Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Women's History Month

Today, the Nonfiction Detectives posted over at KidLit as Margo and Lisa celebrated Women's History throughout the month.  Thank you for including us.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dolphins in the Navy by Meish Goldish

Dolphins in the Navy 
By Meish Goldish
(America’s animal soldiers)
Bearport Publishing. 2012
ISBN: 9781617724510
(Grades 1-6)
Reviewer obtained a copy of this book from the publisher.

America's Animal Soldiers is a new series for 2012 by Bearport Publishing. The aim of the series is to highlight the animals that help the military. There are four titles in the series that include dolphins and sea lions that hunt for deadly sea mines, to dogs that are trained to sniff out bombs. 

I reviewed Dolphins in the Navy by Meish Goldish, which looks at the Marine Mammal Program that trains dolphins to locate sea mines. The reason dolphins are highly prized, along with sea lions, “is their ability of finding things in the water” using echolocation. Dolphins also help the Navy locate possible terrorists who are swimming in the water. We are told that the dolphins in the Navy receive excellent care to insure they are healthy and happy. 

Each page includes a color photograph that corresponds to the text.  Additional facts are written on dog tags that are interspersed throughout the chapters. The 24 pages are aimed at students in grades 1-6. A useful addition to military sections.

Note: Briefly mentioned are the negative feelings by some towards the Marine Mammal Program. However, the book clearly  states that the Navy never places the mammals in risky situations. According to the author dolphins that work for the Marine Mammal Program are in less danger from their work than those that live in the wild – which may be killed and eaten by sharks or fed unsafe food by people.” Goldish further claims that, So far, no animal in the Marine Mammal Program has ever been injured or killed on the job.” 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
by Alicia Potter
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
ISBN: 9780375844485
(Gr. K-5)

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

Some nonfiction books can be a hard sell to kids. I create display and booktalk lots of nonfiction books each week to get kids interested. Put a dolphin, a penguin or a panda on the cover of the nonfiction book, and the book sells itself. Kids love animal stories, and for some reason certain animals (like pandas) create a frenzy in the library.

So I knew Alicia Potter's new nonfiction picture book would be a popular read with my patrons; it has a panda on the cover and in the title. However, Mrs. Harkness and the Panda is much more than an animal story. It's really the story of one woman's determination and courage, and it's a perfect book to read during Women's History Month.

In 1934, William Harkness set off on an expedition to China to capture a panda and bring it back to the United States. William's wife, Ruth, stayed at home in New York City where she designed dresses. It was not socially acceptable for a woman to go off exploring in the 1930s. When Ruth got word that her husband had passed away in China, she decided to finish what he had started. She would travel to China and bring back a panda, and that is exactly what she did.

Melissa Sweet's watercolor and mixed media illustrations are amazing and work perfectly with Potter's text. Sweet created a collage using a world map, postcards, and watercolor illustrations of a steam ship to illustrate Mrs. Harkness' voyage to China. Bright red and pink paint on a background of Chinese characters depict the expedition's journey on the Yangtze River. On one page, Mrs. Harkness hears a sound in the trees. Upon turning the page, the black and white face of a baby panda peers out of a tree. There are only three words on the page, "A baby panda!" Kids will be captivated. I found myself flipping back so that I could experience the "wow" of the page turn again.

The panda, Su Lin, was brought to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and Mrs. Harkness had become a female explorer. I have to admit, I had an uneasy feeling at the end of the story. Why are we celebrating the capture of a wild animal? It seemed wrong to me, and then I read the author's note. Potter points out that in 1934 most people had never seen a panda. By bringing the panda to the United States, scientists could study the animal and people could learn more about the species and how to protect it. "Harkness introduced the world to a tubby, bamboo-chomping ambassador."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Death of a Dreamer : the assassination of John Lennon by Alison M. Behnke

Death of a Dreamer: The Assassination of John Lennon
Alison Marie Behnke
Twenty-First Century Books. 2012
ISBN: 9780822590361
(Grades 8 and up)
Reviewer received a copy of this book from the publisher

This December 8 will mark the 32nd anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon. Those who were alive on that terrible day might remember that with the announcement of Lennon’s death the world suddenly became a very confusing place. How was it possible that the man who was so outspoken about giving peace a chance could have been killed in such a violent way? My first thought was a selfish one: there would never, ever be a Beatles reunion.

In Death of a Dreamer, Alison Marie Behnke does a fine job of giving readers some insight into the man who killed one of our musical heroes. The book begins with a brief backstory into John’s childhood, his rise to fame with The Beatles, his decision to become a home dad, and his return to recording. John is portrayed as a complex person with his own demons and how he would eventually find some stability and happiness with his marriage to Yoko and the birth of their son Sean. However, all his plans of returning to the music world abruptly ended on that fateful day.

The second half of the book is about Mark David Chapman. We are told that even from a young age Chapman had a troubled “dark side”.  As a young boy, Chapman took comfort in an imaginary world populated with Little People. “They lived inside the walls of his home, with jobs and shops and schools of their own.”  Whenever feelings of anger or inadequacy surfaced, Chapman would vent his anger on the Little People. “I had a button on the arm of the couch in the den. When I pushed it, it would blow up the houses where the Little People lived. Sometimes I would kill hundred and thousands of them. Then, after I calmed down later, I would apologize. They always forgave me.” Clearly, the man had serious problems that were never discovered until too late.

The book includes many interesting black & white photos, quotes from people or articles from that time. Sidebars in red offer additional information are throughout the book. In one sidebar, Behnke tells that there are some conspiracy theories surrounding who really was responsible for Lennon’s assassination. I had not heard any of them.  Also in this book is a Timeline, Who’s Who, Source Notes, Selected Bibliography, For Further Information, and index.

Growing up, John Lennon was my favorite Beatle. I felt, as so many people did, that the violent way he died was contrary to what he stood for: World Peace. His motto “all you need is Love” was the message of his generation.  To die for no reason but from a deranged fan seemed wrong. Behnke does a good job of explaining Chapman’s motives for killing Lennon without sensationalizing.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friend Me! 600 years of social networking in America by Francesca Davis DiPiazza

Friend Me! 600 years of Social Networking in America
By Francesca Davis DiPiazza
Twenty-First Century Books. 2012
ISBN: 9780761358695
(Grades 9 and up)
Publisher sent reviewer a copy of this book.

In Friend Me! 600 years of Social Networking in America Francesca Davis DiPiazza states, “Social networks are groups of people connected by common interests and needs. Kinship, friendship, and sexual partnership are some of the ties that bind social networks. Likes and dislikes weave people into networks too – from sport leagues to political protest groups to vampire fan clubs.” Americans have been connecting with each other in many different ways, for many different reasons throughout history. DiPiazza’s tour of how groups used social networking for a wide variety of needs makes for an interesting thesis.

The book is divided into eight chapters and looks at how certain inventions -- the printing press, U.S. mail service, the telegraph, and the Internet -- changed the way we connect. Chapter One, ‘A String of Beads’ tells of the origin of wampum, and how it helped the warring Iroquois nation to grow stronger. Social networking both strengthened and divided the Puritan community, as we read in Chapter Two, ‘The Knitted City : Puritan New England’.  Chapter Three, ‘Coffee and Conversation: a Notion of Freedom’ discusses how printing during the 1600’s helped band American settlers and allow them the freedom of speech that would eventually lead to the revolution that separated the colonists from Great Britain rule.

As the population grew in numbers, social networking united the slaves as we read in Chapter Four, ‘People Skills: Creating Community in Slavery. Chapter Five, ‘A Very Social Time: Networking in a New Nation, songs and ballads, and letters all helped to unite people during the 1800’s, a time in U.S. history of tremendous growth as settles moved farther west.

The Telegraph changed the speed in which information was passed, we learn in Chapter Six, ‘Wired! Love, Death, and the Telegraph’. Chapter Seven, ‘A Smaller World Connecting the Dots’, the telegraph, the railroad, and the U.S. mail drastically changed the focus of social networking in the 1900’s. Chapter Eight, ‘Hardwired From Earth to the Stars’ shows how the Internet has expanded up our opportunities to make connections.

The book is only 112 pages, yet it covers a lot of information. It includes source notes, selected bibliography, further reading and websites, and an index. I did enjoy reading it and found it gave me a different perspective on American history.  I never really thought about how the mail order catalogs in 1905 were like Amazon in that they both threatened the small, independent, local retailer.

This book would work best in a social studies class for high school or college.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dwyane Wade by Michael Sandler

Dwyane Wade
by Michael Sandler
Basketball Heroes: Making a Difference series
Bearport Publishing, 2012
Library Binding
ISBN: 9781617724411
(Gr. 2-5)

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

We're into the month of March, and everywhere I look there are signs of March Madness. Kids and adults are talking about their NCAA picks for the college basketball championship. I think I've heard the word "bracket" a dozen times this weekend. That means that readers will be looking for basketball books in the library. I find it tricky to select sports biographies of current athletes for the library. Players come and go, and within a few years the biographies become dated and sit on the shelves. When teachers assign biography projects, they typically require students to read about people who have had an impact on the world. This requirement eliminates a lot of the modern-day sports biographies that are a merely compilation of statistics with some photos from games.

I was intriqued when I saw a new series listed in the Bearport Publishing catalog this year. The series, Basketball Heroes: Making a Difference, features four players Kevin Durant, Amar'e Stoudemire, Derrick Rose, and Dwyane Wade. I read the biography of Dwyane Wade, and it struck me as the perfect balance between athletic accomplishments and humanitarian efforts. The book will be extremely appealing to the middle grade reluctant readers in your library. It's twenty-four pages in length, and contains lots of photographs of Wade both in action on the court and working with children in need.

Readers will learn about Wade's difficult childhood growing up in a broken home in tough neighborhoods of Chicago. Wade later went on to became a college basketball success and an NBA sensation playing for the Miami Heat. Even though the book contains highlights from games and basketball stats, the focus is really on the work Wade has done off the court. As an NBA player, Wade has used his wealth and status to start a basketball camp for kids in Chicago, and he founded the Wade's World Foundation to help kids in difficult situations. When it appeared the public library in Robbins, Illinois would close due to budget cuts in 2009, Wade donated money to help keep the library open. The following year he appeared on posters for Library Card Sign-Up Month. What librarian can resist that story?

The book is organized well and utilizes text features such as captions, bold print, and a glossary. The focus on Wade's charitable work may make this a book teachers will accept for biographies projects. It's certainly a book that sports fans will be eager to read.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard
by Loree Griffin Burns
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Henry Holt and Company, 2012
ISBN: 9780805090628
(Grades 3-6)

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

Loree Griffin Burns, author of The Hive Detectives and Tracking Trash, returns with a new nonfiction book that will inspire kids to become observers of the world around them. Burns defines citizen science as "the study of our world by the people who live in it." Citizen Scientists focuses on four different types of animals that can be found in our backyards: butterflies, frogs, birds, and ladybugs.

The book provides readers with details about how to locate the animals and how to document their observations. The second person narrative and rich use of language puts readers in the shoes of naturalists. In the following excerpt, Burns perfectly captures how intensely you must listen when trying to count frogs at night.

"Dishes clank as someone inside loads the dishwasher, and you can just make out the muffled sound of the radio. You let those noises drift into the background, force your ears to search for other sounds. There aren't many: the drone of traffic on a far-off highway, the neighbor's front door opening and then slamming shut. Silence. But somewhere in that unusual quiet you suddenly hear a short pip of a noise. Again. Now two, in quick succession. Spring peepers! You look at your watch and start the timer."

Each chapter includes lists of equipment needed to observe and count the animals and information about organizations that coordinate counts around the country. Close-up photos of adults and children taking part in bird counts, butterfly tagging, frog identification, and ladybug projects compliment the information. Kids will love trying to answer the "Quick Quiz" at the end of each chapter.

This book is the complete package. It has great kid appeal; it will educate and inspire readers. I was really impressed by the back matter.  Each animal featured in the book has its own page of resources in addition to a bibliography, lengthy glossary and extensive index.

Whether reading Citizen Scientists with a class or independently, the book is sure to strike a chord with young readers. Burns provides web site links to bird counts, butterfly watches, ladybug projects and frog watches for readers who wish to become citizen scientists at home.

Friday, March 2, 2012

In The Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps It Up by Monica Kulling

In The Bag! Margaret Knight Wraps It Up
By Monica Kulling; Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books. 2011
ISBN: 9781770492394
The publisher sent a copy of this book for review.
(Grades 1-4)
Around third grade children come into my library asking for books about inventions. Crayons, tires, chocolate, cotton balls, you name it, they ask for it. Now there is another book about inventors to add to this popular collection. In The Bag by Monica Kulling’s is an entry in Tundra’s Great Idea Series. This lively picture book biography follows Margaret Knight, the woman who designed the machine that made square bottom paper bags. 
Margaret Knight was born in 1838. A time when women were not considered to be equal in intelligence and abilities as men. Nicknamed Mattie, Margaret loved to make things out of wood. “She made the best kites and sleds in town!” In 1850,after her father died, the family moved to Manchester, New Hampshire where children could find work in the mills. At age twelve Mattie, along with her two older brothers worked in a cotton mill. It was after a young woman was injured by a broken thread that Mattie invented a stop-motion device that prevented the shuttle from coming off its track. Too young to register for a patent, “Mattie took pride in knowing that millworkers were safer.”
The year 1868 found Margaret, now thirty years old, working in a paper bag factory, where paper bags were folded by hand. One day Margaret wondered if she could design a machine that would make a paper bag with a flat bottom. “That night, Margaret began designing a machine that would cut, fold, and paste a flat-bottom bag.” Her persistence paid off. After two years Margaret had a prototype that worked perfectly. Unfortunately, upon registering it for a patent, it was discovered that someone else, a Charles Annan had already registered the same design. Not to be detoured, armed with her notebook and diary, the feisty and confident Margaret won her case. In 1870 she filed for her first patent. 
Complimenting the text are David Parkins illustrations done in pen and ink with watercolor on paper. His sepia tones and careful attention to period details will engage readers. 
An author’s note and a short bibliography (sources of inspiration) is included. 

Pair this with Emily Arnold McCully’s Marvelous Mattie: how Margaret E. Knight became an inventor. (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2006)