Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 24, 2015

Know Your Frenemy: Blog Tour

Friends and Frenemies: The Good, The Bad, and the Awkward 
by Jennifer Castle and Deborah Reber
illustrated by Kaela Graham
Zest Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-936976-91-1
Grades 5-8

Today's we're taking part in the Zest Books blog tour for Friends and Frenemies, which hits shelves later this week.

Middle school can be a challenging time for many kids. There are many changes (emotionally and physically) that tweens and teens face in grade 5-8. It's also a time period when friendships are important, and sometimes those peer relationships are bumpy. Friend and Frenemies is a new self-improvement book that will help middle grade and teen readers strengthen their friendships and work out conflicts with friends.

The book sets a positive tone and begins with examining what makes a good friend. The authors point out that there are different kinds of friendships: close friends, social friends, casual acquaintances, mentors and proteges. Quotes and friendship advice from "mentors" (older teens) and kids are incorporated into each chapter. Readers will find the conversational style, colorful fonts, cartoon-style illustrations, and slim size of the book inviting.

Other chapters give tips for making new friends and how to deal with conflicts that may arise. Communication is the theme of the book which also tackles boy/girl friendships and long-distance friendships. Quizzes and scenarios provide tweens with an opportunity to test their knowledge and learn about themselves.

The advice in the book is timeless and may apply to readers of different ages. The authors are careful not to get specific about technology, which can quickly become outdated. For example, the chapter entitled "Gossip and Rumors" does not bring up online behavior or social networking. Instead the authors shed light how why people gossip and what to do if a friend spreads a hurtful rumor.

Friends and Frenemies is not a book that libraries will likely purchase because of the interactive features (quizzes and questionnaires), but it would make a timely gift for kids entering middle school.

Visit the Zest Books blog to read an interview with the authors. Preview pages from the book here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fab Four Friends

Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the BEATLES 
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Henry Holt Books and Company, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9458-9
Grades K-5

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

Over the past few years I've added two Beatles biographies to my school library collection: The Beatles Were Fab by Kathleen Krull and Who Were the Beatles? by Geoff Edgers. These books are very popular with readers in grades 3-5.

Today a new biography of The Beatles hits shelves, and it's different than other books on the topic. This is a 32-page picture book aimed at K-2 readers. Author, Susanna Reich, focuses on the early lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo and how they came to form The Beatles.

The narrative style story begins with John and describes his family life, his love of rock music and how his mother gave him his first guitar. The story then moves on to Paul's childhood and how music helped him cope with the death of his mother. After a section about George, Reich describes how the three met and formed The Beatles. The band performed in Germany and even recorded a few songs before Ringo joined the band. Quotes are interspersed throughout the story enhancing the narrative. The last section of the book is dedicated to Ringo's early life growing up in a rough part of Liverpool.  

Gustavson's full-page, realistic, oil illustrations capture the youth and energy of the four musicians. The final two-page spread in the book depicts The Beatles on stage in their blue suits. The story ends with these words, which signal a beginning:

"Their songs were irresistible and they were the best of friends. That friendship cast a spell across the globe. The Beatles' days in the spotlight had just begun."

Reich includes a list of source notes and bibliography in the back matter. She explains in the Author's Note that her goal in writing the book was to "show how four ordinary boys growing up amid rubble of postwar Liverpool found music to be a powerful, even life-saving, force in their lives."

Fab Four Friends is an excellent jumping off point for young music fans who are interested in learning about how four boys from Liverpool formed one of the most successful and influential bands in the world.

Visit the publisher's site to view artwork from the book.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: 
Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6531-9
Grades 4-12

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

Voice of Freedom is a beautiful tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist and voting rights champion. Fannie Lou Hamer, also known as the spirit of the civil rights movement, was a respected leader and politician who didn't back down from fighting for voting rights even when she was threatened and physically harmed. This is a timely books since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Johnson 50 years ago this month.

The picture book biography uses poems to describe pivotal events in Hamer's life beginning with her childhood as she toiled in cotton fields while her school was open only four months each year. Weatherford does an excellent job of highlighting turning points and crucial events. When Hamer registered to vote in Mississippi in 1962, she faced discrimination and hatred from the circuit clerk, area police, and the plantation owner where she lived. This did not deter her from standing up for her rights; it made Hamer even more determined to vote.

"Before I could cast a single vote,
I had to pay a poll tax I couldn't afford-
and dodge the night riders
who cruised slow as molasses
past my house with guns
after my name was printed in the paper.
Too bad a voter registration card
could't pay the rent.
When Pap lost his job, we got by
on ten dollars a week raised
by those young voting-rights workers
who opened my eyes
to the change a-coming.
I hopped aboard that train." (p.17)

Ekua Holmes' vibrant and sometimes dark, paper collage illustrations pair perfectly with the poems. The paint, paper and maps used in the collages give the illustrations a rich texture. Back matter includes source notes, a time line, and bibliography.

All middle grade students should learn about the brave and inspiring Fannie Lou Hamer who fought for civil liberties including voting rights, fair wages, and decent schools. She went on to run for Congress, started the Head Start Program and paved the way for many African American politicians and activists who came after her. Voice of Freedom is a recommended purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries, and it would make a strong mentor text for a poetry unit.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans 
by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grades 5 and up

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

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many teens and adults will remember watching the news in horror as citizens struggled to survive squalid conditions in the Superbowl shelter while the city of New Orleans was under water. However, most of the students in my school were born after 2005 and know little about the devastating natural disaster and botched government response. Don Brown's latest nonfiction graphic novel introduces middle grade readers to the storm that had widespread repercussions on New Orleans and the Gulf coast region.

Brown uses earth tones and somber colors to reflect the tragic mood in the pen & ink illustrations. The storyline follows a chronological structure beginning with storm warnings from the weather service followed by the partial evacuation of the area to the breaching of the levees by flood waters. Brown does not blame one specific organization or government leader for failing to bring aid to the victims of the hurricane in New Orleans. Instead, he provides readers with facts ands events that shed light on the bureaucratic mess at the local, state and national levels. Much of the text takes the form of a narrative description of the events, but dialogue is also used in places. In the back matter, Brown lists source notes for each quote including the infamous quote from President Bush: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

The book does not shy away from the dark reality of the storm's impact on people in the region. Dead bodies are shown floating in contaminated water and desperate homeowners are illustrated trying to cut their way out of the homes to escape flood waters. The book ends on a hopeful note as workers are shown rebuilding homes. One worker in the foreground says, "We're coming back. This is home. This is life." A portion of the book's proceeds will be donated to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. 

Upper elementary and middle school readers should read Drowned City for historical context before reading fiction titles such as Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, Zane and the Hurricane, Another Kind of Hurricane and Ninth Ward.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights  
by Ann Bausum
Viking-an imprint of Penguin, 2015
ISBN: 9780670016792
Grades 9-12

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

Ann Bausum is known for writing nonfiction books about civil rights and social justice. Her latest book for teens, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, describes how the Stonewall riots were a turning point for the gay rights movement in America.

Bausum writes in a narrative style and provides readers with historical context as she describes what it was like to be gay in the 1960s. There were dangers to being openly gay: losing your job, being ostracized by your family, being labeled mentally ill by the medical community and being targeted or arrested by law enforcement. 

"Those who resisted the path of suicide- or tried it and survived- did their best to bear the weight of oppression and the self-imposed silence that often accompanied same-sex preferences. This very anonymity made it that much harder to fight back against injustices. If you remained silent and anonymous, how could you fight your oppression?" (p. 17)

The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar run by the mafia in Greenwich Village, was one of the few safe places where gay people could go and be themselves in New York.

"The whole place had a subterranean, primitive feel. Barricaded windows. Black walls. Minimal furnishings." (p.6)

Despite its lack of ambiance and decor, The Stonewall Inn was constantly busy because it had music, a dance floor and allowed same-sex dancing. Because it was operated by the mafia, the police left the bar alone for the most part. That changed on the night of June 28, 1969 when a police task force was sent in to raid the establishment. As bar workers and patrons were arrested and loaded into police vehicles, the crowd rioted and fought back hurling bricks, trash cans, and bottles at the police.

Bausum builds the tension and excitement as she describes what it was like for police officers and a reporter from the Village Voice to be trapped inside the bar while thousands rioted in the streets. People even ripped up a parking meter and used it to break down the door of the bar. The following days brought more riots and protests. The Stonewall riots became a catalyst for bringing together people in the gay community and led to the organization of marches, protests and gay pride parades across the country.

"Forget the Fourth of July. The gay community had its own declaration of independence to celebrate: the one it had just made on Christopher Street in New York." (p. 74)

Exactly one year after the Stonewall riots, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march took place in New York.

In chapter 9, Bausum describes the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The author calls out President Reagan and President Bush for not showing concern or interest in battling the deadly disease. The final chapter of the book ends on an optimistic note as the author highlights progress the gay rights movement has made over the past few decades including the legalization of gay marriage.

The use of quotes and detailed descriptions of events, places and people bring the story to life. The book contains some black and white photographs, but Bausum explains there were few photos from the riots because they were not covered by the most mainstream media outlets. Bausum's research for the book is impressive; a five page bibliography, source notes, and an author's note are part of the back matter.

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights is a powerful and important book about pivotal social justice events that few teens may know about. The book deserves a place in high school and public libraries. I hope in the not too distant future biographies for teens are published about Craig Rodwell, Barbara Gittings, Harvey Milk and other leaders in the gay rights movement.

Visit the publisher's site to read an excerpt from the book.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Octopus Scientists

The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk
(Scientists in the Field series)
by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Keith Ellenbogen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-544-232709
Grades 5 and up

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

Sy Montgomery has a gift for crafting nonfiction texts that transport readers into the world of scientists on location. In The Octopus Scientists, Montgomery brings readers on location to the island of Moorea near Tahiti in the South Pacific.

Montomgery and underwater photographer, Keith Ellenbogen, joined a team of scientists from around the world as they looked for the Pacific day octopus. Even though the octopus is not rare, it's difficult to see one in its natural habitat because it can squeeze into small places and can change colors to blend in with its surroundings. The octopus has a large brain for a mollusk, and Jennifer Mather, lead scientist for the project, hopes to learn more about how octopuses use their brains to solve problems and make decisions.

Readers meet the four octopus scientists in the first chapter of the book. The photographs and brief biographies of each scientist will help readers keep track of each scientist during the narrative. Montgomery builds excitement, suspense, and a sense of adventure through the first person narrative, dialogue and vivid descriptions of what it's like to spend days diving and searching for the elusive octopus.

"We are always at risk of puncture by the poisonous spines of sea urchins or the deadly and nearly invisible sand-colored stonefish. We're constantly scraping fingers, knees and bellies on the sharp skeletons of dead corals that poke up from the bottom. The ropes of our buoy markers and collection buckets and the lines holding our pencils to our dive slates tangle on the dead coral and one another." (p. 28)

Readers get a sense of the persistence and patience it takes to be a scientist when the group doesn't spot an octopus after two days of diving.

"I was beginning to wonder how anyone could ever find octopuses anywhere. The octopus specializes in looking like anything but itself. It squeezes itself into a den so tight you might never see it there, hides or rests most of the time, and moves dens frequently. How do you find a hiding, invisible creature in place you've never been to before?" (p. 16-17)

On the third day they spot an octopus. They continue to explore several different diving sites over two weeks. Ellenbogen's underwater photographs of octopuses and other marine life are visually stunning. Readers will be surprised to see octopuses in so many different colors, sizes and shapes. By the end of the trip, the scientists located eighteen octopuses. Montgomery explains that even though the scientists were not able to answer all of their questions, they made some significant discoveries. For example, the octopuses in Mororea had different feeding patterns and stayed in their dens for shorter periods that octopuses they studied in Hawaii.

The Octopus Scientists is a recommended purchase for school and public library. It would make an excellent mentor text for a writing class working on first person narratives, and it would be an exciting read aloud in a middle school science class.

Be sure to check out the Activity and Discussion Guide for The Octopus Scientists.

Monday, July 20, 2015

enormous SMALLNESS

enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E.E. Cummings 
by Matthew Burgess
illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Enchanted Lion Books, 2015
Grades 2-5

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

I've heard from several public librarians that picture book biographies rarely circulate from their biography collections. I'm fortunate that in the school library where I work my K-5 students regularly check out picture book biographies. Much of it is because teachers read aloud picture book biographies to their classes, and they encourage older readers to continue to read picture books.  I also try to book talk picture book biographies to students whenever I have the chance. This summer I read a picture book biography that I can't wait to share with my students and their teachers in September.

Enormous Smallness is a lengthy (64 pages) picture book biography about the poet E.E. Cummings. The book has a whimsical tone and incorporates a lot of word play in the style of Melissa Sweet. The accessible narrative writing describes how Cummings was curious and observant as a child, and his mother often wrote down poems that Cummings dictated. Burgess traces Cummings' life as he graduates from Harvard, fights in World War I, and returns to the states to pursue his dream of becoming a poet. The book does an excellent job of showing how Cummings' style impacted American poetry.

"Using a style all his own, 
e.e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally of, 
and his playful punctuation grabbed readers' attention.
His poems were alive with experimentation and surprise!"

Di Giacomo's playful collage illustrations perfectly reflect the joy Cummings found in words and in the world around him. The placement of poems and text on the illustrations is quite effective. On one page, a tree serves as the background for a quote by John Keats. One another page, a poem by Cummings is placed on the dark silhouette of an elephant.

Enormous Smallness would make an excellent read aloud as part of a biography or poetry unit. After reading about Cummings' life and poetry, readers may be inspired to write their own poems or create their own poem collages. Back matter includes more poems by Cummings, a timeline and an author's note. Pair Enormous Smallness with Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown or A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet .

Visit the author's website to view spreads from the book.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall 
by Anita Silvey
foreword by Jane Goodall
National Geographic Kids, 2015
ISBN: 9781426315183
Grades 4-8

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

Anita Silvey eloquently captures the life and work of Jane Goodall in this narrative nonfiction book for middle grade readers. There is so much to like about the book. First, Jane Goodall is an inspiring person for children. Another strength is Silvey's writing style; it's descriptive yet concise. The pacing of the story and length of the book (96 pages) are just right for middle grade readers.

In the first chapters, Silvey describes the primatologist's love of the natural world as a child. Fans of the picture books Me, Jane and The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life With the Chimps will be interested to learn more details about how the young Goodall's interest in animals led to her study of chimpanzees. Silvey traces the work of Goodall as an unhappy secretary to the pivotal events that led her to relocate to Gombe in Tanzania where she observed chimpanzees in the wild. Goodall's work in Gombe and discoveries in the field changed what scientists thought they knew about chimpanzees.

Jane had never "dreamed of seeing anything so exciting." Even more thrilling, she watched David Greybeard and his friend Goliath pick up small twigs and strip off the leaves. They modified an object to make a tool- a behavior that was believed by scientists to be unique to humans. (p. 34)

The book's design is outstanding. The story is organized chronologically; each chapter begins with a full page photo and an interesting lead to hook readers. Numerous black & white and color photographs of Goodall are placed on the page so that the flow of reading is not interrupted. Readers will enjoy the sidebars and pages of extra information about chimpanzees, animals of Gombe, and important people in Goodall's life. Back matter is extensive and includes a family scrapbook of chimpanzees from Gombe, a timeline, maps, source notes and more.

The last few chapters of the book focus on Goodall's conservation efforts and her work to improve the conditions of chimpanzees held in captivity in zoos and at research facilities. Middle grade readers will be interested to learn how technological advances have changed how primatologists study chimpanzees in the wild. Untamed is sure to strike a chord with readers who wish to make a difference in the world. The final line of the book is a call to action from Goodall herself. "Together we can make the world a better place for all living things."

Untamed is a recommended purchase for school and public libraries. It's a book that readers will pick up and read for pleasure, and it would make an ideal nonfiction read aloud for an upper elementary and middle school classroom.

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
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