanied by a paragraph containing details about the animal's tongue: "A snake's tongue helps it smell. It sticks out its forked tongue to collect chemicals in the environment. The chemicals are then absorbed by two pits on the roof of its mouth called the Jacobson's organ. The Jacobson's organ sends a message to the snake's brain, letting it know whether it's smelling food, danger, or a mate." 


Liu's digital illustrations are lively and very colorful, and the monkey narrator adds comic relief to the story. Terrific Tongues! would make story time very lively and fun; it would also enliven science classes for all ages.

One lucky reader will win a copy of Terrific Tongues! courtesy of Boyds Mill Press. 


Giveaway Rules

  • Complete the form below to enter the giveaway.
  • One entry per person.
  • You must be 13 years old or older to enter.
  • U.S. addresses only
  • The contest will end at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, 2018.
  • The winner will be notified by email. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle written by Erica Fyvie


Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle
Written by Erica Fyvie; Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press. 2018
ISBN: 9781771360782
Grades 3 and up
 The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review.

Did you know…

  • Every day throughout the world, approximately 270,000 trees are cut down to make paper products? 10% of that amount (2700) is used to make toilet paper.
  •  It takes 1000 years for a pair of running shoes to decompose.
  • Love chips? Each year, most of the 17 billion potato chip bags produced in the United States end up in the trash.

Those facts and more are woven into an engaging narrative that enlightens readers on the everyday items we purchase and what we can do to stop the cycle of waste. Using the premise of items we might carry in a backpack, the book is divided into sections (Water; Food; Clothing; Paper; Plastic; Metals; Electronics). Within each section, the book takes a look at how that item is produced, and then what happens to it when it becomes waste. 

The section on Waste in Space, compares and contrasts the daily consumption and waste of the astronauts versus every day on Earth. On the whole, waste in space is less than on Earth (1 gal.(3.8L) of water waste is generated in space, while on Earth the average is about 75 gallons (287 L)).  Although, I found this fact very disturbing: “Space Clothing: Since washing machines aren’t an option in space, dirty space clothes are typically bundled and shot into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up. A six-person crew can generate 900 lb. (408 kg) of clothing per year.” 

The book’s design is colorful with cartoon-like illustrations giving a visual representation of what is being discussed on the page. Sidebars are placed throughout offering more detailed information. Wherever it applies, readers learn about countries or individuals who have come up with a way to have zero waste. 

The book closes with the hope of a zero-waste future. In Taiwan, a Zero-Waste Leader, manufacturers pay a fine for produce excess packaging. The money earned goes to recyclers. They also collect 30 different kinds of waste and recycling twice a week, including fluorescent tubes and clothing.

Back matter includes a glossary of terms, resources for more information, and index.

This is a great book for families to share when making a plan to lower their carbon footprint. It will spark discussions and have readers seriously thinking about making wise purchases. (Is it really necessary to always upgrade your electronic devices?) Especially when they realize just how long an item lasts in a landfill.