Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Farewell and Welcome Back


 As my work begins on a book award committee, I am taking a leave of absence from the blog this year. You won't see any reviews or blog posts from me until February of 2018.





 Luckily we are a blogging duo. Louise has spent 2016 serving on a book award committee. She will return to blogging next month. Hooray!

Farewell for now,
Cathy


Monday, January 16, 2017

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change

Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and Survival
by Sneed B. Collard III
Bucking Horse Books, 2016
Grades 3-6

Librarians and teachers in a search of solid nonfiction science books should take notice of Sneed Collard's latest middle grade work, Hopping Ahead of Climate Change.

In this 64-page narrative, Collard focuses on the work of biology professor Scott Mills as he studies snowshoe hares in the Rocky Mountains.  A mystery has unfolded. As climate change has shortened the winter in the Rockies, a number of snowshoe hares are now "mismatched" or have white fur when the ground is bare and brown. This can be deadly to a hare trying to avoid predators in wild.

Readers will be interested in the photos and description of the study conducted by Mills and his team as they pinpoint how long the hares are mismatched as well as the reasons why. The book effectively uses graphs, diagrams, photos and maps to convey information to middle grade readers. Collard does an excellent job of providing background information about causes of climate change or global warming. Back matter includes a glossary, list of websites and related books. Read Hopping Ahead of Climate Change in science classes studying animal adaptations or the effects of global warming. Pair with The Polar Bear Scientists by Peter Lourie.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Some Writer

Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2016
Grades 3 and up

I have to confess that I put off writing this review for several months for one main reason. Some Writer! is a work of perfection, and I didn't think I could find the words to write a review worthy of the book. However, as 2016 has come to a close I wanted to be sure to give some love to Some Writer! before I take a leave of absence from the blog.

Melissa Sweet masterfully blends photos, mixed media collage and narrative to capture the life and essence of beloved children's writer, E.B. White.  Words were very important to White, and Sweet places the words of the writer throughout the book in the form of poems, quotes, and letters.

The book traces White's early life and summers in Maine and follows his path from a magazine "short writer" to a successful author of children's books. Readers will be surprised to learn about the controversy surrounding Stuart Little and the criticism from well-known librarians. Who knew a mouse born to human parents could be so controversial? Throughout the book, Sweet shares primary documents including pages of from the original manuscript of Charlotte's Web.

I've read Some Writer! from cover to cover twice and plan to read it again. There are so many things to notice on each page: a delicate watercolor illustration of a flower, a vice framing a diagram on boatbuilding, a map painted on a piece of wood with various 3D objects, a tiny handmade canoe, a silhouette of White on a page from The Elements of Style. Each page is a masterpiece. Don't miss the touching Afterword written by White's granddaughter, Martha White.

Some Writer! deserves a spot in the biography section of school and public libraries, and it would make a fitting gift for an aspiring writer or lover of books.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Best Nonfiction Books of 2016


In past years Louise and I have worked together to create our list of favorite nonfiction books, but this year Louise could not help select the best books of of the year. She is serving on a book award committee and is unable to publicly review or write about books in 2016. I worked solo on this list and made my selections based on books I have read over the past year. Reviews are linked in the list below. There are some titles on the list that I have not yet reviewed on the blog. Look for reviews of several of these books in upcoming weeks.

I'm pleased to announce that Louise will return to blogging and reviewing for The Nonfiction Detectives in February. At that time I will pass the baton; Louise will run the blog solo in 2017 while I serve on a book award committee until 2018.

2016 Best Nonfiction Books for Children


STEM



by Gail Jarrow
Calkins Creek



by Maria Gianferrari and Bigram Ibatoulline
Roaring Brook Press



by Pamela S. Turner and Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann
Roaring Brook Press



by Sy Montgomery and Keith Ellenbogen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



by Nancy F. Castaldo
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt



by Chris Barton and Don Tate
Charlesbridge


History & Biography



by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
Calkins Creek


March Book 3
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Top Shelf Productions


A Poem for Peter
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
Viking Books for Young Readers




by Javaka Steptoe
Little, Brown and Company



by Pamela S. Turner and Gareth Hinds
Charlesbridge



by Shana Corey and Red Nose Studio 
Schwartz & Wade



Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White
by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers



We Will Not Be Silent
by Russell Freedman
Clarion Books


Poetry


by Ashley Bryan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers



by Roxanne Orgill and Francis Vallejo
Candlewick



by Carole Boston Weatherford and Jeffrey Boston Weatherford
Atheneum Books for Young Readers




Monday, December 12, 2016

Giant Squid

Giant Squid 
by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
Grades K-5

This descriptive, narrative nonfiction text will grip readers from the first page. The engaging text couple with magnificent close-up, oil illustrations capture the mystery and beauty of the elusive giant squid.

"With writhing arms
     and ghostly, lidless eyes
       they glide;
           some large as buses, 
              some weighing a ton. 
So big, yet rarely seen.
Instead, they are rarely glimpsed"

Near the end of the book fold-out pages illustrate the full body of giant squid. By the next page, the squid has vanished. A diagram provides readers with information about the squid's body and survival techniques. Don't miss the author's note and list of online sources in the back matter. Read aloud Giant Squid as an example of science writing; it's both poetic and informative.

Visit the author's website to download a science guide.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Ada's Ideas

Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer 
Fiona Robinson
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016
Grades 2-5

This week millions of children will take part in Hour of Code as part of Computer Science in Education Week. Teachers and librarians who are looking for books on the topic of computer science should pick up a copy of Ada's Ideas. This picture book biography traces the life of Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.

Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, grew up in the 19th century and had an excellent education and a proper upbringing thanks to her mother. Fiona Robinson shares the many influences in Lovelace's life including the creativity she in inherited from her father, the love of math that came from her mother, and her idea for loops and sequences in computer programming that Lovelace modeled after looms in factories she toured. Readers will appreciate the watercolor illustrations Robinson cut and mounted at different depths which make the illustrations appear 3D. Ada's Ideas could be read aloud to upper elementary students who are learning about loops and sequences in computer programming. Lovelace's work and life demonstrate to readers that computer science is a marriage between art and STEM.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Freedom Over Me

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life 
by Ashley Bryan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
Grades 4 and up

As 2016 comes to a close there are still many amazing nonfiction books in my review pile. Freedom Over Me is one of those titles that rises to the top this year. Beloved author and illustrator, Ashley Bryan, based the book on an historical document: The Fairchilds Appraisement of the Estate from July 5, 1828. The document, which can be viewed in the back of book, lists eleven slaves and their prices along with animals and cotton owned by the Fairchild Estate. Bryan took inspiration from the document and wrote poems and painted portraits of each person listed.

The first poem describes Mrs. Mary Fairchilds, a widow who is selling her family's estate which includes eleven slaves.  On the following page titled "For Sale,"  Bryan paints the eleven slaves owned by the Fairchilds and labels the picture with names and prices. Historical deeds and documents are effectively layered behind the pen, ink and watercolor illustrations. Each poem brings to life a slave from the appraisement list. In the following poems, Bryan imagines the work, dreams and relationships of each slave. Stephen is 32 year-old carpenter. Readers learn that he secretly learned to read and is in love with Jane. The next page describes Stephen's dreams of being free, marrying Jane and building houses. The poems continue in the same pattern with a two-page spread introducing the person followed by two pages describing his/her dreams.

Freedom Over Me is a powerful book that is a must purchase for school and public libraries. The poems beg to be read aloud in true Ashley Bryan style. Upper elementary, middle school and high school history teachers should read Freedom Over Me with their students. The poems and illustrations are sure to elicit important discussions about the history slavery in our country. Pair with Never Forgotten by Leo Dillon and Pat McKissack or I Lay My Stitches Down by Cynthia Grady.

Visit the publisher's page to view pages from the book.






Monday, November 14, 2016

Spotlight on Pamela S. Turner

Samurai Rising 
by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Charlesbridge, 2016
Grades 6 and up

It's been a banner year for nonfiction author, Pamela S. Turner. Many nonfiction fans know Turner's Scientists in the Field books such as  The Frog Scientist and The Dolphins of Shark Bay. Earlier this year, Charlesbridge released Samurai Rising, Turner's epic biography of Minamoto Yoshitsune. Aimed at upper middle grade and teen readers, the biography details the exciting life of Yoshitune, a scrawny risk taker who became Japan's bravest Samurai in twelfth-century Japan. Rebellion, revenge, rivalries and fierce battles make this a thrilling page-turner for teen readers.

Be sure to check out the Samurai Rising activity guide for educators.







Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird
by Pamela S. Turner
photographs by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Grades 5 and up

Turner also has a new book in the Scientist in the Field series, Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird. The book examines the work of Dr. Gavin Hunt and his team of scientists as they study the intelligence of crows in New Caledonia. The species of New Caledonian crows are exceptional because they craft and use their own tools and have the ability to solve problems and puzzles. Turner and Comins shadowed Dr. Hunt and his team and documents their work with crows on location. Close-up photographs, an engaging narrative and a spotlight on real scientists are part of the Scientist in the Field formula making it an interesting read for kids and adults who enjoy learning about science.

Here's a Crow Smarts activity guide for educators. Videos featuring the New Caledonia crows can be found on the Turner's website.






Sunday, October 23, 2016

Radiant Child

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat
by Javaka Steptoe
Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Grades 2-8

Javaka Steptoe pays tribute to the late artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, in the picture book biography Radiant Child. Steptoe uses mixed-media collage on scrap wood found on the streets of New York for the illustrations inspired by Basquiat's art.

The story begins with a young Jean-Michel who lived with his parents in Brooklyn and dreamed of being an artist. Influenced by his mother's interest in poetry and art and his father's interest in music, Jean-Michel drew, painted and created in a non-traditional style that wasn't clean and neat. Readers will be interested in Jean-Michel's street art he spray painted at night under the name, "Samoo." The story ends on a positive note with Basquiat reaching his dream of becoming a famous artist.

The narrative text and intricate collages create a portrait of a complex and talented artist who influenced many artists who came after him. Take time to read the author's note and back matter containing more information about the life and untimely death of Basquiat. Steptoe explains how he uses motifs and symbolism from Basquiat's work including crowns, eyes, and vehicles.  Radiant Child will not only introduce young readers to an artist they may not know, but it will also inspire children to dream, create and make art. Look for Radiant Child during the awards season; it's sure to top many lists!

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure- Blog Tour

Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure 
by Jennifer Thermes
Abrams Books for Young Readers
On shelves Oct. 4, 2016
Grades K-6

Today I'm taking part in the Charles Darwin's Around-the-World-Adventure blog tour. I am also giving away a copy of the book to one lucky reader thanks to the generosity of Abrams Books for Young Readers. Complete the form at the bottom of this post to enter the giveaway.

Jennifer Thermes highlights Charles Darwin's five year expedition on the Beagle in Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure. Upon opening the cover, it's evident that the book is full of kid appeal. Readers will first notice a timeline and a hand-drawn and painted map on the endpapers. After briefly describing Darwin as a child, the focus of the story shifts to his work on the ninety-foot ship, the Beagle. Darwin was hired as a naturalist on board the ship that sailed around South America. Lush watercolor illustrations feature plants and animals that Darwin encountered on the voyage. Readers will especially like the cross-section of the Beagle which shows the insides of cabins and storage areas.

Colorful, full-page maps are placed throughout the book to provide context to the story. Illustrations of animals and insects are included on each map. Thermes keeps the story focused on what Darwin learned on the expedition, but she also adds interesting details throughout the story.

"He saw a rare bird called a rhea that used its wings to steer as it ran, but could not fly. He discovered that some creatures were good for eating. Roasted armadillo made a tasty breakfast."

Thermes provides readers with more information about Darwin's work and The Origin of Species in the "Notes" section in the back of the book. Children will also be interested in the two-page spread of "Fun Facts" with accompanying illustrations. Did you know the Beagle had its own library with "almost four hundred books"?

After reading Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure, young naturalists may be inspired to create their own nature journals. Readers may also find themselves more aware of the insects, plants and animals in their own backyards.

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

Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure Giveaway


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tiny Stitches

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas 
by Gwendolyn Hooks
illustrated by Colin Bootman
Lee & Low Books, 2016
Grades 3-8

Readers in search of an interesting biography should pick up a copy of Tiny Stitches. The informative picture book biography highlights the accomplishments of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician and researcher who helped pioneer a procedure for performing open heart surgery on infants.

Gwendolyn Hooks takes readers through the major events of Thomas's life growing up in Tennessee during the Great Depression. Due to economic hardships after the stock market crash, Thomas was not able to afford to attend medical school. He took a job as a research assistant at Vanderbilt University with Dr. Alfred Blalock. The pair left Vanderbilt went to work at Johns Hopkins where they performed the first successful open heart surgeries on infants along with Dr Helen Taussig.

Bootman's realistic style watercolor illustrations bring a serious tone to the story. As Thomas and Dr. Taussig work to find a method for operating on babies, the author includes scientific details about the respiratory system that will satisfy curious readers. Middle grade readers will be surprised and saddened to learn that  Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig received credit for pioneering the surgical procedures on babies. Thomas was not publicly recognized for his work until twenty-six years after the first surgery.

Pair Tiny Stitches with Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy.

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Blood Brother- Blog Tour

Blood Brother: Jonathan Daniels and His Sacrifice for Civil Rights
by Rich Wallace and Sandra Neil Wallace
Calkins Creek, 2016
Grades 6-12

I am pleased to take part in the Blood Brother book tour today; the book hits shelves tomorrow!

Blood Brother is the important and little-known story of civil rights activist, Jonathan Daniels. The Wallaces learned about Daniels when they moved to his hometown of Keene, NH. The authors spent a great deal of time researching and "sleuthing" to piece together the details of Daniels' life.  They conducted interviews, read personal letters, located photographs taken by Daniels, and studied material from the Jonathan Daniels Collection at Keene State College. The result is a highly engaging and informative nonfiction narrative for teens.

Daniels was a seminary student in New England in 1965. Inspired by the work and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Daniels traveled to Alabama to join the fight for civil rights. Daniels was white and from the north, which made him a target for harassment by police and locals.  The authors show Daniels as a compassionate and brave individual who looked for the most effective ways he could make an impact in ending segregation. Daniels volunteered on voter registration drives, fought to integrate churches, and participated in the historic march from Selma to Montgomery. One of the most impactful things Daniels did was to purchase a camera and photograph the violence he witnessed. He also took photos of contaminated water supplies and poor living conditions in some African American communities.

Young adult readers will be saddened to learn of Daniels' violent, shooting death upon being released from jail in Hayneville, Alabama. Despite eyewitness accounts of the shooting, the murderer was found not guilty by an all-white jury. A civil lawsuit following the trial later brought changes to the judicial system in Alabama.

The Wallaces weave together quotes, descriptions of events, powerful photographs and primary documents to paint a vivid picture of the people behind the civil rights movement. Be sure to read the back matter including the timeline, bibliography and authors' note. Pair Blood Brother with March: Book One, Turning Fifteen on the Road to Freedom, or Freedom Summer.

Don't miss the Blood Brother book trailer.


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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge

Zap! Nikola Tesla Takes Charge 
by Monica Kulling
illustrated by Bill Slavin
Tundra Books, 2016
Grades K-6

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

Nikola Tesla is the latest subject in Monica Kulling's Great Idea Series featuring innovators and inventors. The story of Nikola Tesla is sure to intrigue readers. The picture book biography begins with Tesla departing from a ship in New York Harbor in 1884. He is "excited and a little nervous" to begin life in the U.S. Tesla, a science prodigy from Croatia to work in Thomas Edison's lab. Edison turned out to be a terrible boss and didn't pay Tesla the $50,000 he promised for work on direct current. A rivalry formed between the two inventors and continued until the World's Fair in Chicago hired Edison to light the buildings in 1893. Kids will love Bill Slavin's charming pen and ink drawings. The crisp narrative text and engaging artwork make this a great read aloud for upper elementary readers.

Don't miss other titles in the Great Idea Series including Going Up!: Otis's Trip to the Top, To the Rescue: Garrett Morgan Underground, and Spic and Span!: Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen

Monday, August 8, 2016

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still

Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still 
by Karlin Gray
illustrated by Christine Davener
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Grades K-5

As I watched the Olympics on television Sunday evening a familiar face was in the crowd for the women's gymnastics competition: Nadia Comaneci was in Rio to cheer on the 2016 gymnasts. A new picture book biography introduces young children to the Romanian gymnast and her incredible accomplishments during the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

The story begins with Nadia as a young girl full of energy and describes how she became involved with gymnastics at an early age. Colorful ink and colored pencil illustrations capture the action and excitement of the gymnastic competitions. The narrative effectively incorporates quotes from the gymnast, her family and coach. Readers will be interested to learn that after Comaneci's Olympic performance on the bars, the "scoreboard flashed a number: 1:00." Coach Bela Karolyi questioned the judges and learned that Comaneci actually scored a 10. The scoreboard could only register 9.99 since no gymnast had ever received a perfect 10 before. Comaneci became the youngest gymnast (age 14) to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Be sure to read the author's note which explains how and why Comaneci defected from Romania to the U.S. in 1989. Back matter also includes source notes, a timeline and a selected bibliography. Pair Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn't Sit Still with Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman: Olympic High Jump.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jazz Day

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
by Roxanne Orgill
illustrated by Francis Vallejo
Candlewick, 2016
Grades 2-6

In 1958, fifty-seven jazz musicians gathered on a street in Harlem to pose for a photo for Esquire. The photo entitled "A Great Day in Harlem" became an iconic image from the 20th century, and the story behind the photograph is amazing.

In this extended picture book, Roxanne Orgill uses free verse poetry to describe how the photograph came to be. It was conceived by Art Kane, an art designer and fan of jazz music.  Kane was not a photographer; he didn't even own a camera. Kane pitched his idea to Esquire, made an open invitation to musicians in New York, and borrowed a camera. The rest is history.

As readers turn the pages of Jazz Day, they are introduced to jazz musicians including Thelonius Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.

Ten in the morning was unspeakably early
For Thelonius Monk
Who was always
Late
Taxi waited outside his building
On West Sixty-Third
Meter Running
An hour and more
While Monk tried on jackets
To complete the perfect outfit

The poems eloquently convey the mood of the day while also describing the interaction of the musicians, their attire and how children in the neighborhood lined the curb to watch the event. Vallejo's realistic, acrylic and pastel illustrations capture the festive atmosphere and emotions of the musicians as they gather on the street.

When everyone is in place...

click
all eyes looking
this way
click
click
it has to be perfect
for Esquire

Dizzy sticks out his tongue

Near the end of the story a page folds open to reveal the impressive black and white photograph. Be sure to read the back matter which includes short bios of several musicians, an author's note, an extensive bibliography and a diagram that labels each person in the photograph.

There is so much goodness packed into just sixty-six pages of Jazz Day. It is a recommended purchase for school and public libraries. Pair Jazz Day with Duke Ellington by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Harlem by Walter Dean Myers, and Jazz on a Saturday Night by Leo Dillon. I predict that we will hear more about Jazz Day when the ALA Youth Media Awards are announced in January.

Click here to view the photo "A Great Day in Harlem."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Coyote Moon- Blog Tour and Giveaway

Coyote Moon 
by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
Grades K-5

Today I'm taking part in the Coyote Moon blog tour. The book officially hits shelves tomorrow. As part of the blog tour, I'm giving away one copy of Coyote Moon donated by the publisher. The details and entry form can be found at the bottom of this page.

The engaging narrative of Coyote Moon follows the journey of a female coyote as she hunts for prey at night. Gianferrari writes in the present tense in a style that is poetic at times. The precise language and word choice make for a thrilling read as the mother coyote creeps, charges and pounces in her quest to find food for her family.

Ibatoulline's realistic illustrations use somber colors to give readers a sense of what it is like to hunt for food in the dark. One exciting spread shows the coyote leaping through the darkness with just one word "Pounce!" printed on the page. As the sun rises, the coyote is successful in catching a turkey to bring back to the den for her pups. The killing of the turkey is realistic, yet the author and illustrator are sensitive to the young audience. The turkey's tail feathers can be seen on the page alongside the face of the coyote and the sentence, "Now coyote's family will eat."

Back matter provides readers with additional facts about coyotes and lists of books and websites for further reading. Read aloud Coyote Moon to elementary classes as part of a science unit on predators or food chains. The book would also make the perfect mentor text for students writing narratives or poems about natural science.

Visit the publisher's site to preview pages from the book.

Read the Reading for Research blog post and interview with Maria Gianferrari and her editor, Emily Feinberg.

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

Be sure to visit other stops on the blog tour this week.

July 15   Pragmatic Mom

July 19   Debtastic Reads

July 20   Kid Lit Frenzy

July 21   Librarian's Quest

July 22   KidLit 411

July 25   The Reading Zone

July 26   Bartography

July 27   Unleashing Readers

Coyote Moon- Giveaway





Friday, July 15, 2016

Gorillas Up Close

Gorillas Up Close  
by Christena Nippert-Eng
Photographs by John Dominski
and Miguel Martinez
Henry Holt and Company, 2016
Grades 3-6

The majority of the animal books in the 500s section of my school library focus on animals in the wild. Occasionally there are books about animals that were rescued and rehabilitated such as Winter's Tail: How One Dolphin Learned to Swim Again or Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. When I sat down to read Gorillas Up Close, I was expecting a typical expository text about gorillas in their natural habitat. I was pleasantly surprised that this is a unique book featuring gorillas living at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

The book evolved from a course taught by Professor Christena Nippert-Eng at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Students were assigned to observe gorillas at the local zoo as a way of improving their observation and data collection skills. According to the author's note, several students collaborated with Nippert-Eng to research, write and photograph the images for the book.

In Gorillas Up Close, middle grade readers will learn about the behaviors, diet, family structure and habitat of the western lowland gorilla. The Introduction asks readers to ponder several questions about how gorillas and humans compare and the challenges and ethics of keeping gorillas in captivity.

"What should be the role of zoo gorillas in ensuring the future of the species?"

The book is well-organized into chapters about each type of gorilla in a troop: silverbacks (leaders of a family troop), infants & juveniles, adult females, teenagers and bachelors. Photographs and detailed information about specific gorillas make the book feel like a family photo album at times. Readers will learn how zoos design habitats, group gorillas, feed the animals and provide opportunities for the gorillas to use tools and solve problems they might encounter in the wild. I was especially impressed with the back matter that offers tips for identifying and observing gorillas in zoos. Young readers will gravitate to the baby pictures of members of the bachelor troop in the back of the book.

There are many ways Gorillas Up Close could be used in classrooms. The book could provide supporting evidence for students writing persuasive pieces or debating whether or not animals should be kept in captivity. It would also make the perfect nonfiction companion book to The One and Only Ivan. Place the book on display in a library or classroom and an animal lover is sure to snatch it up for pleasure reading.

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

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

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Don Tate
Charlesbridge, 2016
Grades K-5

Chris Barton and Don Tate collaborated on last year's successful picture book biography, The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. I'm pleased that the duo is back with the engaging picture book about engineer, Lonnie Johnson. Johnson was a creative and inventive child who tinkered on projects and built rockets at home in Alabama. He went on to build a robot for a science fair in 1968. Later, Johnson had an important role in NASA's Galileo probe to Jupiter. He was tasked with creating a "lightweight backup system able to keep essential functions going" if power was lost.

Young readers will be especially interested in how Johnson used his knowledge of science to invent the Super-Soaker water gun while working on a new cooling system for air conditioners and refrigerators. Barton's narrative captures the essence of the determined Johnson. Tate's digital, cartoon-style illustrations have lots of kid appeal. The word "WHOOSH!" is effectively placed on several pages adding a sense of excitement and joy.

Whoosh! is an inspiring story that will make children delight in what is possible. Put Whoosh! into the hands of students who are assigned to read a biography for class. They will thank you! Be sure to read the author's note explaining how Barton came up with the idea for the book (hint: librarians are involved).


Read Don Tate's blog post about interviewing Johnson and doing research for the illustrations. 

Check out Chris Barton's blog post about NASA's Juno spacecraft.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Great White Shark Scientist

The Great White Shark Scientist 
by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Keith Ellenbogen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Grades 5 and up

It's Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, and it's the perfect time to review the latest Scientists in the Field book, The Great White Shark Scientist. Author, Sy Montgomery, and photographer, Keith Ellenbogen, have teamed up on another exciting marine biology story for kids. (Last summer the duo brought us The Octopus Scientists.)

The Shark Scientist features Dr. Greg Skomal, a biologist studying great white sharks in Chatham, MA (not far from where the setting of Jaws). Organized chronologically by day, the book follows the work of Skomal and his crew one summer as they tag sharks off the coast of Cape Cod. In her signature narrative style, Montgomery eloquently blends dialogue, description and facts to paint a vivid picture for readers.

"Look at those rocks!" says Keith, marveling at what looks like hundreds of dark boulders on the beach. 

"Those aren't rocks," says Greg."Those are seals- lots of seals!" Cynthia, Jeff and Pam set to counting them. It looks like there are 250 just in this one group. "The sharks eat everything," explains Greg, "but it's these seals that's drawing them to the Cape." (p. 5)

Ellenbogen's impressive photographs capture sharks underwater, divers in submersible cages, and Skomal on his boat tagging sharks. Readers will take a way a new appreciation of sharks and an understanding of why humans need to save them. The Great White Shark Scientist is a recommended purchase for schools and libraries. It would make an exciting and informative nonfiction read aloud for grades 4 and up.

Visit the publisher's site to download a discussion guide.

Other reviews of The Great White Shark Scientist:
Kid Lit Frenzy
Geo Librarian



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen 
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Jeffrey Boston Weatherford
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
Grades 5-12

Carole Boston Weatherford is one of my favorite poets and authors of books for children. Her picture book, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement won many awards and praises last year including a 2016 Sibert Honor.

Weatherford's latest book, You Can Fly, is a small book that packs a big punch. The book is comprised of powerful poems about the Tuskegee Airmen who flew and fought in World War II. The second person narrative style of the poems is effective in placing readers in the story, giving them a first hand account of what it was like to serve in a segregated military.

"As you stand at attention, your commander
tells you cadets to look left and right.
The men beside you may not make it.
You glance at your comrades,
hoping you all beat the odds.
You pray every night to make the cut."


Readers will learn about the elite group of pilots, known as the Tuskegee Airmen, who trained in Alabama and fought bravely in Europe. Weatherford masterfully weaves together social, political and popular culture to paint a realistic picture of the U.S. at a time when men who did not have basic human rights and freedoms were asked to give their lives for their country.

"No use candy-coating the truth:
Gasoline and sugar were rationed
during the war, and metal was reserved
for the defense industry,
but racism was never in short supply."

 Jeffrey Boston Weatherford's black and white scratchboard illustrations are based on photographs from World War II. Back matter includes an lengthy time line of important events and a list of resources including links to museum sites and primary documents. You Can Fly is a recommended purchase for public and school libraries. If I taught American History in a middle or high school, You Can Fly would be required reading for my students.