Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon
by Steve Sheinkin
Flashpoint (an imprint of Macmillan), 2012
ISBN: 9781596434875
Grades 6 and up

The reviewer purchased a copy of the book.

Spies, Communists, secret parachute missions, scientific breakthroughs, and the race to build the deadliest bomb is the subject of Steven Sheinkin’s (The Notorious Benedict Arnold) latest work, The Bomb. It may sound like a work of fiction, but this story is all true. Sheinkin masterfully weaves together three plots: "The Americans try to build a bomb, the Soviets try to steal it, and the Allies try to sabotage the German bomb project.”

In 1938, Otto Hahn, proved that Uranium atoms would split into two when hit by neutrons from a radioactive element. Word quickly spread in the world of physics, and a race was on to see who could use this breakthrough to build an atomic bomb. Physicist, Robert Oppenheimer, was tapped by the U.S. to head up the Manhattan Project, and Los Alamos was identified as an ideal location to set up a laboratory and testing facility.

Sheinkin's narrative style, thorough research, use of quotes, and small details are pieced together to create a highly engaging story. In the chapter entitled, "Test Shot," the author describes in great detail the first time the atomic bomb was tested at the Trinity site in Los Alamos. Scientists gathered inside a bomb shelter to watch the results through pieces of thick glass to protect their sight. Sheinkin is amazing at building tension as the scientists wait for the countdown; they become jubilant when the test is successful. Then the mood changes.

"We turned to one another and offered congratulations- for the first few minutes. Then, there was a chill, which was not the morning cold." 

It was the chill of knowing they had used something they loved- the study of physics- to build the deadliest weapon in human history. (p. 184)

What Oppenheimer and his team of scientists did not know was that documents from their lab had been smuggled out of Los Alamos by Klaus Fuchs and handed over to the Soviets. Sheinkin provides a balanced account of why the U.S. made the decision to use the atomic bomb, while also describing the devastating effects on the Japanese people. It is this grim outcome and loss of civilian lives that plagued Oppenheimer for his remaining years. The struggle between science and ethics is explored a bit at the end as Oppenheimer asked Washington officials to use diplomacy instead of bombs. In final chapters Sheinkin also provides information about how the spies who stole the plans for the atomic bomb were investigated and prosecuted.

The design of the book is a real strength. Sheinkin includes several photos at the beginning of each chapter and at the end of the book, but the story is mainly told through the text. This design worked for me because I was so enthralled with the story, I didn't want a sidebar, map, or diagram interrupting my reading. Sheinkin thoroughly researched the topic which is evident from his lengthy source notes including over thirty primary sources.

Bomb is an exciting, fast-paced thriller that brings together the world of science with history. All you need to do is read the prologue to a group of middle grade readers, and you will have them clamoring for more!

Louise Says:
I liked The Bomb for many of the same reasons Cathy has already stated, but I do have one more to add. It seemed that at every turn of the page Sheinkin brought up a topic that reminded me of a book! For example, in 1941, when Oppenheimer attended his first meeting of the Uranium Committee, they mention the 1917 bomb explosion in Halifax Harbor, Canada: Blizzard of Glass by Sally Walker! As we read about the bravery of the Norwegians who helped the Americans destroy Germany’s bomb factory, I thought of Margie Preus’ new book, Shadow on the Mountain. The description of life in Los Alamos reminded me of Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. And, after the bomb was dropped and we learn of the horrific destruction and pain experienced by the people in Hiroshima: Sadako by Eleanor Coerr, and Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki. 

Related Books

Shadow on the Mountain by Margi Preus
Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages
Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
The Gadget by Paul Zindel
Where the Ground Meets the Sky by Jacqueline Davies

Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick
Blizzard of Glass: The Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally Walker
Sadako by Eleanor Coerr
Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki

Friday, September 28, 2012

Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Austin Kleon
Workman. 2012
ISBN: 9780761169253
Grades 9 and up (including adults)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Feeling sluggish? Uncreative? Do you lack enthusiasm when performing simple tasks? Do you find yourself rushing through tasks so you can spend more time checking your Facebook or Twitter accounts than talking to someone face-to-face? If this sounds like you, let me suggest a cure. Take 30 mins. and read Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. It is a must read for everyone over the age of 16 who needs to have their artistic juices recharged. This illustrated manifesto is a real powerhouse for encouraging creativity in the digital age. The 29-year-old author presents ten principles that will encourage you to shut off those electronic devices (TV’s, too) so that you have more time to discover your artistic side and build – or for some to get back to – a more creative life.  The ten topics are:

  1.         Steal Like an Artist
  2.        Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started
  3.         Write the book you want to read.
  4.        Use your hands.
  5.        Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6.        The Secret: do good work and share it with people.
  7.        Geography is no longer our master.
  8.        Be Nice (The world is a small town)
  9. Be Boring (it’s the only way to get work done).
  10. Creativity is subtraction 

The ideology is nothing new. It’s just that Kleon presents it so cleverly. The book’s design resembles the PowerPoint presentation Kleon did for a college talk. His simple black & white line drawings are presented throughout and offer the visual perspective to his words. (Go here)

At the beginning of each chapter, and liberally placed within the text, are quotes from famous people that reflect the chapter’s topic. In #8 Be Nice (the world is a small town) Kleon is reminding us that in our hyperconnected world of Twitter, Facebook, et al, there is a golden rule we should all follow. “An important lesson to learn: If you talk about someone on the Internet, they will find out. Everybody has a Google alert on their name.” A quote from Kurt Vonnegut, reminds us that “There’s only one rule I know of: You’ve got to be kind.”

At every page you will find something that validates your creative spirit and inspires you to keep pushing forward in all your creative endeavors, even during those times when you feel uninspired. Everything you do, even the daydreaming – which my parents said was a waste of time – is extremely important and very necessary in helping to sort out problems or work on the next step of an idea.  

Are there times when you feel dejected? Unloved? Keep a praise file. “Life is a lonely business, often filled with discouragement and rejection.” Everytime someone sends you an email congratulating you or complementing you on a program well-done, place it in your “praise file.” Perusing that file can help us feel better when we “have dark days” and we want to quit.

So, keep your day job, stay out of debt, be nice to everyone, think before you respond to something that has made you angry, (especially if it is online) keep a diary for your ideas, and above all…well, you’ll have to read Steal Like and Artist to find out. You can also listen to Austin's abbreviated version. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Main Event by Patrick Jones

The Main Event: the Moves and Muscle of Pro Wrestling
Patrick Jones
Millbrook Press. 2012
ISBN: 9780761386353
Grades 4 and up
This reviewer received a copy from the publisher

Pop quiz: Who is The Undertaker? a) someone who undertakes unpleasant tasks. b) harvests root vegetables, such as garlic. c) prepares dead bodies for burial. c) is the stage name of a famous wrestler in the sports entertainment industry -- WWE.
(Answers are at bottom of review)

The Main Event by Patrick Jones is written for fans of wrestling, and those who have always wondered what all the hype is about. Jones reveals that wrestling of today is scripted and done to achieve maximum entertainment for fans. Hey, it's a billion-dollar industry!

After a brief history of wrestling, a sport that when first practiced had no rules, the book moves into the more exciting territory: how this once simple form of entertainment, believed to be the world's oldest sport, that required only two people and no equipment, now  boasts millions of fans worldwide.  “It was said that Theseus, the king of Athens, Greece, first introduced rules in wrestling.”  
The six chapters include “Ten Great Main Events,” “The Stars: Great Wrestlers of the Past and Present,” “Wrestling’s Most Devastating Finishing Moves,” “Wrestling’s Most Memorable Moments,” and “Looking Forward: The Future of Pro Wrestling.” 

I found the different styles of wrestling interesting. There was "catch wrestling" where a wrestler is allowed to hold any part of his opponents body,"  “collar-and-elbow” where opponents hold each other’s collars and elbows, and "carnival wrestling," a style that became popular soon after the Civil War, where a wrestler issues a challenge to a fan. Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was a catch wrestler before he became president?

I also find the names of the star wrestlers intriguing: Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, and The Undertaker. Many have embarked on a career in movies and reality TV.

Patrick Jones is a highly respected young adult librarian and author of several YA novels. His enthusiasm for the sport is evident in the tone of the writing. The inclusion of color and black & white photos, and evenly placed sidebars that give additional information will make The Main Event popular with reluctant readers. For example, the sidebar “Not Suitable for Kids?" discusses the pro and cons of children watching such a violent sport that boasts harsh language and a history of drug use.  A table of contents, glossary, further reading, and index are included.

Though Jones does a good job of keeping things in chronological order, his continued use of acronyms is very confusing for the uninitiated. We have WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), MTV (Music Television) , WCW (World Championship Wrestling), PPV (Pay Per View), NWO (New World Order), et. al.  

The Main Event is a good addition to libraries. It will be best appreciated by those who already have a knowledge of wrestling and are familiar with all the different stars, events, associations, and nomenclature.

See other titles in the Spectacular Sports series. We reviewed Daytona 500. Bearport Publishing offers brief biographies of wrestling stars in Wrestlings Tough Guys

Answer: C

Monday, September 17, 2012

2012 CYBILS Judging

We are thrilled to announce that both of us will serve as judges for the 2012 Children's and Young Adult Literary Bloggers' Awards (CYBILS). Louise will be a first round judge for the middle grade and young adult nonfiction category, and Cathy will be a first round judge for book apps category

Be sure to visit the CYBILS web site between October 1-15 to nominate your favorite titles.

A Strange Place to Call Home

A Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats & the Animals That Call Them Home
poems by Marilyn Singer
illustrations by Ed Young
Chronicle Books, 2012
ISBN: 9781452101200
Grades K-5

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

Poet, Marilyn Singer, and illustrator, Ed Young, have teamed up to create a new picture book with lots of kid appeal. The book focuses on how animals have adapted to life in unusual places on earth. Each two-page spread features a poem an illustration of an animal and its strange habitat.

Singer's poems describe the habitats of various animals such as snow monkeys, tube worms, petroleum flies, and mountain goats.

Excerpt from "Top of the World" describing mountain goats:

Atop a rocky peak, the air is pure,
but the wind blows fierce and the climb is steep.
Each step must be confident and so sure,
there's little need to look before you leap.

In an author's note, Singer explains that some of poems are free verse while others have "regular rhyme schemes, but no set rules." Readers are encouraged to visit to learn more about poetic forms.

Children will be attracted to the vibrant colors and different textures of Young's paper and fiber collage illustrations. The layers of paper bring a depth to the illustrations. My favorite illustration depicts flamingos standing in a salt marsh. Painted pink paper makes up the flamingos' bodies, and brightly colored strips of cloth are used for the birds' gangly legs. The heads of the flamingos point downward as they look for a meal in the "salty land." The back of the book contains paragraphs of additional information about each animal although no list of sources or bibliography are provided.

The third grade students in my school study animal adaptations and biomes. I plan to share this book with their teachers. It could serve a starting point for students interested in learning about animals and their habitats, and it could be used as a model for young writers who want to share information in the form of poetry.

Visit Scribd to view pages from the book:

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Giant and How He Humbugged America by Jim Murphy

The Giant and How He Humbugged America

By Jim Murphy

Scholastic Press. 2012

ISBN: 9780439691840

Grades 5 and up

This reviewer received a copy from the publisher.

People have been duped by hoaxes and scams since time began. We’ve had the Feejee Mermaid (1842), The War of the Worlds (1938), Alien Autopsy (1995), and The Beatles famous Paul is Dead (1968). Why, P. T. Barnum made his fortune promoting celebrated hoaxes! In our present day, we have Bernie Madoff, whose 2008 Ponzi scheme was the biggest in financial history, and in 2009 there was the Balloon Boy’s Prank. Nonfiction writer Jim Murphy, in The Giant and How He Humbugged America, has written a thoroughly engaging book on one of the most famous hoaxes in the United States: The Cardiff Giant. It was the talk of the nation from its discovery in October 1869 until the truth was uncovered in January of 1870. (Murphy was the 2004 Sibert Medal winner for An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, another example of his fine nonfiction writing).

It all began on October 16, 1869 on a small farm in Cardiff, New York. William (Stub) Newell hired his brother-in-law and three other men to dig a well on a patch of dry land ten feet from the barn. After three hours of backbreaking work digging and moving stones, one of the workers, “had hit something solid.” Soon, after some frantic digging they discovered a blue-gray stone that was shaped exactly like a foot. “A very large foot!” In a matter of minutes they had uncovered the whole body, all 10 feet, four inches of it. At first someone suggested the body might be an ancestor of the Onondaga Indian tribe that had once lived in the area. “The men had grown up hearing Onondaga stories about the Stone Giants, very tall creatures that terrorized the region in the distant past.” Since Newell’s farm was on the route to Syracuse, within a few hours of their discovery word had spread about the body. On Sunday, October 24, 2,300 people came to see the giant.

Murphy does an excellent job placing this hoax firmly within the context of history at that time. The Civil War had ended just four years prior, the Industrial Revolution was just getting underway, and New York City was under the corrupt influence of William “Boss” Tweed. (Think Tammany Hall) People were looking for something to lift their spirits. Some were led to believe that the Cardiff Giant was one of the giants mentioned in the Bible. Many Cardiff residents took the good book literally and believed the story of David and the giant, Goliath.

Of course, all good things must come to and end. By January of 1870, just two months after its discovery, the public would learn the truth behind the Cardiff Giant, named for the town where it was found.

The chapter headings act as a timeline, guiding the reading from the giant’s discovery to the ugly truth about the hoax to the giant’s final resting place. Historic photos, engravings, replicas of newspaper articles, and political cartoons are generously inserted throughout the book. One feature I really liked was when we read about how much money was earned or spent, Murphy relates what the amount would be in today’s dollars. For example, Stub Newell sold his share of the giant to “thirty-four-year-old John Rankin, a businessman and future mayor of Binghamton. The price was a cool $25,000 ($406,000) almost all of it in bank notes that would be paid off at a later date.”

Display The Giant and How He Humbugged America with Tom Thumb: the Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature by George Sullivan, The Great and Only Barnum: the Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P.T. Barnum by Candace Fleming, Duped! : True Stories of the World’s Best Swindlers by Andreas Schroeder, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz, and Selling Hope by Kristin Tubb.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Annie and Helen Blog Tour: Book Giveaway and Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

Annie and Helen
by Deborah Hopkinson
illustrated by Raul Colon
available Sept. 11, 2012
Random House
ISBN: 9780375957062
Grades K-5

Reviewed from an f&g sent by the publisher.

For decades, children have been interested in the story of Helen Keller and how she learned to communicate, despite being both deaf and blind. In Annie and Helen, accomplished author Deborah Hopkinson writes about the relationship between Helen and her beloved teacher Annie Sullivan, whose hard work and dedication would unlocked Helen’s brilliant mind. The inclusion of Sullivan’s observations from her diary as chapter headings, and Raul Col√≥n’s illustrations, done in watercolor, makes this nonfiction picture book a necessary addition for all libraries. Historic photos of Annie and Helen grace the endpapers.             Louise                                                                                             


 Annie and Helen Blog Tour: Author Interview & Book Giveaway

Today we are taking part in Random House's Annie and Helen blog tour. In honor of the September release of Annie and Helen, we will give away one copy of the book to a lucky reader. See contest details and entry form at the bottom of this post.

 Interview with Deborah Hopkinson

We had the pleasure of interviewing author Deborah Hopkinson about Annie and Helen  and her work as an author of children's books.

The Nonfiction Detectives: What drew you to the topic of Helen Keller?

Deborah Hopkinson: Both my kids were fascinated by Helen Keller.  Actually, I think many people are, and Keller  is listed as one of the most important figures of the 20th century.  We admire her courage and accomplishments.

After seeing a news article about a long-lost photo of Annie and Helen that was re-discovered in 2008, I decided to research Helen as well as Annie Sullivan.  Instantly I became fascinated with how Annie Sullivan, who was only 21 herself invented on her own an innovative way to teach her young charge.  Annie and Helen includes excerpts of Annie’s letters during the first four months of her time with Helen.

The Nonfiction Detectives: You have written a wide variety of books about history for varied age groups, including nonfiction and historical fiction books for children. Do you prefer writing one genre over the other? If so, why?

Deborah Hopkinson: I like writing in a variety of genres.  I do find that nonfiction is easier for me, in part because I also have a full time career in philanthropy. Longer fiction is tremendously complex, and harder to incorporate into a busy life with a demanding day job.  When I began writing more than 20 years ago I was drawn to picture books because they were short and seemed more practical for a working mom with kids!  

Overall, I’m happy as long as I am growing and learning as a writer – whether it be picture books such as Annie and Helen, long nonfiction such as Titanic, Voices from the Disaster, or novels such as my forthcoming middle grade historical fiction title: The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and A Boy Called Eel.

The Nonfiction Detectives: What was your process for researching this book? Did you read a lot of original documents and travel to Perkins School for the Blind?

Deborah Hopkinson: I was in touch with experts from the Perkins School  for the Blind, who read the manuscript in advance, though  I wasn’t able to travel there.  Primarily I consulted the anniversary edition of The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, which includes Annie Sullivan’s 1887 letters to Sophia Hopkins, her friend and former house mother at the Perkins School, as well as David Lash’s excellent biography, Helen and Teacher.

As soon as I read Annie’s letters from her first few months with Helen, I knew that was what I wanted to focus the story on.  It’s so incredible to think that Annie arrived on March 6 and by July – just four months later, she had mastered enough skills to write a letter.   That says a lot about both the pupil and the teacher.

The Nonfiction Detectives: Did you always want to be a writer?

Deborah Hopkinson: Yes, I think I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about ten years old, but it wasn’t until after my daughter was born that I began writing for children.  We would go to the library and check out picture books and I thought that maybe this was something that I as a working mom could do. My first book was published in 1993.

The Nonfiction Detectives: You collaborated with Raul Colon on A Band of Angels. Did you imagine Raul Colon as the illustrator while you were writing Annie and Helen?
Deborah Hopkinson: I don’t usually think about who the illustrator might be when I’m working on a manuscript.  Most of the time, the editor chooses and illustrator once my part is done.

I love Raul’s work on A Band of Angels and am delighted to be paired with him again.  Recently we were at the same conference and he shared that for Annie and Helen he took his inspiration from the paintings of Mary Cassatt.  You can certainly see how he creates that sense of a warm, loving relationship between Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller that is reminiscent of Cassatt’s portraits.

The Nonfiction Detectives: What is your writing schedule like? Do you write every morning? Do you have a studio?

Deborah Hopkinson: I have always combined writing with my day job, which means I don’t write every day.  Presently I am vice president for advancement at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon.  Sometimes I take a vacation day to meet a writing deadline; most often I write on weekends. 

As far as where I write, I have two favorite spots. One is at the kitchen table; the other is sitting on my bed with my laptop and a portable ironing board.   I can look out the window, which is on the second floor.  I find this very relaxing, perhaps because I am in an office all week sitting at a computer.  And, of course, I usually have a dog stretched out next to me for company!

The Nonfiction Detectives: What do you hope readers take away from Annie and Helen?
Deborah Hopkinson: Well, I hope readers come away with a deeper appreciation of Helen Keller’s amazing drive to learn, something that she was committed to throughout her long and productive life.  I also hope readers will go beyond the famous scene at the water pump and be able to really see how inventive and dedicated Annie Sullivan was as a teacher.   It’s inspiring to think that this young woman,  who had faced so much adversity herself, was able to accomplish in these early months with Helen, when she herself was only just 21.
Annie and Helen Blog Tour Dates
September 1stWatch. Connect. Read  
September 1st:   SharpRead
September 2nd: Nerdy Book Club
September 3rd: Bakers and Astronauts
September 4th: Two Writing Teachers  
September 5th: Cracking the Cover  
September 6th: Teach Mentor Texts  
September 7th: Nonfiction Detectives
September 8th: Booking Mama
September 10th: Random Acts of Reading  

  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 September 7, 2012 until 11:59 p.m. on September 11, 2012.
  • The winner will be contacted by email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, we will select a new winner.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hands Around the Library

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books
by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN: 9780803737471
Grades 2-5

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

The beginning of the school year is a great time to share books about the importance of books and libraries.  A new nonfiction picture book by Dial Books would make an excellent read aloud to stimulate discussions with children about the importance of books and libraries to our society.

In January 2011, when protesters took to the streets of Egypt and started an uprising against the government, librarians at the Alexandra Library were concerned.  Would protestors harm the library? Susan L. Roth and Karenn Leggett Abouraya capture the emotion of the events in Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books. The narrative is written in the first-person from the point of view of a librarian taking part in the protests.

"In other parts of our city some of the protestors had acted in anger. They had set fire to cars and to a police station. As we marched toward the library, I grew worried. What if they tried to burn it down?"

Alexandria has a rich, library history. Ptolemy used the Alexandria library to collect knowledge from around the world until it was destroyed by fire in 48 B.C. The modern library of Alexandria is a huge, modern building made of eleven floors in the shape of a circle which "represents the sun shining on the world."

As protestors made their way through the streets of Alexandria, library director Dr. Ismail Serageldin persuaded citizens to protect the library by joining hands in front of the library. Roth's paper and fabric collages are an ideal medium for relating a serious story to young readers. A two-page spread shows the the protestors from behind as they stand outside the Alexandria library. On some pages, Roth frames smaller illustrations to look like a series of photographs. My favorite page-turn in the book is when the library director is holding hands with people in front of the library. The next two-page spread uses paper and cloth to illustrate hands holding the red, white and black flag of Egypt.

Readers will be interested in the photographs in the back of the book that show the Alexandia Library with a human chain protecting it from harm. One photograph shows the oversized Egyptian flag being held in the streets in front of the library.

Back matter includes information about the ancient library of Alexandria and Alexandria's modern library. A note from Susan L. Roth describes how she became interested in the Alexandria Library after her friend (and co-author), Karen Leggett Abouraya, married a man from Egypt. Roth visited the Alexandra Library in 2009.

Picture books are an excellent way to relate heavy subjects to students in a manner they will understand, and there are many powerful messages that young readers may take away from this story.

"Children cannot grow up supporting angry borders if they are taught, from the time they are born, to love books and to hold hands around the world." Susan L. Roth

Pair this book with The Librarian of Basra by Jeannette Winter.

Visit Susan Roth's web site to view illustrations from the book:

The Hands Around the Library web site contains photographs of the Alexandria Library and discussion questions for teachers and librarians.