Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Energy Island by Allan Drummond

Energy Island: How One Community Harnessed the Wind and Changed Their World
Written and Illustrated by Allan Drummond
Frances Foster Books, an imprint of Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011
ISBN 978374321840
This reviewer checked out this book from her local public library.

Energy Island is a different kind of success story.  It traces how one small island community, over several years, worked together to stop their dependency on oil. A faceless narrator explains how the people of Samso, a small island located in the middle of Demark, were just like everyone else. They had gardens, went to the beach in summer, and never gave a thought to where their energy came from, or how much they used. They turned the heat up in winter, left lights on when not in a room, and used as much hot water as they wanted. 
“Our oil arrived by tanker ship and truck.  Our electricity came from the mainland by cable under the sea.”
It was when their island was chosen as an ideal place to become independent of nonrenewable energy that things began to change under the guidance of Soren Hermansen, an island teacher. It took many years before islanders agreed to put Hermansen’s ideas to the test.
Sidebars give explanations for older readers on relevant subjects: nonrenewable energy and energy independence, renewable energy, the problem of nonrenewable energy, global warming, wind energy, energy in the world, and saving energy.  The author’s style of illustrations lack details, which will frustrate some readers. For example, the map showing the location of Samso does not place it in context with other European neighbors, nor does it label the sea it lies in. (The North Sea) The book also lacks any mention of the negative environmental impact of wind turbines. Still, what resonates is the fact that one small community banded together to lessen their dependence on oil to help slow down global warming.  Now that is something to be proud of.  This informational nonfiction picture book is a recommended purchase for libraries who need to beef up books about renewable energy.
4 stars
Grade 3-5

Sunday, May 22, 2011

First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew

First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew
Written and Illustrated by Robbin Gourley
Clarion Books, 2011
ISBN 9780547482248
The reviewer borrowed this book from her school library.

If you're looking for a book to introduce children to the world of gardening, this book may be just what you need. Robbin Gourley follows Michelle Obama's quest to create a garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew. Before readers learn about Mrs. Obama's garden initiative, the author outlines the history of gardening at the White House beginning with John Adam's garden in 1800. Numerous presidents and first families tended gardens including Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Eleanor Roosevelt planted a victory garden during World War II, although young readers will need some explanation of victory gardens because a definition is not provided. Most of the watercolor illustrations complement the story nicely, however a few illustrations of people are awkward. After a brief history of White House gardens, the story returns to Mrs. Obama as she enlists the help of local school children and chefs to prepare meals made with vegetables from the White House garden. Colorful illustrations of vegetables and herbs adorn recipes in the back of the book along with a list of reasons to garden. Children will enjoy learning about the history of Presidential gardens while gaining an understanding of the importance of fresh, locally grown food.

4 stars
(Gr. K-4)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Silk & Venom: Searching for a Dangerous Spider

Silk & Venom: Searching for a Dangerous Spider
By Kathryn Lasky, Photographs by Christopher G. Knight
Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN 9780763642228
Reviewer checked out book from public library.

Spiders get a bad rap in the animal world; they’re often seen as dangerous and scary. Silk & Venom: Searching for a Dangerous Spider helps remove the stigma associated with arachnids. The book follows scientist, Greta Binford, on her quest to locate the Loxosceles spider in the Dominican Republic. By discovering the species on the island of Hispaniola, Binford hopes to prove her theory that spiders crossed a land bridge million of years ago. Lasky describes in great detail how spiders utilize their webs and venom to capture and digest their prey as well as the importance of spiders to our world.

“The ability to adapt to a wide variety of habitats. A tool kit filled with an array of silks. Venomous fangs. Sensitive, hairy legs. Put it all together, and you’ve go a survivor: the spider” (p.12).

Binford’s love of spiders is apparent throughout the story as she enlists the help of Dominican villagers in her search for the elusive Loxosceles; she ventures into caves, dense forests, abandoned buildings and piles of rubbish. Young readers, especially fans of Nic Bishop’s Spiders, will be drawn to the close-up photographs of different species of spiders, however the text may be a bit advanced for readers below grade five. Silk & Venom would make an ideal nonfiction read aloud for upper elementary or middle school classrooms. Readers will take away a better understanding of how scientists apply the scientific method in the real world, and hopefully Silk and Venom will help spiders gain some respect too! A glossary of spiders accompanied by photographs is included at the end of the book. 

(Grades 5-8)
5 Stars