Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Way Cool Drinks

Way Cool Drinks
by Marilyn LaPenta
Bearport Publishing, 2011
ISBN # 9781617721632
Library Binding
(from the Yummy Tummy Recipes series)
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

I am constantly in search of quality children's cookbooks for the library. The cookbook section of my K-5 library is usually bustling with activity; I find that boys and girls of all ages love to check out cookbooks. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find cookbooks that appeal to kids while also being durable enough to stand up in a library collection. Spiral bound cookbooks last only a few check outs in my library before the pages begin to fall out. My ideal children's cookbook has library binding, colorful pictures, clear instructions and recipes that kids will actually eat. Way Cool Drinks has all of that and more!

Last week turned out to be stifling hot with temperatures in the triple digits. It also turned out to be the perfect time to test out some recipes from Way Cool Drinks. The cookbook contains 14 different drink  recipes and begins with an explanation of why making your own food is more healthy than buying pre-made food at the store. A list of safety tips and tools needed to make the recipes is also located in the front of the book.

Nutrition is a focus of the book without sounding preachy.  Most recipes include fresh fruit, and the author includes tips for making some recipes healthier like substituting sorbet for sherbet in the Red Lava Volcano recipe. Each recipe includes a colorful photo of the drink, lists of ingredients and tools needed. The recipes only require between 3 and 6 ingredients, and the directions are written in a clear manner that children will understand. Some steps involve help from an adult like cutting up watermelon or using a blender.

Readers will enjoy the food trivia located in fact boxes at the bottom of each page.

"A cluster of 10 to 20 bananas is called a hand. Each banana is known as a finger."

The photographs throughout the book make the drinks look amazing, but do they taste as good as they look? I enlisted the help of my nine year-old son to help with the testing. First, we tried the Spring Berry Fling, which involved only three ingredients: raspberries, yogurt and ice cubes. My son carefully read the directions, measured and poured. After blending the ingredients together, we tasted our nutritious drink. It was delicious!

We also enjoyed the Summer Slushy with fresh watermelon and the Blueberry Bash Smoothie. My favorite drink that we tested was the Red Lava Volcano which involved seltzer bubbling up over the edge of the glass when a scoop of sherbet was stirred into the drink. Luckily, the first step of the recipe instructed us to put a plate under the glass to catch the overflow. Not only was the drink spectacular to watch, but it was really refreshing to drink, and it only required three ingredients. This would be a fun drink to serve at a child's birthday party.

                                    Red Lava Volcano prepared by the reviewer

A glossary of terms is included in the back of the book along with a page of healthy tips for readers. There are three other titles in the Yummy Tummy Recipes series: Artful Snacks, Cool Cookies, and Super Wiches. Way Cool Drinks hits the mark with its colorful photos, simple recipes, clear directions and library binding. I highly recommend it to librarians and parents looking for simple and healthy recipes that kids will enjoy making and drinking.

5 stars
(Gr. 2-5)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stupendous Sports Stadiums by Michael Sandler

Stupendous Sports Stadiums
By Michael Sandler
So Big Compared to What? series
Bearport, August 2011
ISBN 9781617723025
Reviewer received book directly from the publisher.

I frequently get asked for books about sports stadiums at the public library. Next time I will happily hand over Stupendous Sports Stadiums.

Nine stadiums located throughout the world are briefly highlighted here with the intention of explaining the unique feature that makes them 'stupendous': Cowboys Stadium in Texas, Beijing National Stadium in China, ANZ Stadium in Australia, Marina Bay Floating Stadium in Singapore, Allianz Arena in Germany, World Games Stadium in Taiwan, University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona, and Rungrado May Day Stadium in North Korea.

Each entry covers two pages. There is a heading stating the stadium’s name, date opened, location, seating capacity, and the stadium’s “Stupendous Feature”. A large color photo shows the exterior and each stadium’s ‘Stupendous Feature’. 

Though I am not a fan of any sport, I was interested to learn that the ‘Stupendous Feature’ at the University of Phoenix Stadium is a fully movable grass field. Apparently, it is easier on the legs of the NFL team to play in real grass, but “growing grass in hard to do beneath a stadium floor.”  

“The architects of University of Phoenix Stadium, however, found a way to build a roof and give the Arizona Cardinals football team real grass to play on.  The stadium floor – with the grass field on top – is a movable tray. It can slide right out of the stadium.” Very cool!

I was surprised to learn that most of the time the field sits outside the stadium, soaking up the sunlight. Then on game day, “the tray slides back inside the 13 train-track-like rails and more than 500 wheels.”

For those who love trivia, little bubbles help relate some pretty interesting stuff about the stadiums. For example, ANZ Stadium, located in Sydney, Australia, was built in 1999 for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. ANZ is one of the most eco-friendly stadiums in the world. 
The bubble states:

“ANZ Stadium has about 112 miles (180 km) of electric cable to power signs, video displays, and elevators. Stretched out, this cable would be longer than the distance from New York City to Philadelphia.”  Wow!  For the Cowboys Stadium, the enter and exit doors are “120 feet (37 m) high by 180 feet (55 m) wide – big enough for more than 20 school buses to drive through them at the same time!”

Some of the stadiums can hold up to 200,000 people. That’s almost as many people that live in Portland, Maine! (230,000)

This book includes a table of contents, glossary, index, and bibliography.

Part of the So Big Compared to What? series from Bearport Publishers, this is a good purchase for libraries, both public and school, that need to boost their sports section.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of '41

The Unforgettable Season: The Story of Joe Dimaggio, Ted Williams and the Record-Setting Summer of '41
by Phil Bildner; Illustrated by S.D. Schindler
G.P. Putnam's Sons (an imprint of Penguin Group) 2011
ISBN 9780399255014
A copy of this book was obtained by the reviewer from the 
Southern Maine Library District's examination collection.

Baseball books are quite popular in my school library, so I was eager to pick up a copy of The Unforgettable Season. Many children (and adults) are intrigued by the history and statistics related to the game, and this book includes both. Bildner parallels the stories of two baseball legends who broke batting records during the summer of 1941.  Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak pulled the Yankees out of a slump while Ted William's .406 batting average brought great excitement to Red Sox Nation.

The book in not merely a collection of statistics and play-by-play descriptions of games; it's the story of how two players captivated the entire country with grace and honor. Bildner's narrative style and use of quotes from the players will draw readers into the story as he alternates between DiMaggio's feats with the Yankees and Williams' accomplishments for Boston.

"Up to the plate stepped Ted Williams, the Splendid Splinter. Boom! The ball soared high and deep down the right-field line. Without a doubt the ball was going to land in the upper deck of Briggs Stadium. But would it stay fair? Yes! Ted had hit the game-winning three-run home run!"

In addition to the alternating stories of the two baseball greats, Bildner describes how fans reacted. Families gathered around the radio, congressmen interrupted meetings for baseball updates, and Les Brown and His Orchestra recorded a song in honor of the hitting streaks.

The ink, watercolor and gouache illustrations are appropriate for the story. Muted colors give the story a feeling of nostalgia. The  illustrations of balls in motion are excellent. Schindler effectively uses illustrations in boxes layered on top of each other to show elapsed time when Joe DiMaggio broke the Yankees team record in a thirty game hitting streak.

The last page of the book includes three baseball hitting statistics along with illustrations of baseball cards. The delightful illustrations and captivating story are sure to make The Unforgettable Season a popular book with readers young and old!

4 stars
(Grades 2-5)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Not a Buzz to be Found: Insects in Winter by Linda Glaser

Not a Buzz to be Found: Insects in Winter

Written by Linda Glaser; Illustrated by Jaime Zollars
Millbrook Press, 2011
ISBN 9780761356448
Reviewer was given this copy by the publisher.

There are so few outstanding science books aimed at young children, ages 4-7, that I got really excited when I saw this at Lerner booth while attending the ALA Annual Conference in July.

Glaser’s science book attempts to answer the question:  What happens to insects in winter? The book explores the winter habits of twelve familiar insects: Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Bald-faced Hornet, Field Cricket, Gallfly, Ant, Common Pondhawk Dragonfly, Praying Mantis, Mourning Cloak Butterfly, Honeybee, Ladybird Beetle (Ladybug), Wooly Bear Caterpillar (Isabella Tiger Moth), and Monarch Butterfly.

The poetic text is brief and unscientific as it explains where each insect spends the summer. 

“What if you were a woolly bear caterpillar? You’d hide under a
blanket of snow or leaves. Someday you’d turn into a moth with wings. But in winter, you’d curl up and sleep, sleep, sleep.”

The text is paired with illustrations by Jaime Zollars that cover every inch of the double-page spreads. Zollars paintings are colorful and have a magical quality to them that children will find appealing. She fills her pictures with happy youngsters engaged in familiar activities: playing in the leaves, skating on a pond, and sledding down a snow-covered hill.  The different activities also act as a seasonal timeline. I especially liked the way Zollars showed us what was happening above and below the ground.

At every turn of the page, children are invited to look closely to find the sleeping insects mentioned in the text. For the Ladybird Beetle, we see a pair of red rubber boots walking across a fallen log in the woods the forest floor is strewn with colored leaves.  Now look closely. Tucked beneath that rotten log all huddled together are thousands of sleeping ladybugs.

“If you were a ladybird beetle, you’d hide under logs or leaves and huddle with thousands of others.  You’d barely move or breathe.”

Problems: Overall, I like the concept of this book more than I liked its design. For example, I had problems with the font. At times the color blended in with the illustrations, making it difficult to read.

Labeling the sleeping insects would have been nice to reassure some of us that we had found the right hiding place. It was especially challenging to locate the crickets eggs buried under ground. In that picture two children are throwing snowballs and directly underneath them are little white dots. I thought the white dots were the snow from the snowball fight, not the cricket eggs.

The book does include scientific information.  Unfortunately, it is placed at the back of the book instead of on the insect’s page.

3 Stars
Note: Look on your shelves. You might own Glaser’s four book picture book series, I Love the Seasons! published by Millbrook Press, 2001-2003. Using rhyming text, each book is a general overview of a specific season. Susan Swan’s cut-paper illustrations are lovely. Some of the illustrations in It’s Winter are very similar to Not a Buzz to be Found: Insects in Winter.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish

Star of the Sea: A Day in the Life of a Starfish.
by Janet Halfmann
Illustrated by Joan Paley
Henry Holt & Company, 2011
ISBN # 9780805090734
A reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the Southern Maine Library District's examination collection.

Halfmann eloquently tells the story of Sea Star, a common starfish of Pacific Coast in Star of the Sea. Readers will enjoy the narrative form as Sea Star encounters predators, hunts for limpets and mussels, and gets stranded on the shore leaving her vulnerable to passing sea gulls. The author weaves facts into the story while using figurative language and descriptions that young readers will appreciate.

"Like a circus acrobat, she folds over two of her rays
and grips the rocky shore with her sticky feet."

Paley uses vibrant colors and varied textures created by hand-painted paper collage illustrations to complement the story perfectly. The transition from aqua background to speckled yellow and gray pages will help young readers follow the story as the setting changes from underwater to the sandy shore.

Additional facts about sea stars are included at the end of the book, however the target audience (K-3 readers) will probably need help from adults in reading the dense supplemental text.

Star of the Sea would be an ideal book for a science unit on oceans or tide pools or for early readers who are interested in animals and nature.

5 Stars
(Grades K-3)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps 
 by Jeanette Winter
Schwartz & Wade, 2011
ISBN #9780375867743
Review copy provided by the publisher
to the Southern Maine Library District

Usually the first time a child ventures into the biography section of the library it's because of a class assignment.  Luckily, there are picture book biographies like The Watcher by Jeanette Winter that will have young readers returning to the biography section again and again in search of other books just like it.

Using acrylic paint, ink and her signature folk-art style, Jeanette Winter tells the story of how Jane Goodall spent her childhood watching the natural world around her. She was inquisitive and observant from a young age.

"Jane watched ALL the animals in her world,
big and small-
earthworms, insects, birds, cats, dogs and horses."

Jane dreamed of traveling to Africa and purchased a ticket to Kenya as soon as she had completed school. Winter's illustrations reflect the lush, green beauty of the forests of Tanzania where Jane is sent to work for Louis Leakey. The book follows Jane's work with the chimps as she studies and interacts with the primates. Even though the book is aimed at young readers, Winter does not shy away from including serious events such as the shooting of chimps by poachers and the deforestation that threatens the chimps' habitat.

The story concludes with an aged Jane Goodall returning to the forest and her chimps after speaking around the globe about her work. Readers will gain an understanding of the importance of caring for our environment and an appreciation of the natural world.  In an author's note at the end the book, Winter explains how she simplified the story of Goodall's life into a book for young readers. Winter skillfully takes the story of a passionate scientist and pioneer in the field of primatology and makes it accessible to even the youngest readers. This stellar book should be included in all juvenile biography sections.

6 stars
(Grade K-4)

Pair this book with Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell or Wangari's Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Butterfly is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston

A Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston; Illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780811864794
This reviewer checked out this book from her local public library.

A Butterfly is Patient is the newest offering by Dianna Hutts Aston and artist Sylvia Long. It is a stunning book you won’t want to miss. Readers of all ages will pour over Long’s delicate drawings that show a variety of butterflies as they make their journey from egg to adult.
Aston packs a lot of information about butterflies in this brief introduction. Each chapter is two pages in length and begins with a simple statement that highlights a butterfly’s life. The brief paragraph that follows gives enough information without being overwhelming.
The first chapter, “A Butterfly is Patient”, explains how life begins with “an egg beneath an umbrella of leaves.” We go on to learn of their transformation in “A butterfly is creative”. Long’s meticulous attention to detail is displayed in “A butterfly is spectacular!” when the two-page spread filled with a variety of unique butterflies and caterpillars are all identified.
The clearly labeled butterflies and caterpillars make this useful as an identification guide, especially the illustrations of caterpillars in the front and butterflies in the back, or a book to make you appreciate the simple beauty that is all around us…every day.
Budding naturalists will also want to savor Aston and Long’s other two, equally mouth-watering science books:An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy.
6 Stars

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hurricane Katrina by Peter Benoit

Hurricane Katrina
by Peter Benoit
True Book- Disasters series
Children's Press (an imprint of Scholastic)
available on September 15, 2011
ISBN # 9780531254219
Library Binding
Review copy was provided by the publisher.

Students frequently come to the library in search of books about tragedies from history, and now True Books is offering a series to meet the needs of those inquisitive young readers. The True Book- Disasters series penned by Peter Benoit covers a range of events such as the earthquake in Haiti, the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the BP oil spill, and nuclear meltdowns in addition to events from our more distant past.

Benoit does not shy away from difficult facts in Hurricane Katrina; the book sheds light on this devastating event from 2005 in a clear and thoughtful manner that is just right for elementary school readers. The book begins with a "Find the Truth!" page that piques the interest of readers by asking them to guess which of two statements is true:
No levees broke in New Orleans.
No future hurricanes will be named Katrina.
Readers are challenged to find the answer by reading the text. There is an answer page in the back of the book.

There are only four chapters in the book: Hurricane Coming, Devastation, The Situation at the Superdome, and Rebuilding New Orleans, making the book accessible to students of varied reading abilities. The chapters are brimming with facts about the storm and its effect on the Gulf Coast, yet the vocabulary and sentence structure are just right for readers in grades 3-5. Readers will be intrigued by the photographs that capture the devastation and impact of the hurricane on the people of New Orleans and its surrounding areas. Many photos are accompanied by interesting facts:

"By August 31, more than 80 percent of New Orleans was under floodwater" (p. 17).

I was impressed that the author did not avoid difficult topics such as the desolate conditions at the Superdome, the government's mishandling of rescue and reliefs efforts, and the violence that erupted amid squalid conditions. Benoit covers each topic in a fair and balanced manner relying on facts and the observations of witnesses.

"Desperate doctors and nurses wondered where help was. Some 80,000 others stranded in the city also wondered when they would be rescued. So did television viewers around the world watching the disaster" (p. 21).

The book ends on a hopeful note with coverage of the rebuilding efforts and highlights of effective programs that build new homes for hurricane victims. The American Library Association is mentioned in the "Tourism Returns" section for holding its Annual Conference in New Orleans in 2006 despite the conditions of the city at the time. A bibliography and list of web sites are included at the end of the book. The web sites provide readers with access to photographs, interviews, and videos related to Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina fills a niche in the nonfiction collection of many public and elementary school libraries. There are few books that are able to take a difficult topic that hold some many raw emotions for our citizens and write in a manner that young readers will understand, yet Hurricane Katrina does just that!

5 stars
(gr. 3-5)

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery
by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press, a division of Lerner Publishing
available on  October 1, 2011
ISBN 9780761351085
Library Binding
Review copy was provided by the publisher.

Something strange began to happen in the Panamanian rain forest in 1996.  Scientists noticed that golden frogs, members of the toad family, were mysteriously dying. There was no explanation for the bodies of golden frogs turning up in Panama and Costa Rica. The book follows the work of diligent scientists, Karen Lips and Joyce Loncore, as they try to solve The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs.

Markle organizes the book as a detective would lay out the facts of a case.  Pollution, climate change and loss of habitat are all examined as possible culprits. The mystery is solved in a laboratory when Loncore discovers a fungus in the cells of a dead frog's skin.  Scientists then work together to identify solutions to save the golden frogs from the fungus and possible extinction. Throughout the book, readers learn about the features of this unique amphibian as well as the importance of frogs to our ecosystem. Stunning, full-page photographs will draw in readers as they follow the quest of scientists determined to save the rare species. Each photo is accompanied by a clearly written caption. The back of the book contains rich supplemental material including an author's note, list of web sites, related books, and ways readers can help local frogs.

I was impressed that children are provided with role models of two successful female scientists: Lips works in the field collecting samples and making observations in the rain forest while Loncore is stationed in a laboratory wielding her powerful microscope. Markle presents the story of the golden frog in a tone and format that will attract children and hold their attention making it an excellent nonfiction read aloud for an upper elementary or middle school classes.

A "Lerner e Source"seal is printed on the back cover of the book encouraging readers to view related material on the Lerner web site. I visited the site ( and was prompted to enter the book's ISBN number which took me to the book's web page. After clicking on "Esource Downloads," a list of web sites, two maps and ideas for student research projects were presented in PDF format.

Pair this book with Frogs by Nic Bishop or The Frog Scientists by Pamela Turner.

5 stars
(Gr. 4-6)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Drawing from Memory

(Cover not final)

Drawing from Memory
by Allen Say
Scholastic Press, 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-17686-6
This review copy was obtain from the publisher.
Since his 1988 Caldecott Honor for The Boy of the Three Year Nap by Diane Stanley, Allen Say has offered readers a glimpse into his childhood with his outstanding picture books, many which are autobiographical. (Grandfather´s Journey, The Inn-keeper´s Apprentice, and Bicycle Man) The combination of elegant watercolors that capture the emotions and atmosphere of his subjects, and his spare prose that conveys a sense of grace and respect, has won Say many aficionado. Yet, there are those who want to know more about this talented Japanese artist.
We now have Drawing from Memory, a memoir and Say´s latest addition to his long line of exquisite books that looks back on his childhood growing up in Japan. However, the content of this 62-page tome will surprise readers because it paints a very different picture of Say´s childhood. Gone are the loving parents found in Tree of Cranes or 
Tea with Milk. In their place we find an unforgiving father who dashes Say’s dream of becoming an artist. In Drawing from Memory Say created a loving tribute to another man, Japanese cartoonist Noro Shinpei, who Say credits with developing and supporting his creativity and love of drawing.
"I was born in 1937 by the seashore of Yokohama, Japan."  His mother, afraid of the water and worried he would drown distracted the young boy by introducing him to books.

"She taught me to read before I started school, and that made me very popular among the neighborhood kids."  Soon Say discovered comic books. "I read them for hours and stared at the pictures. I decided to become a cartoonist when I grew up."
Unfortunately, his parents did not share his enthusiasm. His father said, "Artists are lazy and scruffy people -- they are not respectable." It seems no one in Say´s family encouraged his talent. Instead, he spent many years keeping his love of comics and drawing a secret.
The outbreak of World War II in 1941 brought about many dramatic changes. Say, only four years old, along with his mother and younger sister, left their home on the shores of Yokohama, never to return.
His breakthrough came when, at age 12, Say approached Noro Shinpei and asked to become his apprentice. Say stayed with Shinpei for the next four years, until an offer to live in the United States physically separated mentor and student.
Most of the book recounts his experiences while studying under Shinpei. At times his recollections seem choppy as he moves between drawing, his growing awareness of the world around him, and his youthful restlessness. Yet, it is easily overlooked since is difficult to pack such a rich life-time in a mere 64 pages. 
Included throughout the book are Say´s drawings and black & white photographs that encapsulates his experiences living in Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima, the horrible after affects of World War II, and Japan’s reconstruction. 
With this memoir, we have a deeper appreciation of the struggles and successes Say confronted. We can only hope that this is, but the first installment in the life of one of the most beloved children´s book artists.
4+ stars
Grade 5 up