Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Upcoming Nonfiction Titles Discovered at ALA


Louise and I have returned from the West Coast after attending the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. One of the best parts of attending ALA is having opportunities to talk with authors, illustrators, editors and publicists about books that are on the horizon. A highlight was listening to Melissa Sweet talk about her art, and she showed us some photos of collages from her upcoming biography of E.B. White.

In the exhibit hall, publishers also display new releases and upcoming titles for librarians to preview.  I was pleased to see so many high quality nonfiction titles that are due to be released in the next few months. Here are some of the titles that caught my attention.






Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsburg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Published by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
On shelves Sept. 22, 2015


Moon Bears by Mark Newman
Published by Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan)
On shelves Nov. 17, 2015


Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter
by Barbara Herkert and Gabi Swiatkowska
Published by Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan)
On shelves Oct. 27, 2015


The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield
by Larry Dane Brimmer
Published by Calkins Creek
On shelves September 8, 2015



Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation 
by Peggy Thomas and Stacy Innerst
Published by Calkins Creek
On shelves September 8, 2015

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
by Phil Bildner and John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books
On shelves Aug. 4, 2015


Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey
Published by Millbrook Press (Lerner)
On shelves Oct. 1, 2015


The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins
by Sandra Markle
Published by Millbrook Press (Lerner)
On shelves Oct. 1, 2015

The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition
by Chris Barton and Cathy Gendron
Published by Millbrook Press (Lerner)
On shelves Sept. 1, 2015


Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Published by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
On shelves Sept. 29, 2015


Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune
by Pamela Turner and Gareth Hinds
Published by Charlesbridge
On shelves Feb. 2, 2016



Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
by Jonah Winter and Shane Evans
Published by Schwartz & Wade (Random House)
On shelves July 14, 2015


Breakthrough: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Published by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin)
On shelves Dec. 8, 2015


Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
by Don Brown
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
On shelves August 4, 2015


 Fur, Fins and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo 
by Cassandre Maxwell
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
On shelves Aug. 10, 2015



 In the Canyon by Liz Garton Scanlon and Ashley Wolff
Published by Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster)
On shelves Aug. 18, 2015



Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton America's First Private Eye
by Samantha Seiple
Published by Scholastic Press
On shelves Sept. 29, 2015


Alyson at the Kidlit Frenzy blog also had a nonfiction recap from ALA. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tommy: The Gun That Changed America

Tommy: The Gun That Changed America 
by Karen Blumenthal
Roaring Brook Press
On shelves June 30, 2015
Grades 6-12

The reviewer received an electronic galley from the publisher.

Karen Blumenthal, author of Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine and the Lawless Years of Prohibition, has written another intriguing history story for teens. In Tommy: The Gun That Changed America, Blumenthal traces the history of the Thompson machine gun from the conception of the idea by John Thompson just after World War I to the design of the weapon by Oscar Payne followed by its rise as a deadly weapon used on the streets by notorious gangsters. At the time, it was a huge improvement over the heavy, unreliable Chauchat rifles issued to soldiers during the Great War. Unfortunately, the Thompson machine gun wasn't purchased in bulk by the U.S. military and instead was smuggled into the hands of gangsters, sold to military groups in other countries, and became available in sporting good stores across the country.

The fast-paced narrative weaves together stories of smugglers, the formation of the U.S. Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Irish Republican Army, gangsters, FDR's New Deal, labor unions and the U.S. Constitution. Despite the many subplots, the narrative remains focused on the thesis: how the Tommy gun had an impact on our society and laws governing firearms. Many chapters end with a cliff hanger or with an interesting fact that leads into the next chapter. Numerous black and white photographs, advertisements, and newspaper clippings are placed thoughtfully throughout the book. The lengthy bibliography and detailed source notes show that Blumenthal spent a great deal of time researching this topic.

Even though the Tommy gun is no longer in circulation, it had a lasting effect on our country and the gun control debate. The book contains a strong authorial voice, at times I felt like I was having a conversation with the author. Yet, Blumenthal does not put her own views into the story, she presents readers with information from all sides of the issues. The last chapter of the book focuses on the issue of gun control versus the right the bear arms. Readers are asked to consider what they think is right: the safety of the community or individual rights. This is a powerful and interesting read for history fans and would make an excellent book to share in middle school or high school history classes.

Read an excerpt from the book on the publisher's site.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic: the man who sold the Eiffel Tower By Greg Pizzoli

The Impossibly True Story of Tricky Vic: the man who sold the Eiffel Tower
By Greg Pizzoli
Viking. 2015
ISBN: 9780670016525
Grades 4-8
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Stories about famous criminals seem to be a hot topic in my library right now. Maybe it’s because the theme for this year’s Collaborative Summer Library Program is all about heroes. (Every Hero Has a Story). Whatever the reason, National Geographic’s Weird but true! Stupid Criminals is one of the most popular books in my library. Where Stupid Criminals is a collection of humorous stories about criminals that did really stupid things that led to their capture, gifted writer Greg Pizzoli’s story is about a crook who was pretty smart. It must take a gifted mind to come up with the clever scam of selling the Eiffel Tower.

So who is this master criminal? Let’s find out.

In 1890, Robert Miller was born in what is now the Czech Republic. Smart and fluent in several languages, Miller left the University of Paris before completing a degree to become an artist…a con artist. He started by playing poker but after a run in with a jealous husband, Miller fled dry land to begin working on a transatlantic ocean liner. There he created his alias of Count Victor Lustig.

“Victor” was a convincing count: exceedlingly well dressed, soft spoken, and always with lots of money to spare at the game tables. Once the ship docked and the passengers disembarked, “Count Lustig” would disaapear, along with their money.

After conning Al Capone, fooling many with his Romanian Money Box hoax, Lustig left the U.S. for Paris. There he came up with the crazy scheme of selling the Eiffel Tower. Vic was convinced that if he could pull this off he could make enough money to secret his future for years. It was a very clever plan.

The book’s design is very appealing; the lively and highly engaging text is combined with full-page illustrations created using pencil, ink, rubber stamps, halftone photographs, silkscreen, Zipatone, and Photoshop. Throughout the book are sidebars that offer more details about topics mentioned in the text.  I liked how Pizzoi cleverly used prints of fingers and thumbs in place of showing Tricky Vic's face.

Was Tricky Vic ever captured? Yes! Twice. The first time he escaped but was quickly recaptured and sent to prison in Alcatraz. After serving twelve years, Vic became seriously ill and died in 1947 of pneumonia.


Pizzoli’s droll sense of humor makes reading The Impossible True Story of Tricky Vic an illustrious summer read.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Founding Fathers! by Jonah Winter

The Founding Fathers!: those horse rider; fiddle-playin’, book-readin’, gun-totin’, gentlemen who started America

By Jonah Winter; Illustrated by Barry Blitt
Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 2015
ISBN:9781442442720
Grades 6-12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

In March of this year, I read a piece by Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker Magazine entitled, “The Scene of the Crime: a reporter’s journey to My Lai and the secrets of the past.  It was Hersh in 1969, then a young investigative reporter, who broke the story of the My Lai Massacre (March 16, 1968) and it’s cover-up during the Vietnam War. In the article, Hersh writes of his reaction as he returns to the scene of the crime forty-seven years later.  It’s a very moving piece and well-worth reading.

In the article, Hersh mentions then Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and refers to his memoir, In Retrospect: the tragedy and lessons of Vietnam(1995) and the documentary film, The Fog of War(2003). Both the book and film were attempts by MaNamara to find absolution for his role in the Vietnam War. As Hersh states, McNamara acknowledged in his memoir that the war had been a disaster, but rarely expressed regrets about the damage done to the Vietnamese people and to the American soldiers.

As I read the article by Hersh, devoured McNamara’s book, and watched the documentary, I thought of the quote by Sir Winston Churchill, Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. What does an article on Vietnam and Robert McNamara have to do with the book, The Founding Fathers!? Not a whole lot, except that I saw the men who, despite their differences, were willing to risk their lives in order to follow a dream; by crafted our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. 

Americans always talk about “the Founding Fathers” as if they were a group of dads who, after a brief huddle, just hauled off and founded America. But what were they really liked? In The Founding Fathers!, Winter showcases the most well-known signers to show that they were just a bunch of guys with stomach issues and wooden legs and problematic personalities—who sometimes couldn’t even stand to be in the same room with each other. In truth, these men where not saints. The fourteen are George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, James Madison, John Jay, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Paine, Gouverneur Morris, Benjamin Rush, John Marshall.

Don’t let the slim format with cartoon-like illustrations by Blitt fool you into thinking this book is only for the younger crowd who love history. The amount of information offered would make this interesting to middle and high school students studying American History.  The double-page spreads, using reds, blues, and brown tones, gives a brief summary of the person's accomplishments, famous quotes, and then some pretty fascinating statistical information. A full-page portrait of each signer lists name, nickname, date. 

Did you know that John Jay (The Peacemaker; December 12,1745-May 17,1829) was 6' tall? Weight: skinny and thought the Boston Tea Partiers deserved fair trials. That Gouverneur Morris (The Aristocrat; January 31, 1752-November 6,1816) actually wrote the Constitution? He would risk his life and family inheritance by joining the revolution. Morris’ opinion on the Boston Tea Party? He opposed it. 

Winter’s humorous tone makes this book a rollicking read. Author’s notes and a list of resources. It would have been helpful if the men listed were in some kind of order since the book does not include an index, table of contents or page numbers.


The Founding Fathers! will fit perfectly with other titles celebrating the 4th of July. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer Reading 2015


It's that time of year when schools are letting out for the summer, and public libraries are welcoming children and their families for summer reading programs.

Here is a list of nonfiction books we recommend for pleasure reading during summer months. We've linked our reviews to each book if you want to read more about the titles.

Cathy and Louise

Biographies and Memoirs








Science Stories






History






Poetry






Monday, June 1, 2015

Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty
by Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews
illustrated by Bryan Collier
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
ISBN: 9781419714658
Grades K-5

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

When I look at the biography section at my school library, it's hard to find a biography of a living musician. We have biographies of Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, The Beatles, Elvis and Marian Anderson. Trombone Shorty fills the niche; it's a picture book memoir about a living musician and role model for children.

In Trombone Shorty, Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty) recounts his childhood growing up in New Orleans where he was surrounded by the sounds of jazz. When he found a discarded trombone, he began playing his own music in Treme quickly earned the nickname of Trombone Shorty. After being noticed by Bo Diddley, Andrews and his childhood friends formed a band and performed after school.

"I took that trombone everywhere I went and never stopped playing. I was so small that sometimes I fell right over to the ground because it was so heavy. But I always got back up, and I learned to hold it up high."

Andrews' inspirational story and the theme of following your passion will resonate with young readers. Collier's watercolor illustrations and photo collages capture Andrews' personality and the energy of the music scene in New Orleans. The realistic style illustrations, muted colors and photos of people in the crowds give the illustrations an authentic and raw feeling. Music is represented through swirls and shapes in the illustrations. I recommend reading it aloud to children in groups large and small. Be sure to play some music by Trombone Shorty. Pair Trombone Shorty with Little Melba and Her Big Trombone or Josephine.

New Orleans remains an important place for Troy Andrews. He established the Trombone Shorty Foundation to ensure that young musicians in New Orleans receive high quality music instruction. Learn more about the foundation here: http://www.tromboneshortyfoundation.org/




Monday, May 25, 2015

Doable: the girls' guide to accomplishing just about anything by Deborah Reber

Doable: the girls' guide to accomplishing just about anything

by Deborah Reber
Simon Pulse. 2015
ISBN: 9781582704678
Grades 10 thru adult
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

I’ve been taking a class in Leadership; it’s really a course in Coaching. I took it with the intention of becoming a more effective manager at work, but also a supportive friend and mentor (replace ego with listening and validation). As I go deeper into myself and my work style, I keep thinking about the various goals I’ve had over the years. Are they still doable or realistic? Was my inability to accomplish those goals based on fear? Were my goal too vague? Or was the problem that I didn’t know the necessary steps to take to make them work? But, you know how sometimes you keep chewing away at things? For me, it was thinking about goals, objectives and missed opportunities. And then this book fell into my path and I felt as if the author was speaking to me directly. The book that changed my thinking was Doable: the girls’ guide to accomplishing just about anything by Deborah Reber. 

The goal of Doable is to give teen girls the tools they need to be as productive as they want to be. To turn any goal or pursuit into a doable venture. Reber is a professional writer, blogger, and life coach who works to empower teen girls.

The book is set up like a workbook with each task broken up into eight “doable” steps all clearly explained. Step 1:  What do you want to do? Readers will go from naming their specific goal, mapping it out, defining all the tasks involved, actually doing the work, dealing with setbacks to finally delivering the goods. Reber combines actual real-life examples with her advice using a down-to-earth chatty tone that is always supportive. 

I especially liked how, right in the beginning, Reber explains that some “Doers” suffer from overly vague goals. When a goal is too vague, it can’t be measured, which means there’s no way of knowing when and if you’ve actually reached it. Working toward vague goals is about as productive as running on a life-sized hamster wheel (although at least in that case you’re getting a decent workout). Peppered throughout every chapter are sidebars that clarify what’s being discussed in the text or includes actions to be done before continuing on to the next step. A motivational summary that condenses all the information discussed ties up each chapter. 

I urge librarians to make this book available to those students who seem to be a bit lost. We all know those students who possess a certain charm that draws people to them. We describe them as lucky. They seem to have so much going for them. Maybe they had supportive parents, caring teachers or other adults who taught them early on how to make their goals a reality. I see Doable: the girls’ guide to accomplishing just about anything as an excellent resource to pass on to those other girls who, though they have dreams, often lack the necessary guidance to help them see it through.

I do have one very minor complaint about the book's layout. The font is grayscale, not black. Combined with the gray sidebars the font doesn't jump out, making reading the book seem more laborious. Still, the information is crucial to the very audience who might cast this book aside for its lack of visual appeal.

Doable is being marketed as a guide for teen girls, but, really, it is also extremely useful for boys and adults, too.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Gordon Parks: how the photographer captured Black & White America by Carole Boston Weatherford

Gordon Parks: How the photographer captured Black and White America
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Jamey Christoph
Albert Whitman & Company. 2015
ISBN: 9780807530177
Grades 3 thru 12
I borrowed this book out of my local public library

As mentioned in the review of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, by 1902 the gains African Americans made for equality during the Reconstruction had slipped away. Though the Civil War had made them free men and women, still, the message was clearly stated that African Americans did not have the same rights, same educational or professional opportunities as whites. 

Gordon Parks was born in 1912 in the state of Kansas. His white teacher told her all-black class, You’ll all wind up as porters and waiters. At age twenty-five, Parks bought himself a camera and started taking picture after seeing a magazine spread on migrant farm workers. It wouldn’t be long before Parks would use his camera to lay bare rascism.

He would be the first black photographer for Vogue and Life Magazine; the first African American to write and direct a feature film.

Christoph’s double-page illustrations resemble a photograph that pays close attention to historic detail. He perfectly captures the essence written in the text, especially in the drawing of the dark alleys where African Americans are living in poverty while the bright white U.S. Capital shines against the blue sky as if saying that our laws only supported white America. 

Back matter includes a brief bio of Parks and Author’s note. 

Park's photographs brought racism to the foreground. He would remain active until his death in 2006. He published several books, and directed the hit movie, Shaft in 1971. 

For more information about Parks, visit the Gordon Parks Foundation. 







Monday, May 11, 2015

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374300227
Grades 6 and up
On shelves May 12, 2015

The reviewer received an advanced digital copy of the book from the publisher.

I enjoy reading about people and events from history that I had never heard of before, especially when it's from a time period that has been written about extensively. There are several nonfiction titles that fall into this category: The Port Chicago 50 by Steven Sheinkin,  Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin, Searching for Sarah Rector by Tanya Bolden and Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Hoose has a new nonfiction book for young adults that introduces readers to a little-known group of teens who made a difference. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler follows the work of brave boys from Denmark who created a club to sabotage the Nazis during World War II.

Hoose explains in the introduction that he got he idea for the book while on a bicycle tour of Denmark where he visited the Museum of Danish Resistance and viewed an exhibit about The Churchill Club.  The author researched the book by extensively interviewing Knud Pedersen in person and via email. The result is a gripping, edge-of-your seat, nonfiction book about how young saboteurs attempted to thwart the Nazis.

Hoose's narrative style includes interesting details that help readers picture the story in their minds. The Churchill Club met at Pedersen's home after school where they planned their missions. They named their club after Winston Churchill, whom they greatly admired. The most compelling aspect of the story comes from Pedersen's first person account of how the boys set fire to railway cars, stole weapons from German soldiers, and vandalized Nazi vehicles and buildings. Pedersen explains that the group decided to fight back despite the risks involved because they felt the Danish government had given up; they wanted to stand up to the Nazis like the Norwegians.

Black and white photographs and primary documents placed throughout the book provide more information about the events and time period. One memorable photo shows members of the Churchill Club posing with their prison numbers in the yard at the King Hans Gades Jail. Readers will enjoy reading about how the boys continued to wreak havoc with Nazi operations even as they served time in jail.  This is the perfect book for teens looking for an exciting, true adventure story. Pair The Boys Who Challenged Hitler with His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden or The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson.

Click here to access discussion questions for The Boys Who Challenged Hitler.


Monday, May 4, 2015

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch written by Chris Barton; illustrated by Don Tate

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch
Written by Chris Barton; Illustrated by Don Tate
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 2015
ISBN: 9780802853790
Grades 4-8
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.


The Amazing Story of John Roy Lynch is about a man who went from a teenage field slave to U.S. Congressman in just ten years. It was quite a journey and Barton highlights Lynch's ingenuity, focus, and luck. 

John Roy Lynch was born in 1847, in Louisiana. His father was Irish and his mother was enslaved. His father worked as an overseer and hoped, one day, to save enough to buy his wife and children's freedom. Unfortunately, he died and John Roy, his mother and brother were sold.

Until he was fifteen, John Roy worked as a house slave, but after insulting the woman of the house he was sent to labor in the cotton fields. When the Civil War began, Lynch worked for the Union Army until the period we call Reconstruction. From 1865-1877, the U.S. government tried to figure out how to work with those southern states that chose succession; they attempted to convince all Americans to see African Americans as citizens with rights equal to white folks. By 1870, John Roy Lynch was one of sixteen African Americans from former Confederate States who served in the U.S. Congress.

Between 1902 and 1972, there were no African Americans in the U.S. Congress. Barton states in the historical notes. Put simply, white Southerners resisted and then reversed --through legislation and violence--the extensions of freedom to their black neighbors. And as Reconstruction neared its end, the U.S. government did not keep up its efforts to protect its African American citizens in those states.

Don Tate's mixed media full-page illustrations show a determined Lynch as he moves from childhood to congressman. Tate successfully balances the cheerfulness of Lynch's accomplishments with the dark times of violence. Readers see that even while Lynch was serving his country in Washington, D.C., back in the southern states the rise of violence towards African American escalated. Back home, white terrorists burn black schools and black churches. They armed themselves on Election Day to keep blacks away. They even committed murder. 

The story of John Roy Lynch begins the dialogue about the period of Reconstruction and why it is so important to our understanding of the courage and dedication needed for the Civil Rights Movement to succeed. Back matter includes a historical note, timeline, author and illustrator note, suggestions for further reading, and a map of the Reconstructed United States in 1870.

The book closes with these words from Lynch that resonates today.
When every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves, is, in truth and in fact, the "land of the free and the home of the brave."


For more information about this book that includes a book trailer, go here.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Over the Hills and Far Away: a treasurey of nursery rhymes, collected by Elizabeth Hammill


Over the Hills and Far Away: a treasurey of nursery rhymes


Collected by Elizabether Hammill
Illustrated by more than 70 celebrated artists
Candlewick Press. 2015
ISBN: 9780763677299
Babies – Grade 3
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.


I love nursery rhymes and so does Elizabeth Hammill, critic, bookseller and cofounder of Seven Stories, Britain’s National Center for Children’s Books

Hammill states in her introduction, Nursery rhymes have enlivened my life for as long as I can remember. Mine, too. As librarians, parents, and teachers, we all know that early exposure to books is an important element in a child’s development. It helps them master language and, hopefully, to love reading. Nursery rhymes, with their repetition, rhyme and beat is a pleasurable way to engage young children, especially babies. It's really fun to see toddlers stopping in mid-motion when their favorite rhyme is sung in toddler time. 

In this lovely anthology, Hammill has collected rhymes from various cultures around the world that will provide listeners with a genuine intercultural experience. Over 77 artists illustrate the rhymes. Hammill included those new to the field alongside our favorites: Jon Klassen, Polly Dunbar, Nina Crews, Shaun Tan, Helen Craig, Charlotte Voake, Axel Scheffler, and many more. Although a few of the pictures are recycled, most of the artwork is original. Eric Carle’s very hungry spider illustrates two rhymes about spiders.
At early morning the spiders spin/And by and by the flies drop in;/And when they call, the spiders say,/Take off your things, and stay all day. (American)

Ladybird, ladybird, /Fly away home. /Your house is on fire/And your children all gone;/All except one/And that’s little Ann/And she has crept under/The warming pan. (English)

Back matter includes notes about each artist, index of first lines, and sources.

All in all, this would make a wonderful addition to any library.

Read Betsy Bird's review at Fuse 8.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Nest is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long

A Nest is Noisy
Written by Dianna Hutts Aston; Illustrations by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books. 2015
ISBN: 9781452127132
Preschool on up
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

They’ve done it again! 

The award-winning duo, Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long, have added a fifth title to their informational science picture book series. (An Egg is Quiet, A Seed is Sleepy, A Butterfly is Patient, and A Rock is Lively). Their books stand out for their simplicity in language melded flawlessly with Long’s delicate, yet very expressive illustrations.

This book begins with a simple statement--A nest is noisy. It is a nursery of chirp-chirping buzzing squeaking peep-peeping bubbling babies—followed by brief paragraphs that gives just enough information about different types of nests without overwhelming readers. Aston packs a lot of information about a variety of nests. From birds to amphibians, mammals, insects and fish, this is one introductory science book budding naturalists will not want to miss.

Papery is the word that describes a nest for hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps. A lamprey’s nest is pebbly. I like the two-page spread, A nest is neighborly. We learn that some nest builders prefer colonies. Long has partnered the nests of the Baya Weaver bird that hang down from the top of the page with Black-tailed Prairie Dogs labyrinth of underground burrows below. 

Every illustration is clearly labeled. As Long did in the other titles, here the front shows a variety of nests and the actual animal that uses the listed nests at the back.


And, just like our own households that are noisy and chaotic when our children are little, everything changes once they are ready to fly, swim, or crawl away…Then a nest is Quiet.



 Read another review of A Nest is Noisy by our friend, Alyson Beecher over at KidLitFrenzy.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Gingerbread for Liberty!

Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution  
by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
ISBN: 9780544130012
Grades 2-5

Today is Patriots' Day in honor of the first battle of the American Revolution, so it seems like the perfect time to feature Gingerbread for Liberty. Mara Rockliff introduces young readers to Christopher Ludwick, a baker and little-known figure from the Revolutionary War. Ludwick's job was to make sure the soldiers were well-fed. He served as the baker for the Continental Army, and he also baked for prisoners of war (many were from his home country of Germany).

Kirsch's whimsical, watercolor illustrations look like gingerbread with masking fluid outlines that resemble icing.  The narrative style with many exclamatory sentences make Gingerbread for Liberty an engaging story for kids and an exciting book to read aloud. The story could also serve as a springboard for readers who want to learn more about the American Revolution. Although, the use of dialogue without source notes shifts the story from nonfiction to historical fiction.

Be sure to read the author's note to learn more specific information about Ludwick's work as a baker and his humanitarian efforts in Philadelphia. Readers who enjoy baking may be inspired to test the gingerbread recipe printed on the endpapers.

 Visit Vincent X. Kirsch's website to see illustrations from the book.