Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Great Global Puzzle Challenge with Google Earth by Clive Gifford

The Great Global Puzzle Challenge with Google Earth
Written by Clive Gifford; Illustrated by William Ings
Kingfisher. 2011
ISBN: 9780753467213
Copy of book obtained from bookstore.

Being an armchair traveler, when I saw a review for The Great Global Puzzle Challenge, I wanted to take a closer look. The large-size book (11 7/10 x 10 1/5 inches) of 32 pages is a basic introduction on how to use the program Google Earth and some of its features on the computer. The book is already outdated because it does not include instructions for mobile devices, such as the iphone or ipad, (I did try it with both a computer and ipad and found the computer is preferable because you have more options for the layers feature.)  Each entry is two pages that combines cartoon-like graphics, text boxes, and images taken from Google Earth.

The journey begins with “Traveling Around the World with Google Earth”.

"Have you ever wanted to go on a travel adventure around the globe? Well, set your compass for a great global puzzle challenge -- with the help from Google Earth! Explore busy cities and awesome landscapes.
Navigate your way around the planet and solve brainteasing puzzles to discover your final, top-secret destination!”

A brief explanation explains how to download, how to use the mouse controls and the “fly to” window, the navigational panel, the Look Joystick, Move Joystick, and the Zoom slider. Here is also where you learn in more details about the Puzzle Challenge! Throughout your searches armchair travelers are instructed to pick up a souvenir, spot a country's flag or emblem, spot a geographical or historic misfit (these are really hard) with the overall goal of gathering number clues that "will add up to a coordinate to your exciting final destination!"

The way it all works.
There are eleven destinations in all: London, Paris, Ancient Rome, Tokyo, Ancient Egypt, Himalayas, Great Barrier Reef, Tanzania, New York City, Amazon Rainforest, and New Delhi. To travel to these places, you type in the given coordinates. Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt are misleading because you're not really traveling back to those times; instead you are visiting the modern place where you can still see the Colosseum or the Pyramids. 

"Welcome to your first destination! London is the capital city of the
United Kingdom. It's a huge, bustling place full of historic
buildings, such as St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London, and
there's plenty to do and see. Many visitors can't resist viewing the
city, like we do here, from the giant London Eye wheel standing on the
banks of the Thames…"

Once you arrive at your destination, I was reminded of the "Where's Waldo" books. The cartoon like drawings shows a busy London where you are asked to find a policeman, a London taxicab (which I could not spot) and Royal Guards on parade. You really have to look hard to find them. There are also text boxes placed throughout the drawing that point out historic buildings, give facts, a hint at the souvenir to pick up, and the number you need to record that will give you that final coordinate. 

The problem with the book
Readers are expected to juggle between the book and the computer, which is really confusing and frustrating, because the maps of the cities or places are disproportionate to what you see on the computer. This was especially true when you were in Ancient Egypt. The first coordinates landed me in the middle of nowhere, not a bustling ancient city. At the Amazon Rainforest, the book shows trees, colorful birds, and the Amazon River. On the computer there is only a green landscape and your view becomes blurry the closer you zoom to eye level. However, you do need the book to find most of the clues and to uncover the "historical or geographic" misfits placed at each location. Many of the questions when trying to find the final coordinates are really hard and impossible to answer with either the book or Google Earth. 

About that ultimate challenge and the numbers for you ending coordinates, there is a typo in the book. I admit, I took the easy way out and went directly to the "Puzzle Answers" found at the back of the book and typed in the coordinates they listed. The hint says, "Out of this World!" and "The two astronauts are "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins." 'Oh! I bet I'm going to the Moon!", I said, but when I typed in the coordinates I ended up in the middle of Democratic Republic of the Congo! (I typed the coordinates in four times!)  Huh!  

2 Stars -- Despite the above mentioned problems, this book could be an introduction on how to use Google Earth. Under adult supervision, someone who is familiar with this book's shortcomings, the combination of the book and Google Earth could be an activity for a rainy afternoon. Maybe the challenge could be to find the correct coordinates! In a school or public library the book itself could be given to those children still longing for puzzle adventures, since there is much to find within the pages of the book, yet without an adult guiding them and an encyclopedias for support for some of the questions, children will easily become overwhelmed. (The book's binding is pretty weak.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Drum roll please...

Cathy and I are very happy to report that we've both been selected to serve as judges for the 2011 Cybils Awards (Children's and Young Adult Blogger's Literary Awards) Cathy will be judging nonfiction picture books (NFPB) and I will be judging nonfiction for Middle Grades and Young Adult 

This is a huge honor for us, as well as an exciting experience. 

Thank you all for following our blog!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets by Kathleen Krull

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets
by Kathleen Krull
illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Random House, 2011
ISBN: 9780375857218
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the Southern Maine Library District's examination collection.

Saturday was Jim Henson's birthday; he would have been 75 years old. If you spent time online Saturday you may have seen Google pay homage to Henson with this Google Doodle.

Jim Henson: The Guy Who Played with Puppets shares the magic of Jim Henson with a new generation of readers. The picture book biography by Kathleen Krull follows Henson as he grew up in Leland, Mississippi in the 1930s. Henson loved to create and draw, and he was interested in nature. Upon entering high school in the 1950s, Henson joined the school puppetry club and went on to take puppetry and costume design courses in college.

After graduation from college and a short stint in Europe, Henson formed a new company...Muppets, Inc. His career took off when a t.v. producer offered Henson the chance to create puppets for Sesame Street, for a new children's program. Most readers will be familiar with Henson as the creator of The Muppet Show and the series of Muppet movies.  However, many children may be surprised to learn that Henson also created characters (such as Yoda) for the Star Wars films.

Krull writes in a clear and concise manner that young readers will understand. Each page of text is accompanied by a colorful, full-page painting by Johnson and Fancher on the opposite pages. Smaller illustrations of Muppets fill the margins below the text.

This picture book biography is an excellent introduction to the creative genius of Jim Henson. Students working on research projects may want to read Who Was Jim Henson? by Joan Holub for more details about Henson's life and work.

4 Stars
(Gr. 2-5)

                         Jim Henson on Making Muppets- You Tube Video

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who Has What?: All about girls' bodies and boys' bodies by Robie H. Harris

Who Has What? All about girls' bodies and boys' bodies
Robie H. Harris; Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Candlewick Press. 2011
ISBN: 9780763629311
Review copy obtained from the public library.

Just recently a parent came into the library and asked if we had any books on sex education. As I walked her to the 612's, the slightly bewildered mother said, "This morning at breakfast my three year old asked why she can't go pee like daddy? I thought these questions wouldn't come until she was older."  The harried mom would have found Who Has What?: All about girls' bodies and boys' bodies by Robie H. Harris useful.

Robie Harris has penned other great books to help preschoolers understand their bodies: "It's Perfectly Normal", "It's So Amazing", "It's NOT the Stork!"

As a mixed-race family is headed to the beach a reassuring narrative explains how there are lots of ways that girls and boys are similar.

"Boys and girls like to catch frogs, swing up high in the air, ride
scooters, and make a lot of noise. Girls and boys like to run fast,
play catch, and take their dollies and stuffed animals for a stroll."

But some parts of girl and boy bodies are not the same. "The parts that are different are what make you either a boy or a girl. And when you grow up, the parts that are different will make you a man or a woman."

Running parallel to the narrative is the ongoing conversation, told in speech balloons, between the sister and younger brother on their way to the beach. The two discuss, in childhood language, what makes them the same and different. They do sound just like two preschoolers carrying on a conversation in the backseat of the car.

Harris uses anatomically correct terms to explain the similarities between boys and girls -- neck, hands, fingers,nipples, waist, bottom, bellybutton -- to what makes them different -- scrotum, penis, vagina, testicle, ovary, uterus. Nadine Westcott's colorful, cartoon-like illustrations mirror the text.

Young children will take pleasure in seeing the many different families going about normal activities. It was nice to see a pregnant mom, a dad feeding an infant with a bottle, and another mom nursing a baby under a beach umbrella.

Harris' matter-of-fact tone and the inclusion of multicultural families makes this a good addition to public libraries.

5 Stars
Preschoolers, Ages 2-6

For more information on Robie Harris and her books, visit her web site

Monday, September 19, 2011

Inside Volcanoes by Melissa Stewart

Inside Volcanoes
by Melissa Stewart
illustrations by Cynthia Shaw
Sterling Children's Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781402781623
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her school library.

Volcanoes are a "hot" topic in my library. I like to use volcano books when I introduce research skills to younger students. The students are so enthused and curious about volcanoes, it makes generating questions and looking for answers fun for them and for me.

Melissa Stewart's newest nonfiction book, Inside Volcanoes, is full of interesting facts and amazing photographs that will entice even the most reluctant reader to pull up a chair and explore this book from cover to cover.

Inside Volcanoes is part of the Inside! series that features numerous fold-out pages. Arrows on the bottom of the pages direct readers where to fold out the pages. Stewart uses clear and concise language to describe different kinds of lava, different types of eruptions and how lava creates various landforms.
"When lava gushes out of a volcano, it's a sizzling 1,300 to 2,200 degrees F (700 to 1,200 C). That's six to ten times hotter than boiling water!"

Various volcanic eruptions around the world are also described, and Stewart incorporates first hand accounts from witnesses. Stunning photographs of volcanoes erupting will capture the attention of readers. One of the fold-out pages shows "before" and "after" photographs of Mount St. Helen. Students who love facts and trivia will linger on the fold-out page of a chart that lists the Volcanic Explosivity Index. The VEI is used to rate volcanoes from the least to the most explosive.

Shaw's diagrams and illustrations will help students understand the structure and causes of volcanoes. Maps are used effectively throughout the book to provide a geographic context to readers. Stewart includes information about volcanoes in space and under the ocean. A glossary, list of web sites, and bibliography are located in the back of the book.

Inside Volcanoes should be scooped up by teachers and librarians. The book would make an excellent science resource and a high interest read for middle grade students.

5 Stars
(Grades 3-6)

Other titles in the Inside! series
Inside Hurricanes
Inside Tornadoes
Inside Earthquakes
Inside Stars
Inside Dinosaurs
Inside Butterflies
Inside Human Body

Friday, September 16, 2011

Rah, rah, radishes! a vegetable chant! by April Pulley Sayre.

Rah, Rah, Radishes! a vegetable chant!
by April Pulley Sayre
Beach Lane Books. 2011
ISBN: 9781442421417
Reviewers copy of this book was checked out from the public library.

"Rah, rah, radishes!
Red and white.
Carrots are calling.
Take a bite!

So begins this lively ode to the many interesting, unusual, yet yummy veggies found in gardens, grocery stores and farmer's markets. Large color photos taken by the author show not just the usual varieties, but other kinds found throughout the world. We see bright orange carrots alongside heirlooms in deep reds and yellows. Eggplants, brussell sprouts, peas, corn and more! 

The book is great to use with all ages. A poetry unit with high school students. Elementary children will appreciate the fun while they are learning about good nutrition. Preschoolers will be clapping hands in story time. (Saying, "Yuck" to those vegetables they don't like). Rah, rah, radishes would be excellent for a Readers Theatre group!

After the parade of so many different vegetables, some I have not tasted, the chant nicely wraps up with,

Thank you, farmers.
Thank you, bees.
Sun and season, leaf and stalk.
Know them. Grow them!
Veggies Rock!

I heartily agree!

Salad anyone?

5 Stars
(all ages)

April Pulley Sayre has some suggestions for performing Rah, rah, radishes with students.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Labrador Retriever: Most Popular by Jessica Rudolph

Labrador Retriever: Most Popular
by Jessica Rudolph
Big Dogs Rule series
Bearport Publishing, 2012
ISBN 9781617723001
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from the publisher.

"Where are the dog books?" That question can be heard in my library many times each day. Kids love to read about pets, especially dogs. I was pleased to learn Bearport Publishing has published a new series, Big Dogs Rule. The series includes nonfiction books about German Shepards, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and more.

Labrador Retriever: Most Popular begins with the story of Pearl, a Lab that was rescued from an animal shelter and trained to locate people in disasters. Pearl used her training to locate people trapped in the rubble after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Rudolph outlines the history of Labrador retrievers and how they were used as fishing and hunting dogs due to their good sense of smell, ability to swim, strong bodies, and their instinct to retrieve. Other sections are devoted to Labs as guide dogs, competition dogs, and pets.

Colorful photographs of Labrador retrievers in action are placed throughout the book. Young readers will especially enjoy the photos of Lab puppies playing as well as the picture of a litter of pups snuggled up with their mother. Captions, bold print, and fact boxes (printed on dogs' tags) will aid readers as they navigate the text. An extensive glossary, index and bibliography are included in the back of the book. 

Labrador Retriever: Most Popular and the other books in the Big Dogs series will definitely meet the needs of pet lovers in your library or classroom.

4 stars
(Grades 2-5)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mysterious Bones: the story of the Kennewick Man by Katherine Kirkpatrick

Mysterious Bones: the story of the Kennewick Man
by Katherine Kirkpatrick; Illustrated by Emma Stevenson
Holiday House. 2011
ISBN: 9780823421879
Reviewer borrowed this book from the public library.

Ever since I learned of Atlantis and the Anasazis, I have been curious about ancient history. Therefore, when I saw Mysterious Bones on display at Holiday House's booth at the American Library Association's annual conference in NOLA, I couldn't wait to get back home to read it and find out how the Kennewick Man fit into the mystery of the Ancient Ones. This book is more than a forensic anthropological mystery. It also brings up the ongoing debate over who owns these ancient bones archeologist unearth. Do they belong to the scientists or the Native Americans who regard them as their ancestors.

The bones were accidentally discovered on the banks of the Columbia River in Kennewick, Washington on a Sunday afternoon, July 28, 1996. Through testing it was found these bones were of a man who lived 9,500 years ago. The bones, named The Kennewick Man, is the oldest skeleton every found in the Americas. Their discovery challenged the scientific community's theories on who our early ancestors were and where did they come from.

"The scientists continue to suggest that although Kennewick Man does not belong to any modern ethnic group, his bone measurements resemble those of Polynesians and the Ainu, a generally light-skinned (though not Caucasian) people. The Ainu are credited as being the first settlers of Japan."

Kirkpatrick's thoughtful treatment not only chronicles the finding of the bones, but also the ensuing nine year court battle between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Confederated Tribes, made up of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse peoples, who wanted the bones returned to the earth as soon as possible.

The book's design is uncluttered, yet there is a lot to see and read. Interspersed throughout the text are sidebars to help explain in more depth topics raised in the text. There are maps of "Migrations into the Americans".  Emma Stevenson's detailed illustrations, done in gouache on watercolor paper, are excellent and further enhance the reading experience.

Another sidebar about the Clovis Mystery states that the Clovis people lived two thousand years before Kennewick Man was born. "After inhabiting North America for about three hundred years" vanished.

This book is not something one can read quickly. It is thoughtful and meant to be read slowly so as to absorb all the fascinating details.

Includes glossary, time line, bibliography, research and source notes, and index.

5 stars
(grades 7 and up)
For those students who are curious.

Go to the author's web site to read about her experience writing of this book.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11, 2001: We Will Never Forget

September 11, 2001: We Will Never Forget
by Peter Benoit
Cornerstones of Freedom- Third Series
Children's Press an imprint of Scholastic, 2012
ISBN: 9780531250402
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the publisher.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Children's Press has released a revised edition of September 11, 2001: We Will Never Forget. Peter Benoit describes the tragic events that unfolded on September 11, 2001 and how America was changed forever. Chapters include "Attacked," "A Nation Responds," "The Face of Terror," and "Swift Action."

Various text features such as headings, captions, fact boxes, and bold print will help readers navigate this expository text. The book contains enough details for students who are researching the topic for a class assignment.

Photographs of the World Trade Center in flames, the aftermath at the Pentagon, and first responders covered in ash will capture the attention of young readers. Fact boxes are used throughout the book to highlight information about Osama Bin Laden, the response from abroad, and pros and cons of the Patriot Act.

Readers will find the hybrid map/timeline on page 52 helpful in visualizing how the events unfolded between 7:59 am and 10:28 am.  Benoit includes a list of four web sites that contain primary sources  (videos, newspaper articles, photos and eyewitness accounts) in the back of the book. A list of sources and a glossary are also available in the back.

September 11, 2001: We Will Never Forget would make a solid addition to an upper elementary or middle school library nonfiction collection. 

5 Stars
(Grades 5-8)

September 11: Then and Now by Peter Benoit is available for readers in grades 3-6.

Joyce Valenza shares 9/11 teaching resources on The Neverending Search blog:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We Are America: a Tribute from the Heart by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers

We Are America: A Tribute from the Heart
by Walter Dean Myers; Illustrations by Christopher Myers
Collins: an imprint of HarperCollins. 2011
ISBN: 9780060523084

In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2011, the question of "Who is an American" surfaced Immediately. People were being made to prove their loyalty. There was an increase in patriotic bumper stickers, American flags displayed on cars, homes and businesses, and, most upsetting of all was the vicious attacks on those deemed, UnAmerican. 

Walter Dean Myers states in his author's note that after 9/11 there "was a spate of patriotism centered on defining, to a large extent, what it meant to be an American. Many of the definitions were bothersome, if for no other reason than that they didn't seem to include me. I was not given to waving flags and I studiously avoided the jingoism that followed 9/11."

Myers decided to learn more about what made this country so great. He re-read the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers, and the Constitution. This collection of poems is his tribute to the United States. They reflect the core of what American is: a coming together of people regardless of race, religion, and ethnicity. The reason America is great is because of its diversity.

The poems work as a chronology of America's development. From Native Americans to the coming of Europeans and slaves. However way people arrived at these shores, all hoped for a better life.

Each double-page spread includes a poem and a quote that surrounds a large oil painting by Christopher Myers, Walter's son, that reflect the lines form the poems. 

"We were willing to die to forge our dream
Knowing it was not enough to simply be
We needed to create ourselves
In the image of the new mind…"

Here, we see African-Americans from the Civil Rights era being sprayed with a firehose while our forefathers are throwing tea overboard in Boston Harbor.  
With the quote by King George III granting the thirteen colonies the right "to be free, sovereign and independent states."

Included are backstory for each quotation and notes about the art. 

The Myers have created a loving tribute to our forefathers and their original concept of America, "a model for governments all over the world." Thought-provoking.

5 stars.
(Grades 5 up)
This book will have limited appeal. Though the poetry is moving, the book will be most useful for older grades studying American history.

Walter Dean and Christopher Myers discussing their book:

Walter Dean Myers reads from his book:

Monday, September 5, 2011

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell
by Don Brown
Actual Times series
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan) 2011
ISBN: 9781596436947
The reviewer purchased a copy of this book to review.

How does a country deal with tragedy? How do parents and teachers explain unfathomable events to children? Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, many adults attempted to shield children from seeing the images of the planes flying into the towers. We turned off the news when footage was broadcast, and we avoided discussing the events in the presence of our kids. The country was on edge, and we didn't want to scare our children.

Literature is an effective way to broach a tough subject with children. A number of children's books were published shortly after the events of 9/11 as a way to help children understand what had unfolded and to highlight good deeds by people who wanted to help a wounded country.  One book that comes to mind is Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman, published in 2002. Fireboat told the true story of a retired fireboat that was brought in to help put out the fires on Sept. 11, 2001.

The children of 2001 are now grown, and the majority of children in elementary school today were born after 2001. With the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11th now upon us, a new children's book aims to describe the devastating events to young readers. America Is Under Attack by Don Brown outlines the tragedy in a concise, chronological, narrative style that elementary school children will understand. The author pins down the events to the exact minute:

"Massive flames spewed from the tower. Wreckage rained down on the street. It was 9:03 AM, seventeen minutes after the strike on the North Tower. People now understood the earlier crash was not a freak accident, but a deliberate attack."

Brown's watercolor illustrations convey the serious tone of the story. One page shows black smoke pouring out of one of the towers while people stand on the building's steel beams waving for help. Shades of black, gray and dark blue are used to illustrate a fallen firefighter as he is carried away from the wreckage by four firefighters as others look on and salute. Readers will relate to the gravity of the story through these illustrations.

Brown does not gloss over the events that may be difficult for children to hear, but he also doesn't go into details that may scare children. He strikes just the right balance. An author's note in the back includes facts about the number of deaths in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville plane crash. A bibliography and list of source notes are also located in the back.

America is Under Attack fits the needs of many grade 3-6 libraries and classrooms. The book will educate a new generation of readers about September 11th without exploiting a tragedy that is still raw for many adults.

5 stars
(Gr. 3-6)

Teacher Vision Interview with Don Brown:

Teacher's Guide to America is Under Attack:

 America Is Under Attack was also reviewed by:
100 Scope Notes

Friday, September 2, 2011

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London by Andrea Warren

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London
by Andrea Warren
Houghton Mifflin, 2011
ISBN: 9780547395746

I enjoy reading the works of Charles Dickens. I will admit here on this blog that “A Tale of Two Cities” is my favorite of his many books. I believe it has the best opening paragraph of any book I’ve ever read (Well, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud runs a very close second) The fact that the paragraph is one sentence impressed me when Mrs. Young, my high school English teacher, read it aloud to us, and it still does today.

What is so funny is that in all these years since my first introduction to Dickens, I never knew about his childhood and how it influenced his writings. He made a tremendous impact on his society during, and after, the time he was alive.

This biography by Andrea Warren does a fine job of informing readers of that connection between his childhood trauma and his writing.

The first ten years of his life, Dickens had a very comfortable existence. His idyllic childhood ended abruptly at age 12. His father was in debt and sent to Marshalsea Prison. Charles went to work as a laborer in a factory that made the black polish for boots.

“Dickens’ job was to sit at a little table and tie string around small jars filled with blacking then paste a label on each one – tedious, repetitive tasks that he performed for ten hours a day, six days a week.”

Relief came after his grandmother died and left his father enough money to allow him to settle his debts.

While working in a law office, Dickens began his career as a writer. The Pickwick Papers was published in nineteen installments in 1846 and 1837. 

Londoners loved The Pickwick Papers. To Dickens’ amazed delight, readers were of every class. The highborn read it in the comfort of their elegant homes or private clubs, and the poorest pooled their pennies to buy a copy of each periodical and find someone to read it to them.”

Though this biography is mainly about the impact his books had on changing British society, the author does include Dickens’ strained relations with his wife and children.

Many interesting quotes are well placed throughout the book, as are prints and photos. It really is a good introduction to the celebrated author.

Warren also includes information on child labor, from Dickens time to the present, as well as ways readers can make a difference. This tome is well researched. Recommended web sites, selected bibliography and works consulted, along with documentation of quotes and an index are included.  What I didn’t see in the Advanced Reading Copy was a timeline.  I’m a big fan of timelines.

This was a readable biography. I don’t think children will be standing in line to check it out, but I do think if someone needs to read a biography for a class project, or you find someone interested in the author, this book is a good one to recommend.

5 Stars
(Grades 8 up)

Learn more about the author at