Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sniffer Dogs by Nancy F. Castaldo

Sniffer Dogs: how dogs (and their noses) save the world
By Nancy F. Castaldo

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014
ISBN: 9780544088931
Grades 3 thru 12
To write this review, I borrowed this book from my local public library.

In Sniffer Dogs, readers learn how canines use their incredible sense of smell to help find us, keep us safe, and rescue us from danger. They even help protect the planet. The different occupations include finding survivors that are trapped after a disaster, sniffing out human bones, finding explosives, narcotics, and other bad stuff at airports, subways or other major transportation areas. There are also eco dogs that assist conservationists, and medical alert dogs that are trained to recognize blood sugar levels to sniffing out dangerous allergens.

About 90 percent of sniffers are often termed useless or unmanageable by their original owners. They are literally rescued from death row.

This is a high-interest title. Castaldo delivers a fascinating text that juggles the science of sniffing with specific stories of working dogs. She also mentions the valuable work these dogs do in times of war as bomb sniffers or companions who can find their way back to camp to get help. The addition of color photos taken by the author, show these hard working dogs in various, often dangerous situations. A real page-turner.

Back matter includes bibliography, suggested reading, websites, ways to get involved, glossary, and index.

If you have students who loved these fictional titles -- Duke by Kirby Larson, Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow, Letters from Wolfie by Patti Sherlock, Dogs of War by Shelia Keenan, Cracker! the best dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadohata and Soldier Dog by Sam Angus -- be sure to hand them Sniffer Dogs.

Read another review at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters 
by Laurie Ann Thompson
Simon Pulse/Beyond Words, 2014
ISBN: 1582704651
Grades 7-12

The reviewers received copies of the book from Blue Slip Media.

Teens interested in making a difference in their communities (or even across the globe) will find Be a Changemaker inspiring and practical. Thompson has created an in-depth, step-by-step guide of how to identify a problem, develop a plan, form a team, and work towards a goal. Thompson shows kids how they can use technology and social media as tools to help meet their goals including Kickstarter, Prezi, and Google Drive. Stories of actual community projects and charities started by kids and teenagers are included in each chapter providing readers real life examples and ideas. 

Cathy's Thoughts:
I enjoyed the inspirational quotes at the beginning of each chapter. I think teens who are interested in creating an organization or project to help others will find this book really helpful. Thompson breaks it down into smaller, manageable steps while helping teens stay focused on their goals. My favorite parts of the book were the stories about kids who have helped others. I was impressed by the work of Jessica Markowitz and her organization, Richard's Rwanda. The group began by organizing bake sales and fund raisers to support the education of girls in Rwanda.

Louise's Thoughts:
I found this "how-to handbook" very useful. Thompson uses simple, direct language to explain how to take something you are passionate about and turn it into a reality. Readers will learn how to take that first spark of an idea and create a business plan to launching your idea to the world. I liked how in each chapter Thompson profiles some youth-led social organizations. For example, Project ORANGS is a new venture of two girls from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their idea was to convince the Girl Scouts of America to switch to deforestation-free and socially responsible sources of palm oil, a main ingredient in their cookies. I wish we could have seen some photos of the the teens and their projects.

Teen Librarian's Toolbox will have a free downloadable workshop guide for libraries and classrooms in late October. Visit Laurie Ann Thompson's website for more details.

Be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour!

Be a Changemaker Blog Tour Dates
Sept. 8     Sally's Bookshelf
Sept. 9     Girl Scout Leader 101
Sept. 10   Unleashing Readers
Sept. 12   Kirby's Lane
Sept. 15   NC Teacher Stuff
Sept. 16   The Hiding Spot
Sept. 17   Kid Lit Frenzy

Monday, September 8, 2014

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2

Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction and Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2
by Melissa Stewart and Nancy Chesley
Stenhouse Publishers, 2014
ISBN: 9781571109583
Professional Resource

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

Educator, Nancy Chesley, and nonfiction author, Melissa Stewart, have teamed up to create Perfect Pairs, a professional resource for K-2 teachers. The book includes 22 life science lesson plans organized by grade and concept. Each lesson is inquiry-based and begins with an "I wonder" statement for students to think about and respond to in their science journals.

I wonder how a rain forest is different from a desert.
I wonder how animals protect themselves from predators.

The lessons are structured around a three-step "Investigative Process."
1) Engaging students
2) Exploring with students
3) Encouraging students to draw conclusions.

Fiction and nonfiction picture books are paired in each lesson to help young students grasp specific science concepts.  For example, the lesson about how animals protect themselves pairs Swimmy by Leo Lionni with What Do When Something Wants to Eat You? by Steve Jenkins. The picture books selected by Stewart and Chesley could also serve as mentor texts for young writers.

Perfect Pairs provides teachers with meaningful ways to use literature and inquiry to engage students in life science concepts. This is a resource that primary teachers should have on their shelves.  The "Bibliography of Picture Books" located in the back of the book will be helpful to librarians and teachers looking to beef up their science collections. Librarians, order Perfect Pairs for your library's professional resource collection. The teachers in your school or community will thank you!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Little Author in the Big Woods by Yona Zeldis McDonough

Little Author in the Big Woods: a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder
by Yona Zeldis McDonough; illustrations by Jennifer Thermes
Henry Holt. 2014
ISBN: 9780805095425
Grades 3-5
This reviewer used an ARC supplied by the publisher.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who began her writing career in her 60’s, based her Little House books on experiences she had as a child. Though Laura was true to actual events, there are things she decided not to include, such as the death of her baby brother. In Little Author in the Big Woods, McDonough describes more of the details of Laura’s real life, while pointing out the differences from the fictional series as well as the many similarities. She hopes that the reading experience will be deepened by knowing the facts that inspired these beloved stories.

Fans of the Little House series will enjoy learning more about Laura and her family in this narrative biography that extends beyond her marriage to Alonzo but into her writing career and her final years. Did you know that Laura was 87 years old when she took her first plane ride? Of her nine books, five would be award the prestigious Newbery Honor Medal? Thermes black & white illustrations, which pay homage to Garth Williams’ work, are placed throughout the text and convey a sense of joy and playfulness, elements found in Ingalls’ stories.

Back matter includes quotes from Laura, games Laura played, how to make a corn-husk doll, recipes, a glossary, and further reading.

Though there are other biographies about Laura Ingalls Wilder, this particular title, with the larger font and illustrations, will appeal to newly independent readers.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Guys Read: True Stories

Guys Read: True Stories 
edited by Jon Scieszka
illustrated by Brian Floca
Walden Pond Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780061963827
On shelves: Sept. 16, 2014
Grades 4 and up

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

Author, Jon Scieszka, has dedicated his life to inspiring boys to read, and he's succeeding. Not only did he serve as the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. He also created the popular Guys Read website, and he publishes a Guys Read anthology series. The latest addition to the Guys Read library is a real treat for middle grade readers (both boys and girls). In Guys Read: True Stories, Scieszka has compiled outrageous, amazing, and sometimes scary, informational stories from ten authors including Steve Sheinkin, Sy Montgomery, Candace Fleming, and Jim Murphy.

Readers will feel what it's like to be stranded in the Sahara Desert with Captain James Riley, study tarantulas in French Guiana, and learn about the sometimes painful history of dental care. Fans of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales will appreciate Hale's graphic novel vignette about pioneer Hugh Glass set in 1823. There are also science poems by Douglas Florian, a memoir about growing up in Vietnam by Thanhha Lai, and a biography of Muddy Waters by Elizabeth Partridge.  Each chapter begins with an illustration by Brian Floca and ends with a bibliography of sources.

The beautiful thing about Guys Read True Stories is that it's going to make everyone happy. History and science buffs will love these unbelievable (yet true) stories, reluctant readers won't be able to put it down, and teachers can use the book as a mentor text for writing or as an exciting read aloud. The most difficult aspect is deciding where to shelve it in the library. Do you put it in the series section with the other Guys Read books, shelve it with short stories (800s), or place it in general knowledge in nonfiction with the "survey" books? The answer is to put it on display and watch it get scooped up by the readers in your library.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Strike: the farm workers fight for their rights By Larry Dane Brimmer

Strike: the farm workers fight for their rights
By Larry Dane Brimmer
Calkins Creek. October 2014
ISBN: 9781590789971
Grades 9 thru 12
I used an ARC given by the publisher to write this review.

In 1965, a group of Filipino and Chicano farm workers, unhappy with their deplorable working conditions and substandard wages organized a strike against the grape industry. The strike, which lasted over five years, would evolve into a nation-wide boycott of grapes in all forms, including wine. At the head of this strike was Cesar Chavez. Skillfully researched, Brimmer traces the strike, the role Chavez played in standing up to the big food growers, the development of the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA), and Chavez ongoing fight against the agribusinesses until his death in 1993. 

Brimmer is no stranger to writing quality nonfiction. Cathy and I have reviewed many of his titles on this blog. In Strike, black & white archival photographs and words of the workers, organizers, and growers complement the riveting text. Back matter includes author’s note, bibliography, timeline, source notes, and index.

According to Brimmer, Chavez was not a very dynamic speaker. Yet, he was dedicated and possessed a strong belief that farm workers should be treated with fairness. Though a quiet individual, Chavez often was unwilling to relinquish any control, even in the organizations that were precursors to UFWA. He also believed in nonviolence and gave up many opportunities for employment that would have brought he and his family a comfortable lifestyle. At the time of his death, Chavez was disillusioned with the constant attempts by the growers to undermine any progress in improving the working conditions for workers. He complained that for every step forward, they took two steps back. Even today, working conditions in many fields have gotten worse as the influence of the United Farm Workers has shrunk. Growers refuse to treat the workers with respect. More concerned with their profits, growers refuse to pay a living wage, provide cold fresh water, and stop using harmful pesticides.

Stike is an essential addition to library collections. Add it to any unit on American history, social justice, formation of unions, and agribusiness (Monsanto). Also, though this may be a stretch, I would include Strike in a display with dystopian fiction. It does have a lot of the elements teens enjoy: hopelessness, grim working and horrible living conditions, the minority revolt against big business, fighting, and…an unlikely hero.

¡Sí, se puedo! (Yes, It can be done!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects Summer Blog Tour

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects: easy to pick up, hard to put down
Sophie Maletsky
Zest Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781936976546
The publisher sent me a copy of the book to review.
All ages.

We are pleased to take part in the 
Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects 
summer blog tour. 

Teens + duct tape = fun

Whenever the Teen Advisory Board at my library hosts events, duct tape crafts are one of the activities of choice. They never seem to tire of making wallets, flowers, and bracelets, but lately the afterschool crowd has been scouting around for more ideas. Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects is just the book to support their creativity.

sunglasses case
Sophie Maletsky ( is considered a duct tape expert and it shows with this jam-packed instruction book. The assortment of projects is wide-ranging--70+ in all--and is organized for home, for school, and to wear. The ideas range from a checkered beach bag, sunglasses case to a headband and makeup case. Need to clean your room? Try the desk organizer, woven basket or earring tree. Malestsky begins with the basics of brands and types of tapes and takes readers through essential techniques. Color photos that mirror the clearly written step-by-step directions accompany each project.

Sticky Fingers is perfect for those individuals who find duct tape projects (well, all craft projects) intimidating. 

Go here to download a Sticky Fingers Activity Guide.
Here is what other bloggers on the blog tour are saying about Sticky Fingers. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming 
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780399252518
Grades 4 and up
On shelves Aug. 26, 2014

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

I read Brown Girl Dreaming on an airplane flying over the midwest on the way home from the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I devoured it in one sitting then handed the book to Louise who also read it before we landed. I'm not sure if I can find the words to do justice to this beautifully crafted memoir, but I'll try.

Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical account of Woodson's early life, raised by her mother and grandparents in South Carolina.  Told in verse, Woodson uses the fewest words possible to paint a vivid story of what life was like for her family living in the south in the 1960s. Jackie's point of view is strong, allowing readers to see the story from a child's eyes.

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn't use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front 
still keeping you out.

When Woodson and her siblings move to New York to live with their mother, the book offers readers a juxtaposition on life in America: north and south, rural and urban, black and white. Throughout the book, it's evident that Woodson had an affinity for writing and telling stories as a child.

How can I explain to anyone that stories are like
air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out over and over 

Louise and I discussed how there are many themes (family, friendship, acceptance and race) from the memoir that appear in Woodson's novels and picture books. Brown Girl Dreaming is a powerful and eloquent memoir that will elicit rich discussions and will serve an inspiration to young writers. I encourage all children's librarians and middle grade teachers to add it to their biography collections. Pair Brown Girl Dreaming with the middle grade novel, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or Allen Say's memoir Painting from Memory.

Other books by Jacqueline Woodson:
Each Kindness
The Other Side
Coming On Home Soon
Show Way

See Jacqueline Woodson discuss her books in this video from

Monday, August 18, 2014

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her family's fight for desegregation
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781419710544
Grades 5-12
To write the review, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.
Few people are aware that in 1944, Gonzalo Mendez sued the Westminster School District in California when they wouldn't allow his children, Sylvia and Gonzalo, Jr. to attend the local public school. The principal stated, Rules are rules. The Mendez children have to go to the Mexican school. Sylvia, who spoke perfect English and was born in the United States, wondered if the reason was, because we have brown skin and thick black hair and our last name is Mendez? It was.
This exceptional informational picture book is a moving tribute to the Gonzalo family. Readers are taken through the events that finally lead to the decision that paved the way for the desegregation of all schools in the United States with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education. It took three years, from 1944 until April 15, 1947 when the San Francisco Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Mendez family. That June, Governor Earl Warren signed the law that all children in California were allowed to go to school together, regardless of race, ethnicity, or language.
Duncan Tonatiuh' is a Mexican author/illustrator. His book Diego Rivera: his world and ours won the 2012 Pura Belpre illustration award. In Separate is Never EqualTonatiuh's art incorporates hand-drawn collage and digitally colored illustrations resembling a traditional folk art style. Young Sylvia, in her long braids, is present in every two-page spread. Tonatiuh did extensive research for this book. The dialogue in the trial scene and throughout the story comes directly from court transcripts and from conversations with Sylvia Mendez. Back matter includes an author's note, glossary, bibliography and index.
All children need to be aware of the steps taken in history to fight for social justice. Separate is Never Equal goes hand-in-hand with Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin and other books on discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement. Another great book about changes for girls: Let me play : the story of Title IX : the law that changed the future of girls in America by Karen Blumenthal.

Read Elizabeth Bird's review of Separate is Never Equal on her Fuse8 blog.
Learn more about Duncan Tonatiuh. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Griffin and the Dinosaur

The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science
by Marc Aronson and Adrienne Mayor
illustrated by Chris Muller
National Geographic, 2014
ISBN: 9781426311086
Grades 4 and up

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

The Griffin and the Dinosaur is a nonfiction mystery that brings together mythology, history, science, and art. In a narrative style, Aronson chronicles Adrienne Mayor's quest to prove the link between the mythological griffin and fossils that ancient people may have unearthed. Over a ten year period, Mayor traveled to Greece numerous times, visited museums, interviewed archeologists, and pored over ancient texts. Mayor's perseverance paid off in 1986 while doing research at the Cornell Library. She came across photographs of protoceratops fossils while reading On the Trail of Ancient Man. The fossils found in the Gobi provided the evidence Mayor needed to link the protoceratops to griffin stories told by the ancient Scythians.

While writing the book, Aronson spent time with Mayor at the American Museum of Natural History and interviewed her at her home in California.  Muller's illustrations and the thoughtfully-placed photographs complement this intriguing story. A two-page map with detailed labels is located in the back of the book along with a glossary and list of related resources. The subject and length of the book (48 pages) will attract middle grade readers looking for a book to read an independently, and it would make an ideal classroom read aloud especially for students interested in mythology and ancient history.

Visit The Classroom Bookshelf blog for teaching ideas:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Guest Post: Wild Things Blog Tour

Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature 
by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson,
and Peter D. Sieruta
Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780763651503

The reviewers received a galley from the publisher.

We are excited to take part in the Wild Things blog tour. Today you are in for a real treat;  we have a guest post from authors Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson.

Bird, Danielson and Sieruta spent several years researching subversive, controversial and scandalous stories from children's literature. Part history and part social commentary, Wild Things is a must-read for educators, librarians, authors and parents with a passion for kidlit. These provocative anecdotes will cause readers to pause and reflect on the role of children's literature in our society and how it has evolved over the decades.

Guest Post by Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson

If you’re going to write a book about the wilder side of children’s literature, it’s fitting to open it with a chapter on subversive books. That’s what we thought anyway, and that is precisely what we did in Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. We three authors are huge fans of more subversive tales in all forms – that is, all the way from board books to YA novels.

While most subversive elements in the world of children's literature are intentional, sometimes there are cases where readers simply read far too much into a tale. One such example is The Story of Ferdinand, published in 1936 and still a beloved picture book today. Written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson, and met with wide acclaim upon its publication, it’s the story of a bull in Spain who enjoys spending his days quietly and who chooses not to fight at the bull fights in Madrid. He’s eventually taken there against his will, so his response is to sit down in the middle of the ring to admire the “flowers in all the lovely ladies’ hair.” He simply refuses to engage, and as a result the Banderilleros, Picadores, and Matador take him back to his pasture.

Poor Ferdinand. He was merely waving a peace sign, yet as the book grew in popularity, critics claimed that perhaps the beloved tale of the Spanish bull was no less than commentary on the Spanish Civil War. In time the book was accused of being communist and fascist and was even banned in some countries.

Author Munro Leaf’s response to the controversy was to note that no political machinations were involved, and he went on to state precisely why he wrote this particular story. But then we can’t give away all of our book’s secrets.

And even if Leaf didn’t intend for the book to represent opinions that swirl around in the world of adults, children’s literature has a tendency to accompany---and sometimes precede---great social changes, another phenomenon we explore in the pages of our book.

And what other picture books have comfortably settled themselves into the canon of subversive children’s book titles, whether they meant to or not? You can find out when Wild Things hits shelves in early August.   

 Be sure to visit the other stops on the Wild Things blog tour this month.

August 5th  100 Scope Notes

August 5th  Let's Get Busy Podcast

August 6th   There's a Book

August 8th   Guys Lit Wire

August 11th  Book Riot

August 11th  Green Bean Teen Queen

August 12th  Modgepodge Bookshelf

August 14th  Wendy on the Web

August 16th  Elizabeth O. Dulemba

August 18th  Into the Wardrobe

August 19th  Books 4 Your Kids   

August 20th  The Book Nest

August 21st  Random Chalk Talk

August 22nd  Children's Corner

Monday, August 4, 2014

Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer: the 1964 struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Holiday House. 2014
ISBN: 9780823429202
Grades 7 thru 12
I reviewed a copy of the book sent by the publisher.

In 1964, Mississippi was the last frontier of the Civil Rights Movement in getting African Americans registered to vote. Racism was rampant, only 6.4 % of eligible blacks were registered voters, even though blacks made up more than half the state’s population. The reality was that despite all the sit-ins and marches, whites had little interest in the plight of the African American. 

In Freedom Summer, Susan Goldman Rubin explains how a number of major civil rights groups joined forces to create a summer project known as Freedom Summer. By involving white college students from the North to help register blacks to vote and to establish Freedom Schools, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) hoped to confront bigotry in Mississippi and make white America sympathetic to the fact that African Americans lived under constant threat of having their homes and churches burned, loss of their jobs, and even death. They faced all these threats just for the right to vote.

Rubin’s narrative explains the work these tireless volunteers accomplished as they faced many life-threatening situations from local law enforcement officials to the Ku Klux Klan as they went door-to-door educating children and adults on the importance of voter registration. Rubin frames the eventual success of Freedom Summer around the murder on June 21, 1964 of three civil rights workers: Andrew Goldman, Michael (Mickey) Henry Schwerner, and James Earl Chaney. Their death would make front-page news, thus bringing attention to the violence happening in Mississippi.

Interspersed throughout the text are historic, well-captioned black & white photos. The book is effectively documented, including a timeline, and an extensive bibliography.

DVD resources about Freedom Summer include 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America produced by The History Channel and PBS American Experience: Freedom Summer. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

When Lunch Fights Back

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses 
by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781467721097
Grades 3-6

The reviewer received an e-galley from the publisher.

Rebecca L. Johnson has made a name for herself as an outstanding writer of science books for children. Journey to the Deep won an Orbis Pictus Honor Award in 2011, and Zombie Makers was an ALA Notable Children's Book in 2013.

In her latest nonfiction book for middle grade readers, Johnson turns her attention to animal adaptations and defense mechanisms. When Lunch Fights Back will hook readers from the first chapter entitled, "Slip-Sliming Away." Readers learn how the hagfish produces strings of slime when predators attack. A close-up color photo shows slime oozing from the body of a hag fish. In each chapter, Johnson introduces readers to an animal and its defense mechanism and then explains "The Science Behind the Story."

Some of the other animals featured in the book include the African hairy frog with a concealed claw-like bone, the hoopoe chicken which shoots feces at enemies, and the Texas horned lizard that squirts blood out of its eyes. Johnson also adds information scientists who are studying the creatures and their defense mechanisms. The narrative writing style includes vivid descriptions making this a book that could serve as a mentor text for informational writing.

"In a blur of movement, the shark strikes. It grabs the hagfish in its toothy jaws- and instantly lets go. The shark's mouth is overflowing with thick, snot-like goo. The slimy stuff fills its throat and clogs its gills."

The layout of the book is ideal for young readers. Photos, captions and fact boxes are well-placed without interrupting the flow of the text. The black paper used at the beginning of each chapter with contrasting neon green headings and white text will definitely capture the attention of readers. Back matter includes a glossary, bibliography and companion books and videos.

When Lunch Fights Back is a complete package. It's sure to please science teachers looking for an engaging narrative text for the classroom, and it's will definitely be popular with children who want to reading about interesting, unusual and sometimes disgusting animals.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Family Romanov Blog Tour and Giveaway

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall of Imperial Russia  
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780375867828
Grades 7 and up

The reviewers received copies of the book from the publisher.

We are pleased to take part in The Family Romanov Blog Tour. Be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post for a chance to win a copy of the book.

The fate of the Romanovs, the last ruling monarchy in Russia, has been the subject of many books and movies. People hoped the Grand Duchess Anastasia had escaped the bloody massacre that befell the rest of her family: Tsar Nicholas II & Empress Alexandra, sisters Olga, Tatiana and Marie, and brother Alexi. But by 2007, the skeletal remains of all family members had been unearthed, thus putting the “Anastasia-is-still-alive” myth to rest.
In this comprehensive history by award-winning author Candace Fleming, readers will get an intimate look at the Romanov family and how their indifference to the needs of their people led to the workers’ strikes of 1905 and to Lenin’s rise to power in November 1915. Using sidebars throughout the book, Fleming inserts personal stories of the men and women who wished for a better life and how the Tsar’s lack of concern, in the end, would affect the lives of the Romanov family.

Louise's Thoughts:
As a child and into adulthood, I was obsessed with the fate of Grand Duchess Anastasia. I wanted to believe she alone survived while other family members perished. Questions I often pondered: why was her family executed? Was Tsar Nicholas really indifferent to the needs of his people? And…who exactly was Rasputin? Was he the evil and manipulating man some made him out to be? Breathtaking in its scope, Fleming's does an excellent job weaving in the answers to these questions and more. What is different from her previous titles (Amelia Lost: the life and disappearance of Amelia Earhart and The Lincoln's: a scrapbook look at Abraham and Mary) is the book’s overall design. The Family Romanov resembles a traditional nonfiction book where the text is uninterrupted and photos are grouped together on glossy paper and placed in the middle of the book. It works really well here because there is so much depth in what Fleming is covering.

Cathy's Thoughts:
From the first chapter, I felt like I had been transported to turn of the century Russia. Fleming hooks readers by describing what it was like to attend a ball at the Winter Palace of the royal family and then contrasts it with the story of the impoverished Russian peasants. Fleming's captivating writing style, impeccable research and use of quotes made this a book I couldn't put down. Fleming paints a complex portrait of the Romanovs, which caused me to feel a range of emotions as I read. At times I was infuriated by their luxurious lifestyle while the majority of Russians suffered in poverty, yet other times I felt pity for the family. Nicholas and Alexandra were out of touch and intimidated by the outside world, they sheltered their children, and desperately tried to keep their ill son in good health. As I read the story of the Romanovs, their strange relationship with Rasputin, the plight of the factory workers & peasants and the rise of the Communist Party, I wished I had this book when I was required to read Animal Farm as a high school sophomore. 

Visit Candace Fleming's blog for more information about how she researched and chose the photographs for the book, how she worked from two calendar systems (Julian and Gregorian),  and more.

  • We are giving away one copy of The Family Romanov.
  • You must be 13 years or older to enter.
  • Only one entry per person will be accepted.
  • Entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on August 1, 2014.
  • The winner will be contacted by email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, we will select a new winner.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bugged: how insects changed history by Sarah Albee

Bugged: how insects changed history
by Sarah Albee; Illustrations by Robert Leighton
Walker Books. 2014
ISBN: 9780802734235
I reviewed a copy sent from the publisher.
Perfect for grades 6 and up

Sarah Albee (Poop Happened: a history of the world from the bottom up) is back with another romp through history. This time, Albee explains how insects have changed history.

Insects have been around since the beginning of time. Over ten quintillion of them exist throughout the world. We try to control them or eliminate them, but they keep coming back. Sometimes stronger than ever! Using a humorous voice with a bit of an attitude, and incorporating fun and informational graphics, Bugged is not your everyday history book. It is a combination of world history, social history, natural science, epidemiology, public health, conservation, and microbiology. 

Readers will learn that there are good and bad insects. Some bugs, like honeybees and silkworms, are beneficial. While other bugs -- fleas and mosquitoes -- transmit diseases that killed a huge number of people through plagues and epidemics. In the U.S., between 1874 and 1876, locust darkened the skies from the Dakotas down to Texas. Crops were devoured in minutes, as was the wool right off the bodies of live sheep! Throughout human history, insects have contributed to some of the most interesting, deadly, and shocking episodes.

Bugged: how insects changed history is well researched. Back matter includes a glossary of terms, bibliography of print material for further reading and websites, source notes, and index.

In world history courses, add Bugged to the reading list. It will complement what students are studying, while injecting a bit of humor.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar 
by Alan Rabinowitz
illustrated by Catia Chien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN: 9780547875071
Grades K-5

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.

Wildlife conservationist, Alan Rabinowitz, stuttered as a child. However, he had a gift for talking to animals. Alan's parents took him to doctors and specialists looking for a cure for his stuttering, but it was the zoo that held the answer. At the Bronx Zoo, Alan fluently whispered a promise to a jaguar.

Young readers will empathize with Rabinowitz in this picture book autobiography. As an adult, Rabinowitz kept his promise and used his voice to speak for the animals, including the jaguar. Chien's acrylic illustrations capture the emotions of the characters. On one page, Alan stares out into the dark blue sky. The only words on the two-page spread read, "I can speak, but nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken." This is a contrast to the rich colors of the jungle on the following pages where Alan reflects, "The jungle makes me feel more alive than I have ever felt."

A Boy and a Jaguar is an inspirational true story of a young man who overcame adversity and had an impact on the world. Pair this book with The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps or On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.

This book was also reviewed by...
Librarian's Quest
Waking Brain Cells

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hidden like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins

Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 true stories of survival
by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; translated by Laura Watkinson
An Arthur A. Levine Book; Scholastic. 2014
ISBN: 9789545543620
Grades 7 thru 12
To review this book, I checked a copy out from my local public library

Anne Frank recorded in her diary the two years the Frank family spent in hiding during World War II. Though Anne’s story is the most well known, Prins, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and cameraman, and journalist Peter Henk Steenhuis, give us 14 individuals, also from the Netherlands, and share their experience going into hiding. Some children were as young as three or four; some teenagers. About 28,000 Jews were hidden in the Netherlands. “Roughly 16,000 survived and 12,000 were caught or betrayed

As a boy growing up in the Netherlands, Marcel Prins was curious about his mother’s experience of going into hiding during World War II. She would tell Marcel about the exciting parts, and the times when she had been scared or sad. Her story (the first in this collection) would make an impression on Marcel. He wondered what going into hiding actually involved. Where did you go? How did you know who to trust? How did you find money to pay for your hiding place? What did you do when you were frightened?

In these 14 true stories, written in first-person by the individuals, readers gain a first-hand account of what it was really like for many Jewish children who went into hiding during World War II. Some lived with people they knew; others lived with complete strangers. There were those who were treated with love and kindness; while others were beaten. Told in first person, each story is in the voice of the individual as they reach back over fifty years into their memories to share their painful experience.  

At the beginning of each entry a map shows the places in the Netherlands where that person went into hiding. Black & white photographs of the individuals and their families before they went into hiding, places where they were living while in hiding, and of scenes from that time. Back matter has photos of each survivor as an adult and glossary of words or names that may be unfamiliar to readers.

Hidden Like Anne Frank is powerful because each heartbreaking entry recounts this traumatic period from the survivor’s childhood. The website that accompanies this book includes one or more animated films that illustrate the memories of the survivors. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Everybody Paints!

Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family 
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Chronicle Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780811869843
Grades 5 and up

As a child growing up in Maine, Wyeth was a well-known name in my home. I vividly remember visiting the Portland Museum of Art with my parents the year I was in 6th grade for a special exhibition of Andrew Wyeth's tempera paintings. I was pleased to learn that Susan Goldman Rubin had published a history of the Wyeth family for young readers. Rubin has a background in art, and has written some top-notch biographies about many artists including Georgia O'Keefe, Edward Hopper, Diego Rivera, and Andy Warhol.

Everybody Paints! tells the story of three generations of Wyeth artists: N.C., Andrew and Jamie. The book's title is derived from a quote by Jamie Wyeth, "Everybody in my family paints, excluding possibly the dogs." Written in a narrative style, the story is structured chronologically beginning with N.C.'s early life growing up in the late 19th century. Rubin uses quotes to fill in the details of the narrative as she tells the story of how N.C. Wyeth convinced his parents to let him study art when he was a young man. N.C. studied art with Howard Pyle and found success as an illustrator for children's books such as Treasure Island and as an artist for Scribner's and The Saturday Evening Post.

N.C. gave art lessons to his children and encouraged them to draw and paint at their home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His youngest son, Andrew, shared his father's passion for art and became a successful artist known for his watercolor and tempera paintings including Christina's World and The Helga Pictures. The Wyeth family owns a summer home in Cushing, Maine, therefore the state is the setting for many Wyeth landscapes and portraits. Andrew's son Jamie showed an early talent for drawing. He was surrounded by the work of his father and grandfather, and studied painting with his aunt. Some of Jamie's best known works include a portrait of President Kennedy he was commissioned to paint for Jackie Kennedy in 1967 and a portrait of Andy Warhol he painted in 1976.

The unique design and size of the book (112 pages and 8 1/4 inches in height) will entice readers to pick it up and read it. Each glossy page is a different color, and full page images of paintings and illustrations by the Wyeths are placed throughout the book. This is effective in providing reference points for young readers who are not familiar with the Wyeths' art. Back matter includes a list of locations where artwork may be viewed, image credits, bibliography, and index. Source notes are available on the author's website.

Everybody Paints! is an inspiring story that will encourage budding artists to devote their energy to their art, and it exposes young readers to three important American artists. Teachers could even read aloud Everybody Paints! as part of a nonfiction unit or integrated art unit.

If you find yourself in midcoast Maine next month, you could meet Jamie Wyeth and Susan Goldman Rubin. They will be signing copies of Everybody Paints! at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland on August 7th.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper

A Woman in the House (and Senate): how women came to the United States Congress, broke down barriers, and changed the country.
By Ilene Cooper; Illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley
Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781419710360
Grades 7 and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

It is interesting what we take for granted, especially the opportunities for women. Now girls are told that when they grow up they can be whatever they want: lawyer, doctor, scientist, musician, athlete, or the president of the United States. The sky’s the limit! But there was a time when  - and not that long ago – a women’s career choice was very limited. In A Woman in the House (and Senate), Ilene Cooper offers readers a fascinating look at American history and how a few women, those who desired something more, would break down barriers and go where no woman had gone before; their victories, and defeats, opened doors for other women.

From the first Congress, in 1789, until the 65th Congress, in 1917, women served neither in the House of Representatives nor the Senate. It wasn’t until the folks from Montana sent the first woman to the U.S. Congress. Her name was Jeannette Rankin and she took her oath of office, along with the male members, on March 5, 1917 in the House of Representatives.  

The book is a lesson in civics, as well as an account of the lives of the women who helped shape it. Cooper begins with the women’s suffrage movement and takes us up to the 2012 election where the 113th Congress welcomed the most women to the Senate in history! Of the 100-member body, one-fifth were women. The book is divided into eight parts that focuses on a particular time of major social changes, such as The Roaring Twenties and Prohibition, the Great Depression and through McCarthyism, The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Within each part are brief portraits of the women who were in office during that period and what they did--and didn't--accomplish. 

The writing is fresh, erudite, and highly entertaining. There are lots of photos and illustrations by Baddeley enhance the reading experience. Back matter includes a mini civics lesson in the appendix, a complete list of women in Congress, endnotes, bibliography, and index.

As Former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe states in the introduction, 
If we are to celebrate and strengthen the vast array of options available to girls and women today, we must learn about those who fought to give life and reality to our dreams. If we are to attain our fullest potential as a nation and exercise our rights as Americans, we must understand that those rights came to us not by entitlement but by tenacity and perseverance.

To learn more about the women who served in Congress, 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour and Giveaway

We're pleased to take part in the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary blog tour.  Alyson Beecher, chair of the Schneider Family Book Award, shared the Top Ten Schneider Award Favorites on the Nerdy Book Club blog yesterday.

The Schneider Family Book Award is an American Library Association Award that honors "an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." The criteria states that the book may be fiction or nonfiction. Over the past ten years, two nonfiction books have won the award. This year the winning book for younger children was the picture book biography, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet.

Louise reviewed A Splash of Red on our blog last year. We had the honor of seeing Jen and Melissa receive the Schneider Family Book Award at the ALA Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas last week.

In 2010 Bonnie Christensen won the Schneider Family Book Award for her picture book biography, Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist.

Louise's thoughts on Django:
What attracted my husband to me when we first met was that I owned a Django Reinhardt record (we're talking vinyl here, folks). He turned to me and said, "I see you have excellent taste in music." I knew I did because no one has ever equaled Django's sound and technique. His music is fun, and Reinhardt's ability to move up and down that fret board lightning fast, making chords all with only two fingers makes him the perfect subject for the Schneider Family Book Award.

Using a rhythmic narrative, this informational picture book biography gives readers a brief overview of the life of the world's greatest jazz guitarist. Readers learn of Reinhardt's birth in 1910 in a gypsy encampment to his playing music throughout Europe, the accident that injured his left hand and up to 1930 when to took his first steps into performing in France.

"Django's only just beginning,
Bright and brillian stages waiting
Django's gypsy jazz guitar.
To float on music to the stars,
Float on music to the stars."

Cathy's thoughts on Django:
I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie Christensen on a shuttle bus after the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet in Washington, D.C. in 2010. We chatted about our families and our hometowns. Near the end of our ride, Bonnie mentioned that her book, Django, had received the Schneider Family Book Award. Bonnie told me what an honor it was to win the award and said she would be signing copies of Django the next morning. The next day, I stood in line in the exhibit hall and had Bonnie sign a copy of the book for my school library. 

When I  returned to school in the fall, I read Django to my third grade classes as part of a biography unit. Christensen's lyrical narrative and muted, oil illustrations captivated my students. The children were inspired by Reindhardt's  determination to continue performing after suffering serious injuries to his hand in a fire. None of my third grade students had heard of Django Reinhardt before reading the picture book. Thanks to the work of Bonnie Christensen and the Schneider Family Book Award, a new generation of readers know about Django Reinhart's inspiring story of overcoming adversity.

Check out all of the blogs taking part in the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway:

July 6 Nerdy Book Club
July 6 Kid Lit Frenzy
July 7 Nonfiction Detectives
July 9 Teach Mentor Texts
July 10 There’s a Book For That
July 11 Kathie Comments
July 12 Disability in Kidlit
July 14 Librarian in Cute Shoes
July 15 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
July 16 Read, Write, and Reflect
July 17 Read Now Sleep Later
July 18 Unleashing Readers
July 19 Great Kid Books
July 20 Maria’s Mélange

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award, the blog tour will give away the winning titles from 2014. One person will win a set of all 3 Schneider Family Book Award Winners from 2014. Participants must be 13 years or older and have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address.

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