Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, October 31, 2011

Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra by David A. Adler

Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra
by David A. Adler
illustrated by Edward Miller
Holiday House, 2011
ISBN: 9780823422890
The reviewer received a review copy of the book from the Southern Maine Library District's examination collection.

Being a CYBILS judge has brought a number of books to my attention that I might have missed. One of those books nominated in the nonfiction picture book category if perfect for today.

Kids love Halloween! What’s not to love? There's candy corn, costumes, jack-o-lanterns, and scary stories. David Adler’s has a new nonfiction picture book just in time for Halloween. Set in a haunted house, Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra follows Mandy and Bill as they encounter algebraic equations involving ravens, bats, black cats and skeletons. Igor, the caretaker of the haunted house, provides tips to help the children solve each problem. Adler uses the example of a seesaw to represent an equation showing readers that each side must be balanced. New concepts are described in an kid-friendly language that makes algebraic concepts such as “mystery number” and “variable” accessible to young readers.

Miller’s deep blue, dark green, and black illustrations are perfect for the story and the Halloween theme. The goofy expressions on the skeletons’ faces and large eyes on the birds and cats make the “spooky” story non-threatening to youngsters. Directions are provided in the back for how to make your own scale using a coat hanger.

Mystery Math will attract kids looking for a good Halloween story, and teachers will be want to share it as a read aloud in math classes.

Other Math Books by David Adler and Edward Miller
Money Madness
Fun with Roman Numerals
Time Zones
Working with Fractions

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stuff that Scares your Pants Off! by Glenn Murphy

Stuff That Scares Your Pants Off: the science scoop on more than 30 terrifying phenomena!
by Glenn Murphy
Roaring Brook Press. 2011
ISBN: 9781596436336
Reviewer obtained the book from the public library.

Everyone, especially children, loves reading about Fear. It is our human nature to want to be scared and pump up our adrenalin. Stuff that Scares your Pants Off is a new book that promises to look at fears, "Where they come from, and how to work with them, live with them, and get around them." Murphy's hypothesis is that we are born with some fears (inborn) and others are learned behavior.

The book is divided into topics that are grouped into six chapters."Wild and Scary Wildlife", "Natural Disasters", Doctors, Dentists, and Deadly Diseases", "In the Unlikely Event", "In the Bad Place", and "The Unknown". Within those chapters the book is further broken down into specific fears. Chapter 4 is "In the Unlikely Event". It discusses the fear of flying, train derailment, a boat sinking, car crashes, and being struck by a car. The author presents a scenario (The Fear) and then explains "The Reality", "The Chances", and "The Lowdown".

The author, Glenn Murphy, (Why Is Snot Green?) writes in a chatty tone that makes readers feel as if they are having an intense, though somewhat quick-paced conversation. This book uses a combination of black & white drawings and photos, often with a lime green tinge, that mirrors the text. An explanation of The Fear and the Fear Facts are off-set in boxes from the rest of the information. 

A very minor complaint is that Murphy makes generalization, is a bit contradictory, and has a keen sense of the obvious.

"Although some sharks are quite definitely dangerous animals, many are completely harmless to humans." That is true. "Even the so-called man-eaters, like great white sharks, are not the bloodthirsty killers than movie directors would have us believe." 

Murphy goes on to explain that "while it's true that these sharks do occasionally attack swimmers and divers, it's almost always by mistake. Most attacks happen to divers who try to feed or prod sharks (not very bright) or surfers who fall off their boards and onto sharks, surprising them (just plain unlucky). Unprovoked shark attacks also happen, but usually to swimmers and surfers who, to a shark, happen to look a lot like seals or turtles from below -- a painful but honest mistake." 

Did you know that being struck by a car is a terrifying experience? The reality is that road-traffic accidents really are a serious danger. "Road-traffic accidents are so common that many of us have been in them, seen them firsthand, or at the very least know somebody who has been in one. And they're never a pretty sight…Luckily traffic accident victims are bounced clear of the car and escape with minor injuries like broken wrists or ribs. The less lucky ones crack their heads when they fall, bounce into other objects, or slip under the wheels of the vehicle -- all of which can prove fatal." 

Murphy's matter-of-fact, tongue-in-cheek, wise-guy tone will appeal to readers, especially those who love facts.

Plus it touts a way cool cover. 

4 Stars
(Grades 5 up)

For more information about Glenn Murphy, visit his web site. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Search of Sasquatch by Kelly Milner Halls

In Search of Sasquatch 
by Kelly Milner Halls
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011
ISBN: 9780547257617
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

October is the perfect month to read about mysterious happenings and strange occurrences. The children in my school love to explore the 000 shelf in the nonfiction section. They are usually in search of books about UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot. Kelly Milner Halls, author of Tales of the Cryptids, has written a new book that is sure to satisfy inquiring minds.

In Search of Sasquatch aims to answer the question: Is Bigfoot Real? Milner interviewed numerous experts (anthropologists, biologists, and investigators) and everyday people in search of proof of Sasquatch's existence. Color photographs accompany stories of Bigfoot sightings and ancient artifacts. Young readers will enjoy learning how investigators use plaster to make casts of footprints found in the wild. Another section describes how to set up a Sasquatch field expedition.

After describing eyewitness accounts and outlining the evidence, the author points out a number of hoaxes that were widely publicized in the past. One hoax was pulled off by two men using an expensive ape costume.  In the end, Halls leaves it up to the reader to decide if Bigfoot is real. A map showing Sasquatch sightings is included in the back of the book along with a list of additional resources, and an extensive bibliography. Believers and skeptics alike will enjoy reading this fascinating book about the mystery of Sasquatch.

4 Stars
(Grades 4-8)

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Mysteries of Angkor Wat: exploring Cambodia's ancient temple by Richard Sobol

The Mysteries of Angkor Wat: exploring Cambodia's ancient temple
Richard Sobol wrote the text and took the photos
Candlewick Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780763641665
Book obtained from the public library.

Angkor Wat was built in 1100 CE by the Khmer people of Cambodia. It is the largest religious monument still in existence. The crumbling ruins are visited each year by millions of tourists. For years, Richard Sobol, an award winning photographer, dreamed of visiting Angkor Wat. "I wondered what mysteries waited for me inside those ancient walls."
This book is another entry in Sobol's Traveling Photographer series. (The Life of Rice: from seedling to supper, 2010)

It must be difficult to know what pictures you will need before writing the text of a book, yet the photographs in this book are spot-on. Sobol has a terrific eye for what is appealing to children. In almost every photo he not only gives us a visual of this ancient temple, but he includes children as well. Happy Cambodian children smiling from every picture. We learn that for these children, Angkor Wat is not only their playground, a place for them to explore, but also a means for income. 

"When we arrived at the entrance, the first thing I noticed was a group of children selling T-shirts, scarves, postcards, wooden flutes, and beaded bracelets to groups of tourists." 

Sobol's guide, John Teng explained "because more than two million tourists visit Angkor Wat each year, the children who live near the temple sell souvenirs in order to make a little extra money for their families."

The children also learn English at their school to aid them in communicating with these tourists. The children quizzed Sobol on the capitals of our states. "These kids remembered them all…way better than I did!"

This book is a beautiful travel log that gives some historical background on the temple. I loved how Sobol emphasized that though the carvings on the walls showed images of what everyday life was like during the time of the Khmer people, he noticed that it also reflected a contemporary Cambodia as well. It is obvious looking at the photographs that Sobol truly loves this part of the world. 

Children interested in the world's ancient wonders will find this book a good jumping off place to learn more about Cambodia.

4 Stars
(Grades 4 up)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart

For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart
by Elizabeth Rusch
Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Tricycle Press, 2011
ISBN: 9781582463261
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her public library.

One of the many things I enjoy about nonfiction is how authors can take a topic that is widely-known and shed new light upon it. For the Love of Music: The Remarkable Story of Maria Anna Mozart was recently nominated for a CYBILS award, so I checked out a copy from my local library. I thought I had a solid understanding of the life of Wolfgang Mozart and his music, but I had no idea his sister was a musical genius.

Rusch organizes the story into movements so that it mirrors a sonata. The subject of this picture biography is Wolfgang Mozart's sister, Maria Anna Mozart, also known as Nannerl. Maria was a prodigy on the piano, her young brother admired her skills on the piano. When Wolfgang was older, the siblings traveled across Europe performing for kings, queen, dukes and duchesses. As the children matured, Maria was left behind while Wolfgang and his father went on tour. Wolfgang became the center of attention while Maria was left at home; it was not appropriate for a young woman to perform in public. Yet, Maria didn't give up on music. Maria collaborated with her brother to compose symphonies. She kept playing, for the love of music, even after she married and had children of her own.

The intricate illustrations reflect the time period. Fabric is layered to form borders on many pages. The fabric, paper, oil and acrylic illustrations create rich textures on each page. Manuscript paper displaying musical notes is used throughout the illustrations including on carriages, pianos, wallpaper, and stone archways. An author's note with more details about Maria's life is included in the back of the book. A bibliography lists the books, letters, and interviews that Rusch used during her research.

This is a book that is meant to be read together, to be shared and savored. Teachers, librarians and parents, take note, it would make an excellent read aloud and would lead to interesting discussions about history, music, and art. Even though this is not a book that students will be clamoring to check out, it's a gorgeous book that deserves a spot in a biography collection.

5 Stars
(Gr. 2-5)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
Joyce Sidman; Pictures by Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin, 2011
ISBN: 9780547315836
This reviewer checked out the book from the public library.

Newbery Honor winner, Joyce Sidman is a demanding poet. Over and over again, she has asked her readers to slow down and observe the natural world around them. And, oh, my,  Joyce shows us just how many wonders are out there waiting for children -- and adults -- to discover. 

For my children and me, Sidman's books bring back happy memories. With Song of the Water Boatman and other Pond Poems we talked about the hours spent watching the goings on at a marshy pond that was just down the road from our house when we lived on a Maine island. Every day throughout the year we would visit the pond to track the changes. Tadpoles turning into frogs that became a tasty lunch for the Great Blue Heron. 

While reading Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night we were reminded of the time, very late one night, when we were awoken to the sound of four Great Horned Owls. They were in the trees that surrounded our house; one Owl in each of the four directions. For a time we could hear nothing but their hoots. Seeing Rick Allen's illustrations had us speculating again what it was those owls were hunting.  A mouse? 

Now, in Swirl by Swirl, Sidman asks us to look hard to find swirls. The poetry is simple, making a book to share with a younger audience. Especially, those children just learning about the wonders of outdoors.

The book begins in winter with hues of gray and purple. Beth Krommes (2009 Caldecott winner) gives us a cut-away view of a harvest mouse, a bull snake, a woodchuck, and an eastern chipmunk all curled up safely sleeping underground.

"A spiral is a snuggling shape. It fits in small places. Coiled tight, warm and safe, it waits...

Turn the page and with an explosion of color we see the same animals awakening in spring.

"...for a chance to expand." 

Spirals are not only shapes of animals, spirals show growth as a fern unfurls. Spirals in the shape of a Ram's horn to defend, and a common octopus uses its spirals -- found at the end of its tentacles -- to reach out,

"exploring the world." 

Krommes illustrations are done on scratchboard. They bring Sidman's words to life. My favorite is the picture of the tornado as,
"It twists through air with clouds on its tail." 

As in her other books, Sidman includes a scienitific explanation for each entry. Here, those informative paragraphs are in the back of the book. 

Well done, Sidman and Krommes (Butterfly Eyes and other Secrets of the Meadow) for crafting another exquisite book to savor. 

6 Stars
All ages.

To see those luscious illustrations and see the book, watch the book trailer. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Worst-Case Scenario Survive-O-Pedia: Junior Edition

The Worst-Case Scenario Survive-O-Pedia: Junior Edition 
by David Borgenicht, Molly Smith, Brendan Walsh and Robin Epstein
illustrated by Chuck Gonzales
Chronicle Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780811876902
The reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the Southern Maine Library District's examination collection.

I have a loyal group of nonfiction readers (ages 8-10) who come into the library each week in search of The Guinness World Records. If all of the Guinness books are checked out, then they will check out The Scholastic Book of Records or The Dangerous Book for Boys. Now there's a new general knowledge book that will have reluctant readers asking for more. The creators of The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook have published The Worst Case Scenario Survive-O-Pedia, a survival guide for elementary school children.

The book is actually an encyclopedia with entries organized alphabetically. Each two-page spread features a topic that middle grade readers will find fascinating. Some of the subjects covered include airplane crashes, bull running, Komodo dragons, polar bears, and avalanches. General information about each topic is organized into paragraphs with headings, making the text accessible to young readers. A fact box with "how to" information provides instructions for what to do in each dangerous situation. If you want to avoid a crocodile attack, then stay away from croc infested water, run away, or punch the croc in the snout. The authors provide information about each event or animal without inciting fear in young readers.

Readers will be drawn to the combination of colorful photographs and cartoon drawings that illustrate each article. Boxes containing "Fast Facts" will thrill the trivia buffs in your library. For example, "The box jellyfish or sea wasp (found off the northern Australian coast) kills more people than any other marine creature each year."

I was a bit surprised that the entry about being lost on a mountain never mentions looking for trail markers. We have a lot of hiking trails in New England, and periodically hikers become lost. The best advice is to try to stay on or near the marked trail until help arrives. The entry on shipwrecks never mentions wearing floatation devices or using a marine radio to call for help.

Despite a few oversights in the survival advice, the book is sure to excite reluctant readers. Teachers and librarians may want to select pages to read aloud to classes as a springboard for research. The Worst Case Scenario Survive-O-Pedia would make a popular addition to the 031s (general knowledge). Beware, you'll need to start a waiting list once the kids see it!

3+ Stars
(grades 3-6)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick

Using the graphic novel format, Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick have partnered to create an engaging and completely accessible biography of the world famous physicist, Richard P. Feynman (1918 – 1988)

Feynman is known for his involvement creating the atomic bomb, his work on the panel to investigate the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and how he popularized science in his lectures and books. (The Meaning of it all: Thoughts of a citizen scientist, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, and his autobiography, "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a curious character.)

This book, told as if Feynman himself were narrating, chronicles his important life work and his personal relationships, such as his first wife, Arline. They met in 1931, became engaged in 1939, and were married in 1942. She suffered from tuberculosis and, while Feynman was working with Robert Oppenheimer developing the Atomic Bomb that would end World War Two, Arline's health deteriorated until she died in June of 1945.

The illustrations are expressive and capture the mood and changing times during Feynman’s life.

This highly readable biography introduces to Young Adults one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century.

The authors include an "almost complete" bibliography.

Highly recommended.
6 Stars
(Grades 8 up)

For more information about Richard P. Feyman.

There are several movies of Richard P. Feyman on Youtube.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Baby Mammoth Mummy: Frozen in Time! by Christopher Sloan

Baby Mammoth Mummy: Frozen in Time! A Prehistoric Animal's Journey into the 21st Century
by Christopher Sloan
in cooperation with Bernard Buigues
photography by Francis Latreille
National Geographic Society, 2011
ISBN: 9781426308659
The reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her school library.

When I look across the shelves in the nonfiction collection in my library I notice three types of books. There are the books that fill a gap in the collection, but they don't circulate often. There are "reseearch" books that students check out when they're completing an assignment for school (states, countries, ecosystems, animals, explorers, etc...). Finally, there are the popular nonfiction books that students check out week after week. In my school library some of the popular nonfiction topics are rocks & minerals, dinosaurs, how to care for pets, sharks, World War II, and survival techniques. I'm constantly looking for new nonfiction titles, and I wasted no time in ordering Baby Mammoth Mummy! for the information connoisseurs in my library.

Ice Age meets Technology Age as scientists use cutting edge tools to study a recently discovered baby mammoth in Baby Mammoth Mummy: Frozen in Time! The book is divided into three sections: "The Discovery," "The Investigation," and "Lyuba's World." The first chapter describes the Nenets of the Yamal Peninsula of Siberia. The Nenets are nomadic and rely on reindeer for food and clothes.  It's common for the Nenets to unearth mammoths in the region when the permafrost thaws. Sloan includes a Nenet myth about mammoths in the first chapter, showing how important mammoths are to the Nenet culture.

Yuri Khudi, a Nenet herder, discovered a baby frozen mammoth in the permafrost one day while hunting in 2007. Christopher Sloan writes in a descriptive and accessible style that will engage readers.

"As Yuri and his sons stood around the little body lying on the sandbar, they were shocked by what they had found: a perfectly preserved baby woolly mammoth. It was frozen solid."

Sloan makes the story palatable to young readers by including anecdotes about the discovery of the mammoth. Readers will find it interesting that when Yuri left to get assistance from a friend and to contact the Yar Sale museum, his cousin took the mammoth. Yuri returned to find the mammoth missing! Luckily, the mammoth was retrieved from Yuri's cousin with assistance from the police. Dogs had chewed off the mammoth's tail and an ear, but the body was in good shape.

A team of scientists from Japan, Russia and the United States worked together to study Lyuba. (The name Lyuba means "love" in Russian.) The scientists were amazed by the small size of the mammoth: 33 inches high and 110 lbs in weight. Using radiocarbon testing, the scientists determined that Lyuba lived 42,000 years ago.

The research team packed Lyuba in dry ice and plastic bags to fly it to Japan for CT scans. Every inch of the mammoth was studied and tested including its teeth. Dentin from the teeth help provide clues about the food and plants available during the Ice Age. Researchers pieced together data to determine that Lyuba died from drowning in the mud.

Amazing photographs compliment the story of Lyuba. One photo shows the frozen mammoth being loaded onto an airplane. In another photo, a team of scientists dressed in sterile suits and masks insert a probe into the mammoth's body. Science-minded readers will be interested in the CT scan that shows Lyuba's bones and muscles.

Maps, a timeline, and a page about the order of Proboscidea (elephants, mammoths, and mastadons) provide additional information for curious students. The final chapter uses illustrations and photographs to show readers what life was like for mammoths during the Ice Age. 

Baby Mammoth Mummy: Frozen in Time! would make an interesting read aloud for a middle grade science class or an independent reading book for fans of nonfiction. It's sure to be scooped up by readers interested in science, technology and history.

5 stars
(Grades 4-8)