Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, November 28, 2011

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

Coral Reefs
by Jason Chin
Flash Point (an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) 2011
ISBN: 9781596435636

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her school library.

Jason Chin's book, Redwoods, was well received by readers and reviewers when it was published in 2009.  Combining elements of fantasy with facts about redwood forests was an imaginative way to share a nonfiction story. Chin's new book is created in the same style, and it's sure to delight readers. 

From first glance at the title page, you know it's going to be good. A girl reaches onto a shelf in a library and pulls out a book titled Coral Reefs. As the girl opens the nonfiction book and begins to read, coral mysteriously appears on the library tables. She is so engrossed in the book that she doesn't even notice the reef that is growing around her until water and marine creatures rush through the library window.  Soon the girl is swimming with tropical fish. Each page transports readers deeper and deeper into the coral reef.

As in Redwoods, the text is written in an expository form instead of a narrative. The story takes on a whimsical feel because of the illustrations while the text sticks to the facts. Although the picture book format will appeal to younger readers, the text is more accessible to upper elementary readers.

"Many of the relationships are between predator and prey. Corals eat plankton, tiny organisms that float through the water. The polyps use their tentacles to catch the plankton so they can eat it."

Chin's watercolor illustrations are amazing. Readers will want to linger on each page to appreciate the details: the fish painted on the library's ceiling, the crab sitting at the girl's feet, the sharks pictured from a distance through the library windows. The depth and richness of illustrations will make readers feel as if they are swimming in a coral reef.

In an author's note in the back, Chin explains that he traveled to Belize to do research for the book. As the book concludes, even the end papers feature illustrations of coral reef creatures. Coral Reefs is a beautiful book that will take readers on a real adventure.

5 stars
(Grades 1-4)

Here's a blog post written by Jason Chin that describes the process he used to create the illustrations:


Friday, November 25, 2011

Tornado! the story behind these twisting, turning, spinning, and spiraling storms by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin

Tornado! the story behind these twisting, turning, spinning, and spiraling storms
Judith Bloom Fradin & Dennis Brindell Fradin
National Geographic Kids, 2011

I've always been fascinated by tornadoes. I grew up in the Midwest where tornadoes were frequent. Though I never actually saw a tornado, I can assure you that we did have regular tornado drills in school and at home. So when I saw this book on the 2011 CYBILS middle school/young adult nonfiction list, I couldn't wait to read it. The Fradin's, husband and wife writing team, have put together a really exciting book about nature's most violent storms. 

The book's dynamic design will immediately hook readers. The Fradin's begin with a brief recounting of the worst tornado on U.S. soil. It was in Greensburg, Kansas on May 4, 2007 that a tornado with 200-mile-per-hour winds struck. 

"I felt our house lifting away -- I felt the suction, the pulling," recalls Janice Haney, a Greensburg resident. "I thought we were going to be lifted away. It only lasted two or three minutes for the tornado to go over. After it passed, our house was gone and we had no stairs left to climb up out of our basement." 

The thrust of the book is not only how destructive tornadoes are, but also the incredible impact the science of predicting tornadoes has had on saving lives. 

We read about how storm chasers risk their lives to test new technology that helps predict a tornado's path and intensity, and the author's explain the Fujita Scale that rates the strength and estimated wind speed.  (An EF5 tornado has wind speeds of more than 200 mph)

"A typical twister lasts for less than 15 minutes and travels along the ground for about six miles before fizzling out." 

Did you know that people who survive a tornado have sore ears? It is because of the twister's lower air pressure "the pressure inside the ears become greater than the pressure outside of the body. This sucks the eardrums outwards, which is painful." 

The book's design is really appealing. It looks like a collage of interesting facts, photos, and text. National Geographic reputation for stunning photos is evident here. Wow! I  I was particularly drawn to the photo that spans two pages, (page 18-19) It shows a twister racing across the Texas plains. It is huge next to the itty-bitty house you can see in the foreground.  

Libraries, both school and public, looking to add vibrant books about weather, which are fund in the 551area, will not want to miss out on this book.

5 Stars
(Grades 5 and up)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Balloons Over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Balloons Over Broadway: The true story of the puppeteer of Macy's Parade
Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 2011
ISBN: 9780547199450
A copy of the book was sent to this reviewer by the publisher. (Thank you)

6 Stars (All ages)

Balloons Over Broadway is the latest creation from Caldecott Honor winner, (and we are proud to say a Maine resident) Melissa Sweet.  Using her signature collage illustrations colored with vibrant pastels, one feels immediately drawn to this episodic explanation of how Anthony "Tony" Frederick Sarg's contribution to the Macy's Day Parade made it a annual holiday event.

Who was Tony Sarg? (his name rhymes with aargh) He was a master puppeteer who, along with his staff, was responsible for creating the puppets that make the Macy’s Day Parade so thrilling. The book’s momentum is exciting. Keep in mind this book is not a biography of Tony Sarg. Rather, it is a brief history of how the Macy’s Day Parade came to be. I found it interesting that the initial reason for having the parade was for the people working at Macy’s.

“Many of the people working at Macy’s were immigrants, and as the holidays approached, they missed their own holiday traditions of music and dancing in the streets. Macy’s agreed to put on a parade for their employees, and they hired Tony to help.”

Sweet relays just how creative and persistent Sarg was in his pursuit to create the best, most entertaining puppets for the parade so that everybody could see them. 

"What if the controls were below and the puppet could rise up?" 

This book is really beautiful and deserves a place on every library shelf. Sweet explains that to create the art in this book she began by making toys and puppets, some of which you can see throughout the book. She wanted to convey a sense of having fun. Sarg's "legacy reminds me that 'play' may be the most important element in making art." 

Balloons Over Broadway has received starred reviews from a variety of professional journals that is well-deserved. Sweet is a versatile and extremely talented artist. The combination of text and illustrations is perfect. The book is full of energy and the smiling faces of the crowds and puppets with the bright colors begs frequent readings.

Children of all ages, and adults as well, will find much to enjoy.

NOTE: A cool fact found in the author's note states that Tony could not have accomplished all he did without his talented apprentices. "Bill Baird later created the puppets for "The Lonely Goatherd" marionette show featured in the movie The Sound of Music. (And one of Baird's apprentices was Jim Henson, who invented the Muppets.)" 

NOTE: Though this in no way diminishes the quality of the book, it is a shame some of the historical detail, such as the discrepancy of Sarg’s year of birth and what was his country of origin wasn't clarified within the text or in an author’s note. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wideness & Wonder: the life and art of Georgia O'Keefe by Susan Goldman Rubin

Wideness & Wonder: the life and art of Georgia O'Keefe
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Chronicle Books. 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8118-6983-6
This reviewer obtained a copy of the book from her local public library.

5 Stars (Grades 6 and up)

In a few short months the middle and high school students who frequent my public library will be on the hunt for a biography for a class project. Most of them will ask for books about movie or sports stars, but there is always a few who are interested in something different. I believe this biography of Georgia O’Keefe will be quite satisfactory. 

When I first saw Susan Goldman Rubin’s book on Georgia O’Keefe, I thought, “Do we really need another biography about Georgia O’Keefe?” Marketed as a book for Young Adults, I wasn’t sure they would care to know about one of Twentieth Century’s famous masters of art. I was so wrong. After reading Rubin’s book thru twice I say, "Yes! We do need this particular biography and Young Adults will find much to inspire them."

The Georgia O’Keefe I knew was through the camera lenses of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. She seemed intense, unsmiling, and remote. I had difficulty connecting that image with those large, colorful, and quite breathtaking paintings she produced. How could this woman who looked so severe and wore black clothing be able to see (and I’m talking about seeing with an artist’s eye) all the amazing flowers, bones, and landscapes she painted in such vivid colors? 
In very short chapters, many only 3 or 4 pages in length, Rubin gives an excellent overview of this amazing woman. Born on November 15, 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia was the second oldest of seven children. She possessed a sense of humor, was loyal to her siblings and friends, and from early on possessed a strong desire to draw what she saw. Though her household may have been hectic, happily her parents, along with many teachers, recognized Georgia’s talent and encouraged it.
Growing up at a time when women did not have a career, but married and devoted themselves to raising children, O’Keefe bucked tradition. She went to college, supported herself with a variety of jobs, lived on her own, and continued to pursue her deep desire to be an artist; to support herself with her art. 

Rubin has written many award winning books about artists (Andy Warhol: pop art painter) Here, she speaks frankly on the relationship between O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz, 23 years her senior, and his influence on her career. 

The book's emphasis on O'Keefe's dedication to her art will be especially appealing to Young Adults. Also, the design that has black text on pages that alternate in colors and is loaded with photos of O’Keefe and reproductions of her paintings. It is refreshing to read how Georgia shunned the glamorous life in NYC and all the other trappings of stardom in order to paint. She lived and breathed painting. 

This is in no way a comprehensive biography. However, it will satisfy the dreaded biography assignment, yet offers so much more. It will whet their appetite and give them someone else to emulate besides Kristen Stewart or Rob Pattinson.

To see O'Keefe's paintings visit the O'Keefe Museum
Watch Georgia talk about her work and her love of New Mexico.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness

Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness
by Donn Fendler with Lynn Plourde
illustrated by Ben Bishop
Downeast Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780892729456
The reviewer purchased a copy of this book at an independent book store.

Here's the story: A twelve year-old boy from Rye, New York is stranded on Mount Katahadin, Maine's highest mountain, for nine days in 1939. He's alone and has no supplies, yet he miraculously lives to tell his story. It sounds like a work of fiction, yet it's all true.

                          Photo of Mount Katahdin taken by the reviewer in Baxter State Park

For decades school children across the state of Maine have learned about Donn Fendler's harrowing tale of survival as they read Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Joseph Egan & Don Fendler. It's the kind of story that grips readers right up until the end. Children's book author, Lynn Plourde, and Donn Fendler have collaborated to create Lost Trail: Nine Days Alone in the Wilderness, a new nonfiction graphic novel based on Donn's experiences. The graphic novel format which is ideal for conveying the emotions and adventure of Donn's story.

Lost Trail begins before the hiking trip to Mount Katahdin as twelve year-old Donn, his father, brothers and cousins pack up the family car and head out to Baxter State Park for a weekend of camping, fishing and hiking. Being from New York, Donn is not as familiar with the Maine outdoors as his cousins.Yet, Donn is excited about the camping trip.

Bishop's black and white illustrations bring the story to life.  Bishop skillfully illustrates the land and animals of Baxter State Park. The drawings of wind, sleet and expression on Donn's face depict the severity of the storm on the mountain that scared Donn and made him decide to leave his cousin Henry to go in search of his father. That decision would prove to be Donn's biggest mistake.

Plourde spent a great deal of time talking with Donn about his memories from 1939, and she uses her gift of storytelling and Donn's own words to piece together an exciting tale. During the nine days, Donn injured his toe, was plagued by black flies, fought off hunger, and encountered a black bear. Readers gain a sense of the loneliness Donn faced in the wilderness through the text and illustrations. Newspaper clippings from The Bangor Daily News are interspersed effectively throughout the story to provide readers with a window into the rescue efforts and how Donn's family and the outside world reacted to the tragedy.

The story doesn't end with the rescue; it goes on to describe what happened to Donn after his ordeal (parades, a book, and a visit to the White House). The final panel of the books shows Donn as an adult sitting in a chair on his porch offering advice to readers:
"Trust in yourself, hold onto hope, and believe even if there's no sane reason to believe. And you'll be a better person because you did. I know I am."

Lost Trail will capture the attention of middle grade readers and it's sure to engage reluctant readers. It would make an excellent addition to juvenile graphic novel collections.

5 Stars
(Grades 3-6)

Lynn Plourde, Donn Fendler and Ben Bishop discuss The Lost Trail on WCSH 6.
From You Tube: Footage of Donn Fendler's rescue and reunion with his family.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Is the End of the World Near? by Ron Miller

Is the End of the World Near? from crackpot predictions to scientific scenarios
by Ron Miller
Twenty-First Century Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780761373964
Reviewer obtained a copy from the public library.

I will admit that I am a huge fan of anything about ancient civilizations, the theory that alien astronauts populated our planet, and “end of the world” literature. I’ve read The Book of the Hopi by Frank Waters, Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken and the Earth Chronicles by Zecharia Sitchin, to name a few. I can’t really explain why I find it fascinating, yet I love to sit outside on summer nights looking up at the stars and wonder what came before us. Will our civilization end as abruptly as, say the Anasazi, those who inhabited Chaco Canyon or the people who lived in the underground city of Derinkuyu in Turkey?  After reading this book, I don’t see our future being as bleak as painted in dystopian novels.

Ron Miller, is an author who specializes in writing books about Science, especially Space and Astronomy. His knowledge is evident here as he gives us a scientific explanation to some non-scientific predictions. This book covers many of the more well known theories of how the world will end.  Using a down-to-earth tone, the author never rising into hysteria. Miller takes each theory and after briefly introducing it, he then gives a thorough explanation of why it isn’t likely to happen. 

The end-of-the-world scenarios covered include: December 21, 2012, horrific weather, the sun will die, diseases, a nuclear disaster, or an asteroid will collide with earth. 

Colorful illustrations and photographs make the writing come alive, with many illustrations done by the author.

When talking about nuclear war, Miller points out, “ most fact-based world-ending disasters are thousands, millions, and even billions of years in the future. They will not impact our lives or those of our children, or their children. But it is important for us to think about things happening on Earth right now – things that directly affect the quality of life on this planet and things that we can do something about'" such as stopping wars and being active by doing all we can to end global warming.

The well-documented book includes: table of contents, epilogue, timeline of events that were thought of as end-of-the-world scenarios, glossary, source notes, selected bibliography, further reading, films, and websites, and an index.

This book is excellent and a good addition to libraries. Teens will find it fascinating and reassuring at the same time. 

5 Stars
(Grades 8 and up)

Monday, November 7, 2011

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World
by Giles Laroche
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011
ISBN: 9780547238920

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

November is Picture Book Month. In honor of the occasion we've reviewed beautiful picture book to share with young readers this month.

Many classes in my elementary school, from Kindergarten through fifth grade, study countries from around the world. Examining architecture is a fascinating way to explore similarities and differences between cultures, so I was eager to get my hands on If You Lived Here: Houses of the World.

The illustrations are definitely the main event in this nonfiction picture book. Laroche uses bas-relief cut-paper collage to illustrate homes from different parts of the world. Each two-page spread features a home and its surroundings. The inhabitants of the home are pictured outside taking part in chores or recreational activities. The layers of paper in different colors and textures add a depth to the illustrations that make them feel three-dimensional at times.

A paragraph describing what it would be like "If you lived here..." accompanies each illustration. Facts about the type of home, material, location, and time period are located in the same text box.

"If you lived here, you would step directly from your front door onto a boat to go to school."
(Venetian Palace in Venice, Italy)

The 15 dwellings described in the book include a stilt house from Chile, a chateau from France, and a Yurt from Mongolia. It would be helpful to readers if the location of each home was printed in bold print or used as a heading on each page. As I was savoring each intricately crafted collage, I wanted to know: What is the location of this home? I had to read through a page of small print to figure out the location. This won't be a problem for older readers (grades 3-5), but it may prove difficult for younger readers.

A map in the back of the book matches the homes to the region of the world. Children may want to compare book to a world atlas since countries or continents are not labelled on the map in the book.  Europe and North America are heavily represented in the book; South America and Africa are each represented one time (stilt house from Chile and decorated house from South Africa).

Children will enjoy the amazing illustrations in If You Lived Here, and teachers will want to read it aloud as part of social studies or art classes. This is a book that you can read again and again, and each time you'll notice something new. It could serve as a starting point for discussions about culture and how people live in different parts of the world.

4+ stars
(Grades K-5)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Digging for Troy: from Homer to Hisarlik by Jill Rubalcaba and Eric H. Cline

Digging for Troy: from Homer to Hisarlik
by Jill Rubalcaba and Eric H. Cline
Charlesbridge. 2011
ISBN: 9781580893268
Copy reviewed was obtained from the public library

It´s amusing how certain stories go in and out of favor. I want to blame technology eating up more and more of our free time, but I'm not sure that’s fair. I only know that every day I talk with parents who have never read the classic tales of King Arthur, Robin Hood, or the Greek myths. Those classic tales. “I’ve seen the movie, I didn’t know it was also a book!”
Thankfully, with the publication of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, children are once again begging for any book about Greek gods and goddesses. My library's copy of D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths is hardly ever on the shelf! Students also gobble up George O´Connor´s titles: Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess and Zeus: King of the Gods
Once children are introduced to the adventures of these oft-times bothersome deities, I then steer them to books about the Trojan War. I hand them Rosemary Suttcliff´s Black Ships  Before Troy: the story of the Iliad, The Wanderings of Odysseus: the story of the Odyssey or Gareth Hinds graphic novel about The Odyssey. Both excellent introductions to the Homeric epic.
There have been people throughout history. regular folk and historians alike, who have wondered if the Greek gods and the Trojan War really existed. Digging for Troy (a CYBILS nominee) written by author Jill Rubalcaba and Eric H. Cline, PhD. who holds degrees in Classical Archaeology, Near Eastern Archaeology, and Ancient History, have written a readable introduction that offers mythology fans a brief overview about the Trojan War and the people who made it their life´s work to find it.
In the introduction the author´s write:
"All of the archaeologist, professional and amateur, understood that
the mound they were digging through was composed of many layers built
up over time by human occupation after human occupation. There was no
one Troy, but many versions spanning from 3000 BCE through the fall
of the Roman Empire. Each archaeologist refined our understanding of
the layers, which were labeled Troy I-IX, until those 9 phases were
subdivided into 47 occupations, each formed by rebuilding after
destruction, invasion, or abandonment."
Digging began in 1893 with the egotistical Heinrich Schliemann, whose obsession with finding the "real Troy" lead him to destroy many important artifacts. The ones who came after were meticulous with their digging. German archaeologist Manfred Korfmann is responsible for establishing Hisarlik, the area in Turkey where the digging has taken place, into a national park.
Did he find Troy? You’ll have to read this book to find out.
The book, packed with lots of information, is filled with illustrations and photos. This book has a timeline of Troy(I love it!), a bibliography, web sites, source notes, illustration and photo credits, and an index.
Children who wonder if the Greek gods were real, and whether the Trojan war really happened, will be able to make their own decision. The book is a perfect companion for any display or book talk related to the Greek myths.

5 Stars
(Grades 4 and up)