Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 27, 2012

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy

Seeing Symmetry
by Loreen Leedy
Holiday House, 2012
ISBN: 9780823423606
(Gr. 2-5)

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

Not many math picture books are published each year, so I was excited to see Loreen Leedy's new book about symmetry. Leedy is known for writing excellent nonfiction picture books such as Mapping Penny's World, Measuring Penny, and Follow the Money.

Seeing Symmetry introduces young readers to the concept of symmetry through colorful illustrations of animals, letters, buildings, and other familiar objects. The illustrations were created using Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Captions and labels effectively point out the symmetry in each illustration. Leedy begins with the basic definition of symmetry and progresses to more complex concepts such as vertical symmetry, horizontal symmetry, and rotational symmetry. Children will enjoy trying to answer the questions posed throughout the book. On one page showing various words in different color fonts, readers are asked: "How many of these words have a horizontal line of symmetry?"

According to the notes on the copyright page, the book "meets the Common Core State Standards for fourth-grade mathematics in geometry: identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry." A glossary in the back of the book defines the math terms used in the book. An author's note points out several animals in nature that are not symmetrical (conch, narwhal, flounder, etc...). Leedy also provides readers with symmetry activities to try at home using paper and paint.

Teachers will find Leedy's latest book invaluable in introducing and reinforcing the concept of symmetry while children will have a blast exploring the book and looking for symmetry in the world around them.

                                           Seeing Symmetry Book Trailer

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Pregnancy Project: a memoir by Gaby Rodriguez with Jenna Glatzer

The Pregnancy Project: a memoir
Gaby Rodriguez with Jenna Glatzer
Simon & Schuster. 2012
ISBN:  9781442446229
Reviewer obtained a copy from publisher.
(Grades 8 and up)
There have been numerous books, both fiction and nonfiction, written about teens trying to overcome their family patterns. It is nice to read a success story for a change. The story of Gaby Rodriguez and why she pretended to be pregnant for a high school project is the subject of this inspiring memoir. Rodriguez has attracted a lot of media attention, something she never expected. Now in college, Gaby stopped the cycle of teen pregnancy that was prevalent in her family because of her intellect and determination. Her memoir, written with the help of professional writer Jenna Glatzer, has even sparked a Lifetime network movie.
Gaby was in seventh grade when her mother explained how young she had been when she became pregnant.  “I always knew my mother had been young when she had her first child, but I never did the math, never realized that she was in middle school. And when she first told me she had Nievitas at fifteen, I assumed she meant she got pregnant when she was fifteen. Then she corrected me and said she got pregnant when she was fourteen, and for some reason that pushed it over the edge for me.” Her mother would go on to have seven children during her turbulent sixteen-year marriage. Five years after her divorce, at age thirty-five, after becoming a grandmother when her first child, Nievitas at age twenty gave birth to a daughter, Gaby’s mother became a mother again…with Gaby.
Gaby intertwines background information about her family with her reasons for choosing this particular project idea. The purpose of the senior project was “a chance for students to work on a skill that would be valuable in their careers, to help them prepare for life after graduation.” Gaby wanted her project to have a real impact on her fellow students. She wanted “to find an opportunity for growth, both for me and for the people around me. The statistics told me that my classmates’ families were a lot like mine – full of broken homes, teen pregnancy, poverty, and a lack of education.” Gaby wanted to come up with an idea that would reflect her community, while making a big impression. Gaby was fortunate to have so many people that supported her: her mother, teachers, siblings, and, especially, her boyfriend.
How would faking a pregnancy do that? You must read The Pregnancy Project to find out. The writing rambles a bit, but the essence of Gaby’s story, her hard work and the ingenious way she changed her life is inspiring. This book would be useful as a class project.  It will appeal to girls and boys.
For more information about Gaby, her movie, and to read the LIfetime interview with Gaby, click here.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Daytona 500: The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race

The Daytona 500: The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race
by Nancy Roe Pimm
Millbrook Press, 2011
ISBN: 9780761366775
(Gr. 5-8) 

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

Many sports fans look forward to the Super Bowl each February, however there's another major sporting event this month: The Daytona 500. If you're in search of a nonfiction book to satisfy the race fans in your library, you'll want to check out The Daytona 500: The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race.

The book provides an overview of the history of stock car racing, and it all began in Daytona Beach, Florida.  In the early 1900s cars raced on beaches in Daytona and Ormond.When Bill France entered the scene in 1937, the sport changed forever. France formed the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) and went on to build the 2.5 mile track at Daytona International Speedway. Nancy Roe Pimm describes the first Daytona 500 in 1957 which ended in a close finish between Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp. Beauchamp was declared the winner, but officials reversed their decision 61 hours after the race concluded after reviewing newsreel footage.

Lee Petty was declared the winner. He was awarded the trophy and a purse of $19,050. Embarrassed by the turn of events, France decided there was no way he would be put in such a difficult position again. "This is the first time so close a finish has ever occurred in auto racing," he said. "We won't be caught off guard again. We'll install a photo finish camera on the line."

The chronological format and clear writing make this an accessible book for middle grade readers. Kids will enjoy looking at the black and white photos of races from the turn of the century as well as the colorful photos from recent years. The book will appeal to NASCAR fans while introducing new vocabulary and racing rules and regulations to those unfamiliar with the sport. Facts boxes and photos capture the excitement and history of the race. Backmatter includes a glossary of racing terms, source notes and books for further reading. The Daytona 500 would make a solid purchase for a middle grade sports collection.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Get Real by Mara Rockliff

Get Real: What Kind of World are You Buying?
by Mara Rockliff
Running Press. 2010
ISBN: 9780762437450
(Grades 6 and up)
Reviewer checked this book out of the local library.
Can we really change the world with our wallets is the question Rockliff asks readers to ponder in her 2010 book, Get Real. Every day we make decisions on what to buy. From sneakers, t-shirts, fast food, to coffee. In a straight-forward tone, Rockliff leaves no holds barred as she explains how we are manipulated by giant corporations who care more about their financial returns than about the people who make their products, as well as the negative impact buying without a conscience is having on our world.
Chapter 3, “And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt: What They Never Tell You At the Mall”. So there you are, inside the store, staring at racks and racks of clothes.” You want to buy a pair of jeans. Right away you have too many choices. “Do you want low-rise or high rise? Classic fit, boot-cut, wide leg, or relaxed? The deep blue kind that scream “brand new”? Or the pre-faded kind that look like you’ve been wearing them for years?” But then try asking for jeans sewn by a worker earning a decent wage. Where does it say the factory who made the denim jeans did not dump their toxic wastes into a river or stream? “See if the sales clerk can point out the sign that says how many toxic chemicals were sprayed on the “natural cotton” that will soon be nestled close against your skin.” After this set up, we learn just who made those jeans and the child slaves who work in horrific conditions and earn a meager wage to help support their family. What should you be asking when you buy those jeans? “Were these clothes made in a sweat shop?” To find out which companies are responsible, she lists several [.org] sites.
Ever wonder what is really in that fast food you think is so yummy? Chapter 4, “Peek Between the Buns” is about all the chemicals placed in your food to make it taste better and the factory farms where your food is raised. Chapter 7, “Buys in the ‘Hood: Bust out of that big box” Rockliff brings up an argument that we’ve heard before, “Just how organic is that bunch of grapes if it has traveled 15,000 miles and using one gallon of fuel for every second?” When you chose to buying your food from big box stores, you have no idea where it comes from. Part of the problem is that box stores do business on a giant scale. They don’t buy for just one store, they buy for hundreds of stores. Consequently, they need to find a supplier that can ship them tons of foods, year round, and cheap. We are so used to having whatever we want, whenever we want that we don’t consider that maybe eating fresh green beans in the middle of winter is an unnecessary luxury we can do without. To really know where you food is coming from, buy from a farmer’s market or purchase a share in CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture)
The book’s design will be appealing to teens. It is active with bright colors and includes pictures to emphasize the point the author is making. It is printed on 100% recycled paper and certified by the ICTI (International Council or Toys Industry that mandates toys and related products are produced in a safe and humane environment). 
Rockliff demands consumers to be more socially responsible.  We all need to stop buying willy-nilly, and, instead, ask ourselves these questions: “Who made it”, “What’s in it?”, “What’s it doing to the earth, other people, and me?” It might not mean having a closet full of the latest fashions or owning the latest cell phone or cool laptop, yet, by making those hard choices readers will be taking huge steps in helping others and, by buying less, saving our world from becoming one big trash dump.

The book has an index, and an extensive list of resources, including books, articles, and web site.
Use this book to explain to students what the High Cost of Materialism is having on our planet and ourselves. Visit The Center for a New American Dream to watch the 5 minute video A Plentitude Economy.  Here is an interview on Green Teen with the author.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

There Goes Ted Williams- Nonfiction Picture Book Giveaway

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived
by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press
On shelves February 14, 2012
ISBN: 9780763627898
(Gr. K-5)

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

We have partnered with Kid Lit Frenzy to encourage readers to read more nonfiction picture books this year.

As a child growing up in a small New England town, I was raised to love the Red Sox. I have fond memories of watching players like Jim Rice and Carl Yastrzemski take the field at Fenway Park in the late 1970s. Ted Williams had been retired for many years by that time, but he still remained in the hearts and minds of baseball fans. I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Matt Tavares' latest picture book about Ted Williams. Part of my excitement comes from my own passion for baseball, but I also know this book will be extremely popular with the readers in my library.

Matt Tavares traces the rise of hitting sensation Ted Willams from a skinny boy growing up in the 1920s to one of baseball's greatest batters of all time. As a lanky teenager, Ted Williams was drafted by the New York Yankees, but he turned down the contract to play minor league baseball near his home in southern California. Eventually Williams went on to play for the Boston Red Sox. Williams had great success in the major leagues and closed the 1941 season with a .406 batting average.

This picture book biography with wide margins and short lines reads like free verse poetry. Tavares provides readers with highlights from Williams' career while capturing the excitement and emotion of the game.

He circles the bases,
not running
but leaping, bouncing
almost floating,
jumping up and down
and clapping his hands
and laughing
all the way to home plate. 

There Goes Ted Williams is more than just a sports story. During Williams' career, he left baseball to serve as a pilot in World War II and the Korean War. During the Korean War, Williams made a tough decision to eject from his malfunctioning plane even though he could break both legs and end his baseball career. Williams walked away from the crash and returned to baseball several months later.

In the tradition of Mudball and Henry Aaron's Dream, Tavares' illustrations are detailed and full of life- the creases in the uniform, the shadow formed by the brim of the hat, the stitches on the baseball. The watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations eloquently capture Williams' stance and facial expressions. In one intense scene, Williams is pictured in the foreground running away from a burning fighter jet. This is sure to capture the attention of even the most reluctant readers.

A list of Williams' stats by year and a bibliography are located in the back of the book. In an author's note, Tavares reveals that Williams was not perfect. He had a bad temper, he swore, and he had a tumultuous relationship with the media. Despite these flaws, the author set out to tell the story of a man who was one of the greatest hitters of all time and also served his country well. "The story of Ted Williams is the story of an American hero." Young baseball fans will scoop up this book; it would also make an inspiring story for an adult to share with a child. Pair this book with The Unforgettable Season: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and the Record-Setting Summer of 1941 by Phil Bildner.
 There Goes Ted Williams- Giveaway
Candlewick Press is giving away a copy of There Goes Ted Williams. 
Fill out the entry form below for your chance to win.

                   Giveaway Rules
  • Complete the entry form below.
  • Only one entry per person will be accepted.
  • You must be 13 years or older to enter.
  • Entries will be accepted from 9 p.m. on Sunday, February 12, 2012 until 12:00 a.m. on Friday, February 17, 2012.
  • The winner will be contacted by email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, we will select a new winner.

Friday, February 10, 2012

13 Planets: the latest view of the Solar System by David A. Aguilar

13 Planets: the latest view of the Solar System
David A. Aguilar
National Geographic. 2011
ISBN: 9781426307706
(Grades 3-8)

Did you know that Jupiter is so large that all the planets, including  the dwarf planets, could fit inside it? That Saturn has 62 confirmed moons? That dwarf planets Makemake and Ceres have no moons? These facts and more can be found in David Aguilar 13 Planets. Aguilar, Director of Science Information at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, takes readers on a brief journey of our Solar System.  In easily understood language, Aguilar explains how astronomers are discovering new things everyday, making them “wonder just how big the universe is.” 13 Planets tells the latest scientific information about terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), dwarf planets,(Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris), the gas planets, (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), and the possible future of The Sun, and solar systems beyond The Milky Way.

Starting with the Sun, in order of their distance from it, [Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Ceres, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Haumer/Kuiper Belt, Makemake, Eris] Aguilar reacquaints readers with current information about our Solar System. Accompanying each entry is the mythology, astrology or other related facts. For example, about Earth, we are told, “Gaea, the Earth goddess of the ancient Greeks, was known as the mother of Earth. Born out of chaos, she in turn gave birth to the sky, the seas, and the land. The Romans called her Terra.”

Children will find the unusually shaped planet, Haumer, located in the Kuiper Belt, interesting. Shaped like a chicken egg, it is dubbed, “a cosmic football” “because it tumbles end over end like a football kicked for a field goal.” They will also like its analogy that if cut in half, the solid rock planet would resemble an M&M. “The outside candy coating is the ice and the chocolate found inside is the rock.”

The book closes with some heavy thoughts about the death of the sun and whether there is life on other planets. “The End of our Solar System” explains what will happen to our sun in a billion years. In 12 billion years the sun will puff into a red planetary nebula before fading away.  Aguilar hints that beyond our solar system astronomers have discovered more than a thousand planets.  He claims that soon Earthlike planets will be revealed and that within the next twenty years we may know if life exists on these “super-Earths.”

On par with books published by National Geographic, the illustrations are exquisite and well captioned.  The artwork is done by the author, but other credits include NASA and National Geographic Society.

This book will appeal to children (Grades 3 – 8) who can never get enough information about space.  

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN: 9780803735118
Grades K-5

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the Moving Windmills Project.

You've heard the saying, "One person can make a difference." It sounds cliche, but it's true. If you need evidence, look no further than the picture book biography, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer collaborated to tell the amazing story of how William brought electricity and irrigation to his drought-stricken village in Malawi.

William's family grew maize and tobacco in central Malawi; they relied on these crops for food and income. When a drought hit the country, the family had to cut back to one meal per day. There was no money to pay fees for William to attend school. William, a curious and inventive young man, spent his free time at the local library reading books about science. When William came across a photo of a windmill and learned that it could be used create electricity and pump water, he saw a solution to his family's problems. Using a tractor fan, pipe, bolts and other parts he found in a junk yard, William built a windmill that generated enough electricity to run a light bulb. He knew this was just the beginning; his goal was to use windmills to pump water up from the ground to irrigate the fields.What a great example for kids about the power of books and reading.

The authors use dialogue and incorporate words from the Chichewa language to create an engaging story that will inspire young readers.

"Wachitabwina!" a man yelled. "Well done."
As the doubters clapped and cheered, 
William knew he had just begun. 
Light could not fill empty bellies, 
but another windmill could soak the ground, 
creating food where once there was none. 
Magesti a mphero- electric wind- can feed my country, William thought.

Oil paint and cut-paper collage illustrations work perfectly with the text to convey William's story. Rich, earth tones are used to illustrate the land and sky. One illustration shows a deep purple sky in the background while William's family sits around a lantern sharing a meal. On a two-page spread, layers of yellow and orange paper illustrate a sun shining down upon dry, barren land made of textured paper. Later in the story, blue paper with swirled designs are placed around a windmill to illustrate the wind while people pick maize in lush green fields.

An author's note in the back of the book provides more details for readers eager to learn more about William (now a student at Dartmouth) and how he constructed the windmill. I'm looking forward to sharing this powerful story with the readers in my library. Pair this book with Planting the Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth or Energy Island by Allan Drummond.

For more information about William and the Moving Windmills Project:
 The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is part of the We Give Books program:

Friday, February 3, 2012

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden

His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg: Courage, Rescue and Mystery During World War II
by Louise Borden
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
ISBN: 9780618507559
Grades 6 and up

The reviewer received an advanced reader's copy of the book from the publisher.

I've been a fan of Louise Borden since I read The Journey That Saved Curious George which chronicles the real-life escape of Margaret and H.A. Rey (authors of Curious George) from Nazis during World War II. Borden is also known for the historical fiction picture book, The Great Skating Race: A World War II Story from the Netherlands.

In her latest book, Borden introduces readers to Raoul Wallenberg, a real life hero who saved thousands of Jews in Hungary during World War II. Wallenberg was born into a wealthy family in Sweden in 1912. He proved to be an excellent student and used his family's wealth and status to travel the world. After earning an architecture degree in the United States, Wallenberg returned to his homeland of Sweden. Wallenberg was a strong communicator and spoke several languages, and he was sent to Budapest as a diplomat in 1944. He was charged with the responsibility of protecting Jews living in Hungary.

Wallenberg set up an office and hired hundreds of employees to print "schutz passes" or protection passports that placed Jews under the protection of the Swedish government. Wallenberg also invented the collective passport which allowed more than one person to share a passport. Wallenberg's work didn't stop with passports; he purchased and rented apartment buildings that served as safe houses for Jews in Budapest. Unfortunately, Wallenberg was detained in a Soviet prison in 1945; he was never seen again.

The format of the book works well for the subject. The text's poetic form is effective with concise writing, short lines and wide margins. Numerous photographs and primary documents (passports, letters and drawing by Wallenberg) bring the story to life and will engage readers and show how one person can make a difference in the world.

Borden traveled to Sweden and Switzerland to interview Wallenberg's sister and brother. This background work helps Borden paint a portrait of a strong and resourceful young man who had saved thousands of lives. An extensive bibliography along with recent photographs of Wallenberg's family can be found in the back of the book. History buffs and students studying the Holocaust shouldn't miss this powerful story.

Other reviews of His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg:
A Year of Reading