Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy

The Incredible Life of Balto
by Meghan McCarthy
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
ISBN: 9780375844607
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her local library.

You only need to take one look at the cover of The Incredible Life of Balto, and you know it's the latest creation by the talented Meghan McCarthy. There is Balto staring right at you with the signature large white eyeballs that McCarthy used to illustrate characters in Aliens Are Coming, Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum,  and Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas. This time McCarthy tells a story that is beloved by children across the country; the story of how one spunky dog (and his teammates) helped save a village in Alaska.

Many of the patrons in my library are familiar with the the story of the dog hero, Balto, mainly because of the animated movie. Those same children, who love dog stories and adventures, will be quick to pick up McCarthy's nonfiction picture book account of how sled dog teams brought serum to Nome, Alaska during a diphtheria outbreak in 1925. Twenty teams of dogs took part in the relay to bring the medicine from Anchorage to Nome in temperatures fifty below zero. McCarthy describes the events in a clear and accessible narrative style.

"A man named Gunnar Kaasen was chosen as the musher to run one of the last legs of the race...and he picked a dog named Balto to be his leader. This was a surprising choice! Balto was inexperienced and not as fast as some of the other dogs. Nobody had ever thought he was special- until now!" 

The story does not end once the serum is delivered to Nome.  McCarthy goes beyond the happy ending to detail the rise and fall of Balto's fame. Balto starred in a movie, and a statue of him was placed in Central Park, which added to his celebrity after his adventures in Alaska. Sadly, an argument over money forced Balto to be sold to a vaudeville show then to sideshow where he and his teammate, Togo, were mistreated by owners. The book does not end on a sad note; a businessman heard about Balto's mistreatment and rallied school children to collect pennies save Balto.

The cartoon style illustrations will appeal to young readers. The changing tone of the story is reflected in the acrylic paint. A bright blue sky is contrasted against the white snow in an illustration of Balto and Gunnar standing beside the statue of Balto in Central Park. Several pages later, McCarthy uses brown and gray to illustrate Balto and Togo chained next to an empty  food dish. The last page shows Balto leading a team of dogs as they pull a group of school children in cart with beautiful trees and green grass all around.

McCarthy includes a detailed note about how she researched the story of Balto. Teachers should be sure to share McCarthy's notes with their students; there are lots of great lessons packed into this one page. A list of activities for kids to try and a selected bibliography are also included in the back. 

The Incredible Life of Balto would make a strong addition to K-5 library collections. It would make an ideal read aloud to one child or for an entire class, and you can be sure that it will circulate with children who love animal stories.

5 stars
(Gr. K-5)

The Incredible Life of Balto was also reviewed on the following blogs:

Be sure to check out these other great books about Balto and Togo:
  • The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie Miller
  • Togo by Robert J. Blake

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Bravest Woman in America: the story of Ida Lewis by Marissa Moss

The Bravest Woman in America: the story of Ida Lewis
by Marissa Moss; Illustrated by Andrea U'Ren
Tricycle Press, 2011
ISBN: 9781582463698

Children everywhere love tales of heroism and bravery. Marissaa Moss, who wrote Brave Harriet: the First Woman to Fly the English Channel and Nurse, Soldier, Spy: the Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero tells another exciting story about a woman's bravery. This one is about Ida Lewis, a lighthouse keeper's daughter, who would one day be known as, "The Bravest Woman in America". 

Ida Lewis was born in 1842. From a very early age Ida loved the sea. 

"She loved it when it was calm and coppery in the sunlight. She loved it when it was wild with froth, like a herd of stampeding horses. She loved the crash of the waves, the screech of the gulls wheeling overhead, the bite of salt in her nose as she breathed in the ocean air. She loved it all."

When Mr. Lewis became lighthouse keeper for the small light perched on Lime Rock in Newport Harbor, Ida felt she was the luckiest girl in the world. Because they did not live on the island at that time, Mr. Lewis had to row to Lime Rock every day. In order to accompany her father Ida had to learn how to row. Ida's arms grew strong as she accompanied her father regularly to Lime Rock. He also taught Ida all about tending the lights.

Good news came when Ida turned fifteen. It was decided that Lime Rock needed a full-time keeper and Mr. Lewis was given the job. The whole Lewis family moved in to the newly built, official lighthouse. 

"Ida loved watching the sea for any sign of trouble. She loved polishing the lighthouse lens so the light would shine bright. She loved rowing her two younger brothers and her sister to school and back home every day."

This simply told story is focused on Ida as she goes from being her father's helper to taking charge of the lighthouse after Mr Lewis becomes ill and her very first rescue of three boys after their sailboat capsizes. It is after that act of bravery that Ida's father puts her in charge of the lighthouse.

Andrea U'Ren illustrations are rendered in watercolor, ink and acrylic. They are bright, colorful, and fill every inch of the page. The vivid pictures walk us through Ida's life as she grows from a young girl determined to learn how to row to a confident young woman in charge of the lighthouse she so dearly loved. 

In an author's note, we learn that officially, Ida saved eighteen lives. She was sixty-three when she made her last rescue. 
Ida grew up before women had the right to vote. She proved that a woman could be as brave as a man. "Anyone who thinks it is un-feminine to save lives has the brains of a donkey," said Lewis in an interview. She died at age sixty-nine in 1911. 

Children will easily relate to Ida's love of the sea, her devotion to her family, but most importantly her courage. The story is exciting, making it perfect for all ages. 

Though a work of nonfiction, the lack of a time line and source notes makes this useless for writing a report. In addition, those who want more information about Ida will find it difficult since Moss did not include a bibliography.

4 stars.
All ages

Friday, August 26, 2011

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins

Can We Save the Tiger?
by Martin Jenkins
illustrated by Vicky White
Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780763649098
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her local library.

There has been a lot of buzz in the kidlit world about Can We Save the Tiger? ever since it was released in February. You might wonder why we haven't reviewed it yet. We launched The Nonfiction Detectives blog in late April, so we were just getting our site off the ground when bloggers and reviewers were singing the book's praises. So without further adieu, here is our review of Can We Save the Tiger?

Martin Jenkins and Vicky White have teamed up to create a beautiful tribute to endangered animals in the nonfiction picture book, Can We Save the Tiger? The book begins with an ode to extinct species (marsupial wolf, Stellar's sea cow, et al.) before the author turns his attention to endangered animals from around the globe such as the white-rumped vulture and the American bison. Using a narrative style and language accessible to young readers, Jenkins provides information about what caused various species to become endangered.

"Tigers are big and they're beautiful and they're fierce. And all this makes life difficult for them these days... And because they're beautiful, people have always hunted them for their skins. They also kill them for their bones and meat to use as medicines."

Martin doesn't oversimplify the problems that led to species dying out, instead he points out the complexities and different points of view that make the problems difficult to solve. For example, the author asks readers to see tigers from the point of view of a poor farmer in India:

"You might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you could earn in three whole months working in the field, then you might find it tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law."

Vicky White's detailed pencil sketches complement the information perfectly. Many of the illustrations are black and white accompanied by captions that contain facts about the animals. At times, oil paints are used to add a touch of color. White captures the spirit and beauty of each animal, big and small. The illustration of the tiger (also pictured on the cover) feels like it's a live animal looking right at the reader. Another page that stood out features a small illustration of a partula snail on a vast white background representing how few partula snails are left in the whole world. A stoic bison is pictured on another page illustrated in muted brown colors. The shading and textures make the illustration seem like a photograph. There is so much to appreciate in each illustration.  Children will want to read this book over and over again.

Can We Save the Tiger? would make an excellent read aloud in an elementary classroom, and it's the perfect gift book for a young reader. Librarians should plan to add it to their nonfiction collections. It's a true gem and may inspire young readers to make a difference in the world.

6 Stars
Award worthy! Unfortunately, it appears that the illustrator lives in England and does not qualify for the Caldecott Medal. Sibert Medal, perhaps?
(Grades K-4)

Can We Save the Tiger? was also reviewed by:
Kid Lit Frenzy:
Teach Mentor Texts:
A Year of Reading:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Saving Audie: A Pit Bull Puppy Gets a Second Chance
by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent; Photographs by William Munoz
Walker &  Company, 2011
ISBN: 97802722737
This reviewer checked a copy of this book out from the public library.

This is Animal Week on the Nonfiction Detectives blog. As I write up this review of Audie I have two Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds hovering very close to my face. It seems as if they want to sneak a peak at my laptop to see what i'm writing. 

Okay. On to the review!

Dorothy Hinshaw Patent latest book is in support of the rehabilitation of pit bulls. It is timely because here in Maine pit bull attacks have once again been in the news. 

On April 25, 2007 sixty-six dogs, fifty-one of them pit bulls were rescued from the Bad Newz Kennels owned by NFL quarterback Michael Vick. The dogs were abused, living in horrific conditions and used in illegal dogfights. At a time when rescued dogs would be considered unsafe and put to sleep, Patent follows the heroic efforts of several animals rights groups -- the ASPCA, Best Friends Animal Society, and in particular, the California-Based BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls) -- as they fought to give these dogs -- called the Vick dogs-- a chance at life.

"Nine testers worked with the dogs to see how they would react to different situations -- such as approaching them with a life-size dog to see if children upset them. The testers also needed to see how the Vick dogs would behave around other dogs." 

After months of tests, with sixteen other Vick dogs, Number 86 was allowed to leave the animal shelter. Given the name Dutch, the pit bull went to live with Linda and Bill near San Francisco. The couple worked closely with BAD RAP to retrain Dutch to make him comfortable around people and other dogs.  

"Just one thing -- Bill and Linda didn't think the name Dutch suited him. Bill suggested they name him after the American war hero Audie (AW-dee) Murphy, the little guy who had survived a tough childhood and went on to get more medals during World War II than any other soldier because of his brains and bravery. Their new dog was just like that -- small, smart, and brave.  So Dutch became Audie."

The book is designed as a photo essay that follows the capture and rehabilitation of Audie. The pooch goes from frightened and abused to happy and living in a loving home. The color photos are nestled on brightly colored pages. The text, in white, is easy to read. Each page also includes a sentence, in a contrasting color from the page, that highlights what is said in the text. 

Not everything was easy. Audie suffered from bad knees and needed surgery. During his convalescence Audie wore a harness -- "like a big purse"  A picture shows Audie in the harness being carried down the stairs. 

Without being preachy, Patent emphasizes these dog's ability to be rehabilitated with proper training. Though it is obvious a pit bull would not immediately be placed in a home with young children or placed in situations where they could be easily frightened or made to feel threatened. 

The book includes more information on BAD RAP, facts about pit bulls, a timeline about the Michael Vick Case, a listing of books and Internet sites for further reading and surfing.

A good addition to library collections.

4 stars

Watch the book tailer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators by Jim Arnosky

Thunder Birds: Nature's Flying Predators
by Jim Arnosky
Sterling, 2011
ISBN: 9781402756610
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from her local library.

Excuse the pun, but nonfiction bird books fly off the shelves at my  library. Many of my patrons are fascinated by bird facts and pictures. (I have to admit that I'm a sucker for a good bird book, too.) So, I was eager to pick up a copy Jim Arnosky's latest nonfiction picture book about birds of prey.

Thunder Birds is titled after the Native American eagle spirit, and it's evident from the introduction that Jim Arnosky has great respect for birds. Each section of the book is dedicated to a different bird or family of birds including eagles, falcons, owls, herons, loons and pelicans. Arnosky uses acrylic paint and white chalk pencil to create stunning full-page illustrations of the birds of prey. On one page, Arnosky perfectly captures the texture of the snowy owl's body; it looks like you could reach out and feel the soft downy feathers.

Arnosky describes his experiences watching and interacting with the different types of birds in a first-person narrative that accompanies the full-page illustrations.

"Of all the birds that I watch, I love watching herons and egrets the most. There is such suspense in the way they slowly stalk fish in shallow water, bill downward, long neck poised to strike."

In addition to the full-page illustrations and narrative, the book includes four fold-out pages that are sure to capture the attention of readers. The first fold-out page is impressive as it shows an osprey with one wing extended while grasping a fish in its claws.  Black and white sketches in the margins illustrate the talons, feathers and bodies of various birds.

Arnosky includes interesting facts about the different birds of prey, but I do not see this as research book for students to use for school assignments. This is a work of art, a book for bird lovers, aspiring artists, and young naturalists. If a child comes to the library with a list of questions to answer about birds, steer him or her to a "just the facts, ma'am" type of book. However, if you have a child who loves nature, science and art, don't let the child leave without checking out Thunder Birds. It may serve as an inspiration to children who want to watch birds or create their own nature books. Arnosky even provides a list of parks and wildlife preserves that he visited while working on the book.

5 Stars
(Grades 2-6)

Create a bird display with these titles: 
Birds of America by John James Audubon
The Boy Who Drew Birds by Jacqueline Davies
Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Food Web by Victoria Crenson
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery
Pale Male: Citizen Hawk of New York by Janet Schulman
White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saving Animals from Oil Spills by Stephen Person

Saving Animals from Oil Spills
Part of the Rescuing Animals from Disasters series
Written by Stephen Person.
Bearport Publishing. Fall 2011
ISBN: 9781617722882

Children enjoy reading about animals, and this new series from Bearport Publishing is sure to find an audience.  When Disaster Strikes: Rescuing Animals gives a firsthand account of the courageous rescue attempts made by animal lovers to save animals from actual natural disasters that children have heard about in the news. In 32 pages topics in the series include titles about the 2008 flood in Iowa, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 2003 wildfires in Southern California, and the 2010 volcanic eruption of Mount Merapi on the island of Java in Indonesia.

This reviewer was given a copy of Saving Animals from Oil Spills written by Stephen Persons.

This book was organized with twelve entries that work like a timeline showing the progression of events and how the quick response by so many saved a majority of the area wildlife. The twelve entries are two pages in length and are supported by a brief text that uses direct language; as if readers are there watching events unfold. Also a lot of color photos support the text.

Racing to the Coast’ explains that Kayla, a biologist from Louisiana left her regular job and rushed to the Gulf of Mexico in order to join a wildlife rescue team. Readers see the a rescue worker capturing them in nets, carting them to rescue centers in pet carriers to cleaning them up and returning them to the wild. The captions accurately reflect the action in the photos.

The author does a good job of keeping the topic positive. In The Great Egg Rescue, we learn that baby sea turtles would have died upon entering the oily waters. Rescue workers dug up 28,000 eggs and took them to the Atlantic coast of Florida.

“Of the 28,000 baby sea turtle eggs that were dug up and moved, 15,000 hatchlings made it to the ocean. That is a very high success rate. In nature, animals such as raccoons and birds eat more than half of all turtle eggs and hatchlings before they reach the water.”

Three cheers for that information!

Throughout, words that children may not know the meaning of are set off in bold and explained in the glossary.

Though the book has a positive spin, it does explain the dangers and lasting effects oils spills do have on the environment and the food chain.

Included in this book: Famous oil spills and rescues, Animals at risk from spills, glossary, bibliography (web sites), read more on oil spills, index.

There is a web link that directs readers back to Bearport for more information about rescuing animals from oil spills.

Other titles in the series: Saving Animals after Earthquakes, Saving Animals from Fires, Saving Animals after Floods, Saving Animals from Hurricanes, Saving Animals from Volcanoes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon

The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon
by Carla Killough McClafferty
Carolrhoda Books (a division of Lerner Publishing) 2011
ISBN: 9780761356080
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from the Southern Maine Library District's Examination Collection. 

When I first picked up a copy of The Many Faces of George Washington I thought to myself, "Not another book about George." It seems like the library shelves are bulging with biographies about our nation's first president, and some George Washington books are better than others. However, I was pleasantly surprised with Carla Killough McClafferty's take of on the George Washington biography. It's more than a biography. It's about science, technology, detective work, art history, and it's fascinating.

Every time you pull a dollar bill out of your wallet you see the image of our country's first president. The picture of George Washington printed on the dollar is based on a 1796 portrait by Gilbert Stewart. Because of this famous portrait, most Americans think that Washington was stoic, serious, even grumpy. Historians at Mount Vernon's Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center hoped to counter those images by undertaking a huge project to educate visitors about the "real" George Washington. The Many Faces of George Washington follows the work of forensic anthropologists and artists hired by Mount Vernon in 2005 to create three life-size models of Washington.

McClafferty's book alternates between the Mount Vernon project and historical accounts of Washington's life. There is something for everyone in this book. History buffs will enjoy learning about how historians and artists used articles of clothing, sculptures and portraits to piece together what Washington looked like. Science enthusiasts will be captivated by the team's use of 3D technology and computer scans of sculptures to create a scale model of the president.

Readers will be intrigued by the photographs of the project during its various stages. One series of photographs that really stand outs shows three different sets of dentures that Washington wore. The dentures were made from horse, cow and human teeth as well as hippopotamus ivory. Despite popular belief, the dentures were not made of wood.  Scientists measured the dentures to help them to accurately recreate Washington's jaw bone.

After scanning sculptures and measuring Washington's dentures, scientists made foam models of the president's head. The foam models were then used to create a plastic likeness and finally clay sculptures of Washington at ages ninteen, forty-five, and fifty-seven (his age when he took the oath of office). Artists, tailors and historians were brought in to make wigs, design authentic clothing, and create Washington's hands. Artists painted Washington's face and captured the vibrancy and dignity of the man.

Throughout the book McClafferty uses primary documents, quotes and historical accounts to provide readers with a glimpse into Washington's life as a surveyor, soldier and politician. The author's clear and organized style makes history accessible to middle grade and young adult readers.

A timeline of important events in Washington's life is included at the end of the book. It's evident that McClafferty researched the topic thoroughly; an extensive list of source notes and a lengthy bibliography are located on the last pages. A list of discussion questions related to the book can be found on Lerner's eSource Web site.

Readers who are interested in science and history will want to pick up The Many Faces of George Washington for pleasure reading. The book would also make an interesting read aloud for an upper elementary or middle school history class.

5 Stars
(Gr. 5 and Up)

Place The Many Faces of George Washington on display with these books:
The Crossing: How George Washington Saved the American Revolution by Jim Murphy
Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas
George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra and Madeleine Comora
Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Spy by Anita Silvey and Wendell Minor
Lafayette and the American Revolution by Russell Freedman
Who Was George Washington? by Roberta Edwards

Monday, August 15, 2011

Good Sports by Glenn Stout

Good Sports
Soldier Athletes
by Glenn Stout
Houghton Mifflin. October 2011
ISBN: 9780547417295

Yes, She Can!
By Glenn Stout
Houghton Mifflin. October 2011
ISBN: 9780547417257

Baseball Heroes
By Glenn Stout
Houghton Mifflin. December 2010
ISBN: 9780547517080
Copies of books received from the publisher.

A new series from Houghton Mifflin is geared towards students who can’t get enough information about people who play professional sports. Each title focuses on a particular topic. Baseball Heroes is inspiring life stories of major league athletes who have overcome obstacles in the course of their life and career; Soldier Athletes is about the bravery and self-sacrifice of four athletes who left their blossoming careers to serve in the military; Yes, She Can profiles five women who “refused to be told what they could and couldn’t do” and paved the way so other females could play professional sports.  

In Yes, She Can we read about Trude Ederle, who swam across the English Channel faster than any man who went before her. Louise Stokes and Tidye Pickett were the first two African American female Olympians.  Julie Krone, first female jockey, Danica Patrick, first woman won a Indy car race:  Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.  (Include in your display of sports books, Let Me Play: the story of Title IX: the law that changed the furture of girls in American by Karen Blumenthal)

Soldier Athletes explains how baseball great Ted Williams, Pittsburg Steeler Rocky Bleier, Chicago White Sox Carlos May, and Arizonia Cardinals Pat Tillman each left a promising career in professional sports to serve time in the military.

The writing is good and engaging. The author neither glorifies nor talks down to his audience. I enjoyed reading the books and I have no interest in sports whatsoever!

My only complaint is the lack of photos. There is one black & white photo at the beginning of each entry. It would have been nice to have included a few more.

The slim paperbacks are geared to readers, ages 9-12. A solid purchase for all libraries.

5 stars

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gorillas by Gail Gibbons

Written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons
Holiday House, 2011
ISBN 9780823422364
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the Southern Maine Library District's examination collection. 

Gail Gibbons, the master of the nonfiction picture book, is back! This time her focus is gorillas. Using vivid watercolor illustrations and broad brush strokes, Gibbons provides readers with an in-depth look at the African primates. The book describes three different species of gorillas: Western Lowland, Eastern Lowland and Mountain.  Gibbons' clear language and vocabulary make the book accessible to young readers without losing the richness of the content.

 "Adult gorillas are large animals that need to eat a lot of food. Males will eat as much as 40 pounds (18.1 kilograms) of food each day."

Readers in search of more detailed information will enjoy reading the captions that are full of interesting facts:

"Gorillas rarely drink water because many of the plants they eat are juicy."

The author includes a map so that young readers can visualize where the three species make their homes. Additional facts and a list of related web sites are found on the last page. Gorillas is the perfect resource for beginning researchers in elementary school, but it will also appeal to children that love to learn about animals.

Pair this book with Amazing Gorillas! by Sarah L. Thomson.

5 stars
(Grades K-3)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Elephant Scientist by Caitlyn O’Connell & Donna M. Jackson

The Elephant Scientist
by Caitlin O’Connell & Donna M. Jackson; Photographs by Caitlin O’Connell & Timothy Rodwell
Houghton Mifflin. July 2011
ISBN: 9780547053448
Review copy obtained from the publisher.

The Elephant Scientist focuses on the work of Dr. Caitlyn O’Connell, who has studied elephant communication for the last nineteen years. O’Connell authored the adult book, The Elephant’s Secret Sense: the hidden life of the wild herds of Africa. (2007)

Always interested in studying large mammals, in 1992 Caitlyn O’Connell and her now husband Timothy Rodwell were offered a chance of a lifetime by the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism: to study elephant movements, habitat, behavior, and their interaction with people for three years.

“It involved working in the Caprivi, an area in northeastern Namibia and one of the last places where elephants still migrate hundreds of miles during the wet, or rainy, season.”  

It was also a place where elephants clashed with humans, especially farmers. The two must share land and access to water in a space that has no fences between national parks and farms.

Caitlyn’s assignment “was to look for ways to keep elephants from eating farmers’ crops.”

In the process of trying to find a humane way of keeping elephants out of the cornfield, O’Connell made a major discovery: Elephants send and receive messages with other elephant family groups through the ground with their feet!  Through more research, O’Connell learned:

“Elephants can detect ground vibrations and can also discriminate subtle differences between these vibrations through their feet.  That is, they can tell whether calls in the wild come from trusted friends – such as other family members – or from strangers.”

The Scientists in the Field series introduces readers to interesting people who work in the exciting, and often challenging, natural world. (The Hive Detectives, Extreme Scientists, Emi and the Rhino Scientist) The series successfully conveys scientific information in a style that is informative, yet easy to understand. Paired with eye-popping photographs, they are a hit with a wide range of students.

As par for the series, the book includes a table of contents, bibliography, glossary, source notes, and index. 

5 stars
Grades 4-7

Place this book in a display with Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson or A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata.

Don't miss another title in this fine series: The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species by Peter Lourie. ISBN 9780547152547 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds
By Marissa Moss, Illustrated by John Hendrix
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN 9780810997356
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the Southern Maine Library District's examination collection.

 War, disguises, espionage...Middle grade readers will eat up this exciting picture book biography. In Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, Marissa Moss details how courageous, nineteen year-old Sarah served as a spy for the North during the Civil War. Sarah originally disguised herself as a man to escape an arranged marriage, and she quickly found that life as a man brought freedom and independence. Sarah wanted to help her country, so signed up to fight with the North during the Civil War. Once enlisted, Sarah proved to be better at shooting and riding than most men her age. She also took on the difficult roles of battlefield nurse and surgeon. When asked by a Union chaplain to spy on the Southern troops, Sarah disguised herself as freed slave and cunningly infiltrated enemy lines to gather information to bring back to her troops.

"Freedom, she knew, wasn't something to take for granted. It was something to fight for, to cherish. And so long as her heart was beating strong, that's just what she would do."

Pen & ink and acrylic illustrations capture the intensity of the Civil War and the danger involved with Sarah's work as a spy. The illustrations are truly unique. Hendrix uses monochromatic blue and orange illustrations on some pages to direct readers’ attention to the background or foreground. In one double-page spread, blue tones capture the gravity of war as Sarah nurses a wounded soldier in an army tent in the foreground. In the background, orange and green contrasting colors are used to illustrate a soldier with one leg as he watches houses burning on the horizon. Typefaces from broadside posters are used to highlight important quotes like, "I'm Your Man!"

An author's note in the back of the book includes more details about Sarah Edmonds' contributions to American history. Moss points out that hundreds of women on both sides posed as men during the Civil War, yet Edmonds is the only woman to be recognized as a veteran of the American Civil War.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy
would make an exciting read aloud for an upper elementary or middle school classroom. It’s also a book that boys and girls will enjoy reading independently and may serve as a springboard to other books about the Civil War.

5 Stars
(Grades 3-6)

Check out Betsy Bird's review of Nurse, Soldier, Spy on the Fuse #8 Production blog:

Wrapped in Foil compares Nurse, Soldier, Spy to Carrie Jones' 2011 book, Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Epic Climbs: Eiger, K2, Everest, McKinley, Matterhorn

Epic Climbs: Eiger, K2, Everest, McKinley, Matterhorn
by John Cleare
Kingfisher Books, 2011
ISBN 9780753465738
Epic Adventures series

It's no surprise that Epic Climbs was written by a photographer and mountaineer. Stunning photographs grace the pages of this high-interest book about five of the world's highest peaks. Each chapter focuses on a different mountain and includes a map, a description of the land, and information about successful and failed attempts to scale the mountains.

Middle grade readers will love the poster sized, fold-out pages that feature photographs of the mountains and include details about the trails and past expeditions. I can picture a group of fifth grade students gathered around a table admiring the huge, fold-out pages. Librarians, have your book tape ready! The pages of this book will need repair after it has circulated several times, and it's a book that will definitely circulate again and again.

Smaller photos on the edges of the pages are framed in white borders and layered on one another like a scrapbook.  Each photo is accompanied by a detailed caption in a style similar to the DK Eyewitness series.  Charts are effectively used throughout the book to document the names and dates of attempts to reach the summits. Women climbers are featured in a photo layout and on a separate chart.

In addition to the history of mountaineering expeditions, the author includes science related to the mountains.  A diagram on page 30 demonstrates how plate tectonics formed Mount Everest. Readers will also be interested to learn that Mount Everest is made of fossilized shells.

Balti Porters from Pakistan are mentioned in the chapter about K2, but I was surprised that Sherpa guides were not included in descriptions of Mount Everest expeditions. Sherpas can be seen posing in a group photo on page 34, but the caption only describes them as "committed, skilled, mountaineers."

Many mountaineering terms, such as bivouac and crevasse, are defined in the glossary in the back of the book. However, the book is missing a bibliography or list of sources used by the author to research the book.

Epic Climbs is sure to be a popular book with kids who love to read about real life adventures! Other books in the Epic Adventures series include Epic Treks, Epic Flights, and Epic Journeys.

4 stars
(Grades 5-8)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hammerin' Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer by Shelley Sommer

Hammerin' Hank Greenberg: Baseball Pioneer
By Shelley Sommer
Calkins Creek/Boyds Mills Press, 2011
ISBN 9781590784525
This reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the public library.

Most children are well acquainted with baseball greats Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Lou Gehrig, yet few have heard of Hank Greenberg. Shelley Sommer, a middle school literature teacher and library director, is trying to change that with this biography of Hammerin' Hank, the first Jewish major league baseball player.

Hank Greenberg played for the Detroit Tigers from 1933 to 1946. (He served in the U.S. Air Force during WW2, from Dec. 8, 1941 – 1945) During his time with the Tigers, Greenberg was nicknamed Hammerin’ Hank because of his skill at hitting home runs. In fact, in 1938, he was two runs short of breaking Babe Ruth’s 60 home run record! And, in 1956, Greenberg was the first Jewish baseball player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

The many-layered book is more of an overview of Greenberg’s career. The author also highlights what it was like to be Jewish at a time when Anti-Semitism was escalating because of the growing turbulence in Germany that would become World War 2. Greenberg faced discrimination both on and off the field, yet he never let it outwardly affect his game or his attitude towards others.

This is not a book for reluctant readers. Instead, it is for those who enjoy a well-researched biography that goes beyond talking about details of every baseball game. Sommer’s includes a lot of historical detail and how it influenced Greenberg’s career and the attitude of those around him.

The book is chock full of historical black & white photos, along with further resources, a bibliography, source notes, and index. It does not include Greenberg’s baseball statistics or a time line.

4 stars
For grades 9 up.

Pair this with Hammerin' Hank: the Life of Hank Greenberg by Yona Zeldis McDonough. Walker & Company, 2006.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities

Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities 
by Chris Barton, illustrated by Paul Hoppe
Dial Books, 2011
ISBN # 38181000874994
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from her public library.

Can you imagine what it would be like to live your life as someone else? Chris Barton gives readers a chance to explore the answer to that question in Can I See Your I.D.? The book features the stories of ten real people who took on false identities.  I found myself pulled into the book from the first chapter which details how a sixteen year-old boy successfully found a way to impersonate a subway motorman so that he could drive the A train in New York in 1993.

The most compelling story of the collection is about a Jewish teen who gave up his identity and lived as a Nazi youth during World War II in order to stay alive. Barton effectively uses the second person narrative to put readers in the shoes of the impersonators:

"If you run, you'll be killed for sure.  And so, hoping no one will notice amid the smoke and bombs and hum of German planes, you gouge a hole in the earth with the heel of your shoe. You drop those incriminating papers into the hole and sweep dirt on top of them. The Germans are sticklers for proper documentation, but now you have none. It's almost as if you have no identity at all."
- From the chapter "Hitler Youth? Solomon Perel"

Another chapter describes how Ellen Craft, a female slave from Georgia, disguised herself as a white man in an attempt to escape to the North with her husband in 1848.  Each chapter ends with a brief update entitled, "What Happened Next?" In the case of Ellen Craft, she successfully reached Philadelphia and later returned to Georgia to open a school for former slaves.

Can I See Your I.D.? will appeal to YA readers for a number of reasons: the writing is accessible to a range of readers, and the ten subjects featured in the book are really interesting. Black and white, comic illustrations by Paul Hoppe are the perfect compliment to these intriguing stories. Readers will learn about history without slogging through a dense text book, and many of the stories could serve as a springboard for teens who want to explore the topics in more depth. For example, some readers may be inspired to read Black Like Me after learning about John Howard Griffith's social experiment posing as a black man in the deep south in 1959.

It's evident that Barton spent a great deal of time researching the ten individuals featured in the book. A lengthy bibliography in the back of the book will direct teens to other books they may want to check out. Can I See Your I.D.? would make an excellent addition to any YA collection and should be put in the hands of reluctant readers immediately!

5 stars
(Gr. 6 and up)

Can I See Your I.D.? was also reviewed by Carol Rasco on Rasco From RIF:

Here's a video of Kathi Appelt interviewing Chris Barton about Can I See Your I.D.?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus By Erica Silverman

Liberty’s Voice: The Story of Emma Lazarus
By Erica Silverman; Illustrated by Stacey Schuett
Dutton Children’s Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780525478591
This reviewer obtained a copy of the book from the public library. 

Every time I read or hear these words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”  I get goosebumps, because I think of the millions of immigrants, over the years, who have made the United States their home, including my grandparents.The Statue of Liberty in New York City Harbor is a beacon of hope that welcomes those immigrating to the United States, promising them a new and safer life This biography is the story of the woman who wrote those famous words that have come to symbolize the promise of freedom.

Emma Lazarus was born in 1849 to a well-to-do sugar refiner. She was fortunate to have a father who believed in education for women.

“Emma loved poetry. Poets gave words such power!”

Emma wanted to be a poet too.  Could she? 

As Emma was reading a book by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a popular author of that time, these words spoke directly to her. Listen,

“…to the whisper of the voice within…”

If she listened would she find her voice? Emma found the courage to try. She wrote and wrote and wrote. I love the image of Emma, always with a notebook, finding inspiration all around her and turning it into poems.

This book highlights the amazing and productive life of this talented woman. Ralph Waldo Emerson became her writing coach, and with his help she went on to compose essays, book reviews, plays, and contributed a regular feature for the then popular magazine, The Century. Though Emma led a privileged life, she never shied away from speaking out against, what she believed was an injustice. 

Each turn of the page is another episode in Emma’s life. The double-page spreads use Schuett's brightly colored illustrations with slightly exaggerated characters that mirrors the text. Colorful swirls are on the pages where Emma is having an idea. The warm colors and smiling faces will attract young listeners.

On the last page, Silverman explains that in 1903, Emma’s poem, “The New Colossus” was engraved on a plaque that was attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty. Sadly, Emma died in 1887 and never knew the importance of her poem. Included is a bibliography and further reading.

I really liked this book a lot. However, my one frustration with all picture book biographies is exactly what makes them so appealing: the brief coverage of their topic. Here, I wanted to know more about Emma Lazarus, especially how she died. An added note giving a bit more information about Emma's life would have sufficed, as well as seeing the poem, The New Colossus, in its entirety.

5 Stars

To best promote this book, include in your display Lynn Curlee’s Liberty, Betsy and Giulio Maestro’s The Story of Liberty, and When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, to name a few.

I found a book trailer for this book on youtube. Liberty's Voice