Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, December 17, 2012

Top Ten Biographies of 2012

Back in October we compiled a list of our favorite titles of 2012. Now that the year is coming to a close, we thought it would be the right time to share our favorite 2012 books by subject. Today we focus on biographies.

Top Ten Biographies of 2012 
(with links to our reviews)

We recognize that there are many more excellent titles that we didn't have a chance to review. Here are six more outstanding biographies from 2012.

Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: the Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman
Bon Appetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland
The Bronte Sisters: The Brief Lives of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne by Catherine Reef
Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim
Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman

Coming up next week... Our favorite math and science books of 2012.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Their Skeletons Speak and Faces from the Past

Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World
By Sally M. Walker and Douglas W Owsley.
Carolrhoda. 2012
ISBN: 9780761374572
Grades 8 up
This reviewer obtained a copy of the book from the publisher.

The two books I review today unfold like an episode of CSI!

In July of 1996, two young men, ages 19 and 20 trying to find a good spot to watch the Tri-City Water Follies in Kennewick, Washington, accidently uncover a skull while wading in the Columbia River. Soon, the police, a homicide detective, and a paleontologist and archaeologist are on the scene to uncover the puzzling story of how those bones ended up in the Columbia River. Was it a recent homicide or bones from the past, and if so, how old were they? 

Their Skeletons Speak: Kennewick Man and the Paleoamerican World by Sally M. Walker and Douglas W. Owsley is a fascinating look into our ancient past. Using the Kennewick Man, readers follow the steps taken to discover the skeleton’s past, as well as the long court battle to decide ownership. Walker is not a newcomer to writing about our past. Several of her books, including Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H. L. Huntley (2006 Sibert Winner) are a mixture of science and history. 

The scientific process of dating old bones is the focus of Their Skeletons Speak, which reads like a good detective novel. We learn of the attention to detail, the pains-taking work and long hours needed to determine a skeleton’s age, sex, and place in history. For instance, certain skull features, like the cheekbones, can provide clues about a skeleton’s ancestry. In the Kennewick Man, James Chatters, a paleontologist and archaeologist, noted “the cranium’s shape did not resemble modern day European or Native American skulls he had seen.  Chatters uncovered past injuries, height, occupation, and what might have caused Kennewick Man’s death. Walker rounds out this book by including the findings of other well-known ancient skeletons -- Spirit Cave Man, Arch Lake Woman, Horn Shelter Man and Upward Sun River Mouth Child. Further enhancing the reading experience, are photos, maps, and sidebars with more detailed explanations discussed in the text. I have to admit this book was a page-turner.

Partner Their Skeletons Speak with another terrific new book, Faces from the Past: Forgotten People of North America by James M. Deem, author of the 2006 Sibert Honor Book, Bodies from the Ice. In Faces from the Past, Deem explains the history and science of facial reconstruction and believes that by putting a face to the long forgotten dead, we can at last hear their stories.

Faces From the Past: Forgotten People in North America
By James M. Deem
Houghton Mifflin. 2012
ISBN: 9780547370248
Grades 8 up
This reviewer obtained a copy of the book from the publisher.

In1940, husband and wife team, George and Sidney Wheeler, both archaeologists, are out in Nevada when they enter a cave. Wrapped up in three mats made mostly of tule, a type of reed that grew along an ancient, Lake Lahontan, which is now long gone, the couple find the skeletal remains of a man. After a brief viewing, the skeleton was wrapped up and placed in storage. Fifty-four years later, in 1994, the bones are tested using a newer techniques of radiocarbon dating. Known as Spirit Cave Man, scientists first estimated he died 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. Wrong! Spirit Cave Man died approximately 10,500 years ago, making his the oldest partially mummified human remains ever recovered in North America. 

The cool thing about reading these books at the same time is that they cover similar territory and include many of the same facial reconstruction artists and scientists. 

Where Walker asks the question: How did the ancient people come to North America? Deem, on the other hand, explains the history and science of facial reconstruction and how it is used to put a face to the long forgotten dead so we can know their stories. 

Both books are well documented and deserve a space on all library shelves. I’m curious if teens are reading Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel? If so, these two nonfiction titles, as well as Mysterious Bones: the story of the Kennewick Man by Katherine Kirkpatarick would greatly enhance their reading experience. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Zombie Makers by Rebecca L. Johnson

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead

By Rebecca L. Johnson
Milbrook Press. 2013 (but it is already available)
ISBN: 9780761386339
Grades 4-8
I checked this book out of my local public library.


Just thinking about these brain-sucking creatures gives me the creeps. Yet, day after day, children of all ages ask me if there are any books on Zombies. (“Zobmies,” asks a savvy 3-year-old) According to Rebecca L. Johnson, zombies do exists, only more of the insect variety. Whew!

In Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead we learn about a few things that can take over the bodies and brains of innocent creatures, turning them into senseless slaves. Find out about the fly-enslaved fungus, suicide worm, and the Jewel Wasp that lays its eggs inside a cockroach. When hatched, the jewel wasp larvae feasts on the roach’s organs. Delicious!

 The book’s cover is eye-catching. All in red, we see a close-up photograph of a jewel wasp attacking a cockroach. 5 chapters, each four pages long, include color photographs of the subject and side bars with scientific facts. The writing is entertaining and informative, and Johnson includes a phonetic pronunciation for all the scientific names. Readers will learn how the fungus, insect, or virus attacks its victim and then takes total control. Hey, it’s nature!

Take, for example, the hairworms (Paragordius tricuspidatus). They take control of crickets, the hairworms true host. Tiny insects, those that begin life in the water, are infected by tiny young forms of the hairworm. The hairworm larvae didn’t hurt the insect they infected. They just curled up to form little balls, called cysts, inside them. The larvae waited as cysts until the insects died and were eaten by crickets.  Once inside the cricket the larvae nibble on their host and grow until nearly 3 feet (1 meter) long. To fit inside the cricket it must loop, coil, and knot itself. Once fully grown and needing the water to reproduce, the worms release a chemical inside the crickets brains that makes the cricket think it needs water. (Crickets can’t swim) The crickets hurl themselves in the water and drown, at which time the hairworm quickly wiggles out of their dead or dying host. It’s not a pretty sight.

In an afterword, Johnson explains why zombie makers go to so much trouble to invade and control their hosts. All living things reproduce to make more of their own kind. If they didn’t do it, they’d die out. An author’s note, glossary, source notes, selected bibliography, web sites, and an index rounds out this fascinating look at insects.

Hand this to a bunch of students during a classroom visit and you’ll find them sitting in the corner reading completely absorbed.

Other books about parasites include: What’s Eating You: parasites---the inside story by Nicola Davies and Gross Universe: your guide to all disgusting things under the sun by Jeff Szpirglas.
[Reviewed by Louise]

Monday, December 3, 2012


Ice! The Amazing History of the Ice Business
by Laurence Pringle
Calkins Creek, 2012
ISBN: 9781590788011
Grades 4-8

The reviewer received a copy of the books from the publishers.

What are the chances that two excellent children's books of 2012 would focus on ice? That's right: ice.  Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Obed and Barbara McClintock is a treasure to be shared with readers of all ages. It's a poetic look at growing up on a Maine farm in winter. Readers who live in cold climates will relate to how Obed eloquently describes ice. McClintock's pen and ink sketches are beautiful.

 Laurence Pringle takes a different look at ice in the nonfiction book, Ice! The Amazing History of the Ice Business. The book examines how the ice industry developed in our country as people attempted to keep food and perishables cold in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Workers used special tools pulled by horses to cut large sections of ice from frozen rivers. The ice was then packed in sawdust and transported to homes, restaurants, and onto ships. In 1869, unseasonably warm weather caused an "ice famine." Ice companies sent their crews north to the Kennebec River in Maine where ice was plentiful. (I actually knew a bit about this from when I taught Maine history to 6th grade students,)

The design and short length of this book make is accessible to the lower range of middle grade readers who haven't developed the stamina to read lengthier nonfiction texts. Visual elements include dozens of photographs, advertisements, pages from catalogs, and illustrations. I was intrigued by four pages in the middle of the book that show ice cards from around the country. Ice cards were placed in the windows of homes to indicate the amount of ice families wished to purchase from the ice delivery man.

Back matter includes source notes, a bibliography, and a list of web sites, museums, films and books on the topic of harvesting ice. Ice! is an interesting look at how ingenuity made it possible to keep food cold in the 19th century until more advanced technology came along. Hopefully, it will give readers a new appreciation of refrigeration. Twelve Kinds of Ice and Ice! would make an excellent fiction/nonfiction pairing.

Visit the Maine Memory Network's online exhibit, Ice: A Maine Commodity to view photographs of ice harvests.

Other Reviews:
Twelve Kinds of Ice reviewed by Betsy Bird on A Fuse #8 Production

It's Nonfiction Monday!
Head over to to see all of the nonfiction reviews today.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Last Airlift by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Last Airlift: a Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War 
By Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Pajama Press Inc.
ISBN: 978098694950
Grades 4 and up
We obtained this book from our local public library.
In 1975, over 2,000 orphaned children were airlifted out of South Vietnam when Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Children who were disabled or the product of a Vietnamese woman and U.S. soldier would be killed. In Last Airlift, Marsha Skrypuch describes the rescue experience by one orphan, Son Thi Anh Tuyet, who suffered from polio. For Tuyet, leaving Vietnam meant a promise of a new life in a new country.

Tuyet was eight years old in 1975. She thought all children lived together in a building. She never went outside, it was far too dangerous. Tuyet could not remember ever seeing the sky above her head. 

One day, without any warning, everything changed. A man came to the orphanage and helped the nuns pack up diapers, formula, water, and bedding. Babies were placed in boxes, sometimes two to a box. Each child’s name was written on a plastic strip that was placed on its wrist. Then, everything was packed into a white Volkswagon van and driven to the airport. As Tuyet was entering the van she looked around her and saw the streets full of people running. Some carried suitcases; others carried children. Some people were screaming; others were weeping. What Tuyet did not know was that North Vietnam tanks were entering Saigon. 

Readers will immediately be drawn in from the very first page. The book only covers Tuyet’s journey by airplane from Saigon to Toronto, Canada and her adoption to a new family who loves her very much. When Tuyet is flying to Canada, another orphan, Linh, gives her some advise. Whenever someone asks you something in English, answer, No. That will stop them from doing what they were going to do. The last three chapters are most touching as we learn just how patient Tuyet’s new family is as they learn how to communicate with each other. (They do not speak Vietnamese) Some of the changes in Tuyet’s life were difficult. For instance, Tuyet was used to sleeping with all the other orphans on the floor at the orphanage, she is unable to adjust to sleeping alone in a bed in her own bedroom.

Historic black & white photographs, including some of Tuyet, enhance the reading experience. 

In a historic note, Skrypuch briefly explains the rescue operation. In her Author’s note, we learn that Tuyet currenly lives in Skrypuch’s hometown of Brantford, Ontario. It is great to see Tuyet as a grown up woman.

The Vietnam War era was a time of monumental social change. There was Roe v. Wade, protest songs, Hippies, Woodstock, anti-establishment, Malcolm X, Hell’s Angels, student led marches and protests demanding the US end their involvement in Vietnam.  Bob Dole even wore bell-bottoms!

You could tie this book with other nonfiction titles about Vietnam, The Vietnam War, Escape from Saigon: a Vietnam War Orphan becomes an American boy by Andrea Warren, and a biography of Muhammand Ali. For fiction, try Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers, Free-Fire Zone by Chris Lynch (and other titles in this series), All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg, and The Wall by Eve Bunting. Visit the author's web site.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Living in the Wild: Primates series
by Buffy Silverman
Heinemann Library, 2012
ISBN: 9781432958619
Grades 4 and up

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

Recently I read Endangered by Eliot Schrefer. Endangered is a young adult novel about a Congolese American girl who rescues a bonobo while visiting her mother's bonobo preserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Civil war breaks out, and Sophie finds herself on the run while trying to protect the bonobos. The title was recently a named a finalist for the National Book Award, and it came highly recommended by a number of teacher and librarian friends. As I read Endangered, I learned a lot about bonobos and the many threats they face in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I was intrigued, so I picked up a nonfiction text to learn more about the primates.  

Bonobos by Buffy Silverman is a straight forward, expository text that is full of information about the lives of bonobos. The book is well-organized and begins with a look at primates in general. A diagram showing how all primates evolved is helpful for readers to see where bonobos fit into the primate family.

Bonobos is chock full of information for young researchers. The book is organized into fourteen chapters; each chapter begin with a question. In the chapter entitles, What Are Bonobos?, readers learn that bonobos share 98% of their genes with humans. Bonobos are social animals and live together in groups. Each night bonobos make nests in treetops. Baby bonobos are highly reliant on their mothers for food and protection during the first year of life. Like humans, bonobos enjoy playing, and they use tools. Dozens of color photographs show bonobos in the wild; captions are used to clearly label each photo.

Silverman points out the threats to bonobos in later chapters. Unfortunately, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the only country where the primates live. A decade of civil war has taken a toll on the bonobo population; many were killed for meat. Clear cutting forests for farming and mining has also had an impact on bonobos. The author leaves readers with a glimmer of hope as she highlights efforts to save the bonobo including the Sankuru Nature Reserve. Back matter includes a glossary, index, and a list of recommended books and web sites.

Students in need of print sources for research assignments should be sure to check out this series. Bonobos will also satisfy readers who wish to learn more about these amazing primates, and it would make an excellent fiction/nonfiction pairing with Endangered.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Interview with Monica Kulling and Review of Going Up!

Going Up! Elisha Otis's Trip to the Top
by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books, 2012
ISBN: 9781770492400
Grades: 2-5

The reviewers received a copy of the book from the publishers.
Inventors are popular subjects in the biography section. Most biography sections are chock full of books about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford. We're fortunate that Monica Kulling sheds light on little known inventors with her Great Idea series.  Kulling focuses on the life and work of Elisha Otis and his "people-hoisting machine" (also known as the elevator) in Going Up! Elisha Otis's Trip to the Top.

Kulling engages readers with her narrative style and fast-paced storytelling. She keeps the story moving without leaving out important details. As a librarian who frequently reads aloud picture book biographies to classes, I appreciate that Kulling provides the time period and location on the first page of the story.

"It was 1818, and Elisha Otis was seven. He loved watching farm machines at work. 

The hay hoist was the most fun of all. The ropes broke often, and when they did-SNAP!-the hay came tumbling down."

Otis was an idea man. During the construction of a bed-frame factory in Yonkers, Otis worried that heavy machinery would hurt workers if it came crashing down as it was moved to the second floor. Otis invented a safety brake that attached to a platform. It worked so well at moving machinery that Otis decided it would work for moving people. Children who enjoy figuring out how things work will be inspired by Otis's ingenuity.

Detailed pen, ink and watercolor illustrations depict history while also being kid-friendly. Parkins effectively captures the expressions on the faces of people throughout the book. In one illustration, Elisha looks eagerly at his boss who is delighted with Otis's plans for a new bed rail machine. In the background, readers can see the forlorn look on a worker's face as he makes a bed rail by hand.

A note at the end of the book provides more details about Otis's first elevator and how his invention made skyscrapers a possibility. The next time a child needs a biography for a school assignment, pull out Going Up! It is sure to captivate readers while teaching them something new.

An Interview with Monica Kulling

Louise had the pleasure of interviewing author, Monica Kulling. Kulling is the author of a number of picture book biographies including In the Bag: Margaret Knight Wraps it Up and It's a Snap: George Eastman's First Photograph.

The Nonfiction Detectives: You have written four books in Tundra’s Great Idea Series. What drew you to the topic of inventors
Monica: I love reading about the struggle everyone goes through to achieve his or her goals. Inventors are clever and ingenious in finding ways to realize their dreams. For me the “aha moment” is the most fascinating. It’s that moment when a great idea first clicks in your brain and has you racing off in pursuit.
The first inventor story I wrote was about George Eastman and his Kodak camera. I shelved the story after sending it to several publishers and not getting even a nibble. I then wrote about Henry Ford and his Model T, and sold Eat My Dust! Henry Ford’s First Race to Random House, adding Listen Up! Alexander Graham Bell’s Talking Machine to the Step-Into Reading lineup a couple years later. Then, a fabulous editor at Tundra Books here in Toronto grabbed It’s A Snap! George Eastman’s First Photograph and the Great Idea series was born. The picture-book format allows me to bring depth and breadth to each inventor’s story.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: You have written a wide variety of books for children. Do you prefer writing one genre over another? If so, why?
Monica: No, I can’t say that I do. I enjoy writing fiction because there isn’t much research involved and I can merrily fly by the seat of my pants, inventing away, and nobody can come along and say, “Hey! That didn’t happen.” I also love biography, giving kids a peek inside another time and at people whose lives were vastly different from our own.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: Where do you get your ideas?
Monica: I have ideas popping up all the time. The best place seems to be while walking my dogs through High Park, a large city park in Toronto. To quote Dr. Linus Pauling, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” When I am struck by an idea I jot it down in a handy notepad. Much later, I’ll see whether any of these ideas still contain a latent spark, an electrical charge. If so, I’ll pursue it. If not, forget it.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: What was your process for researching this book?
Monica: Going Up! was a strange book to research, because there are no books about Elisha Otis. I couldn’t tackle the subject in my usual way, reading widely and choosing facts from several sources. I gleaned all my information online. But because I had set out to write the story in the same folksy way as It’s A Snap!, I felt free to give the facts a supporting role and to focus on the story of a young man who took years and years to find his groove. Not everyone appreciates this method of serving up non-fiction. One reviewer, for example, didn’t like the phrase, “Betsy could almost see the lightbulb over her husband’s head,” rightly citing it as an anachronism. Oops.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: Did you always want to be a writer?
Monica: No. Writing came to me quite by accident. In my teens, I needed my own space and a place where I could get away from day-to-day family life. I took to writing poetry after being struck, and I know this will sound trite, by the passion and lyricism of Melanie Safka’s song, “Lay Down (Candles In the Rain).” It was the opening that blew me away, for some inexplicable reason. The power of it woke me up! And I started to write.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: Do you make your living as a writer?
Monica: Yes, such as it is.  
    The Nonfiction Detectives: What is your writing schedule like? Do you write every morning? Do you have a studio?
Monica: I have an office and write every morning. I research most afternoons. But I can write any time, because writing is never far from my mind.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Monica: That’s a good question, and one I can’t easily answer because I wasn’t much of a reader when I was younger. The few books that made a deep impression on me were the ones I actually got through in high school, such as Jean Valjean’s story from Les Miserables, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Animal Farm, and Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. As for influences today, there are many writers I read and admire and think, “Wow. I could never write like that.”
    The Nonfiction Detectives: What do you hope readers take away from In the Bag! and other books in the Great Idea series?
Monica: I hope readers will realize that life offers a world of possibilities, and that they can do whatever they choose to do if they put the time, energy, and will behind the enterprise. In the case of Elijah McCoy (All Aboard!) and Margaret Knight (In the Bag!), I’d like readers to see that struggle is part of life and that if you are at a disadvantage by virtue of something beyond your control, there are ways to overcome that unfairness.
I’d also like them to know that people living long ago in less comfortable conditions than many of us enjoy, made a contribution to the way we live our lives today, and these contributions have nothing to do with anything digital.
    The Nonfiction Detectives: What do you hope readers will take away from Going Up!?
Monica: Again, I hope readers will come to learn a little about a man who made elevators a reality. We take those “quiet rooms” for granted whenever we step into one, but all you have to do is look up to see the “Otis” name. Going Up! will clear up the mystery, just a little, about who that man was, how he came to invent the safety brake, and what it meant during his lifetime and what it means to us today.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Monsieur Marceau

Monsieur Marceau: Actor Without Words
by Leda Schubert
illustrated by Gerard Dubois
Neal Porter Books (an imprint of Roaring Brook Press) 2012
ISBN: 9781596435292
Grades 1-4

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

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge
We have partnered with Alyson at Kid Lit Frenzy to encourage people to read more nonfiction picture books this year. Here's a new picture book biography that has made it to the top of my list of favorite books for 2012.

I love introducing the readers in my library to people they don't know much about (Bessie Coleman, Jacques Cousteau, Charles Atlas, Annette Kellerman). I think it's safe to say that most children have probably never heard of Marcel Marceau. Leda Schubert masterfully introduces young readers to Marceau's work and the art of mime. In the beginning of the book, Schubert describes mime in a clear manner young readers will understand.

"He is the superstar of silence,
the maestro of mime-
acting without words.
He uses his whole body onstage:
his hands, his feet, his eyebrows, his toes"

As a teenager growing up in France, Marceau Mangrel was greatly impacted by World War II. Mangrel changed his name to Marceau to hide that he was Jewish. As a young man, Marceau helped groups of Jewish children escape from the Nazis by leading them over the border to Switzerland. His father later died in a concentration camp, and after the war Marceau took up mime. The author points out that the silence of mime reflects the silence of people who survived the Holocaust and were never able to talk about it. The story is poetic as Schubert uses the fewest words possible to convey the Marceau's work. When the narrative shifts from Marceau's childhood and teenage years to his work as a mime, the author shifts from past tense to present tense giving readers the sense they are watching him perform.

"Alone on stage,
a spotlight follows him.
He plays tug of war all by himself
with a rope that doesn't exist."

The illustrations use muted colors that give the story a somber tone.  Dubois intentionally leaves areas unpainted or with little paint creating a grainy texture which give readers a feeling they are reading about history.  Later in the book, a black background provides a strong contrast to the white face and red lips of Marceau's character, Bip. An author's note provides readers with more insight into the life of Marceau, and Rob Mermin of Circus Smirkus advises readers how to try mime at home. Librarians, teachers and parents will want to read aloud this masterpiece to the children in their lives and introduce a new generation to an amazing artist.

Visit the Macmillan site to view illustrations from the book.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Steve Jobs by Karen Blumenthal

Steve Jobs: the Man Who Thought Different
a biography by Karen Blumenthal
Feiwel and Friends. 2012
ISBN: 9781250015570
Grades 7 and up
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Question: “What’s in your iPod? “
Answer: “Well, how much time do you have?”

Initially, when the iPod was introduced in October 2001, it didn’t rock the world as Steven Jobs had hoped. It was definitely cool, but there was still the problem of how to get music on it. Songs had to be imported from you own CD’s. It wasn’t until the creation of the iTunes store in 2003 did the iPod take off.  In six days, iTunes sold its first million songs! How fun it is to have your whole music collection no more than three clicks away.

In Steven Jobs: the Man Who Thought Different, we learn a lot about this highly creative man who was neither an engineer nor a computer geek, but with his marketing genius and attention to details created one gotta-have-it product after another. From iMacs to iPods to iPhones, many people worldwide are in love with their Apple products.

Blumenthal bases the book on three stories Jobs told during a commencement speech given in 2005 at Stanford University. Part One is about "connecting the dots." It covers Jobs childhood, meeting Steve Wozniak, their creation of the first Apple computers and Jobs eventual removal from the company he founded. Part two is about “love and loss," those ten years Jobs was not working at Apple. We learn about his company NeXT and the development of Pixar, his marriage, children, and his explosive return to Apple. Part three covers the final years at Apple and his battle with pancreatic cancer.

Somebody told me when I was seventeen to live each day as if it were my last, and that one day I’d be right.

The book includes black & white photographs. Karen Blumenthal did a lot of research for this unauthorized biography. A critically acclaimed children's nonfiction writer and journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Blumenthal consulted books and articles written about Jobs, Apple, and his related companies and former colleagues. She also interviewed former classmates, found oral histories, looked at original financial documents for Apple and Pixar, and interviewed key journalists who covered Jobs.

The book is interesting and will offer a good introduction for those interested in Jobs. The conversational tone is upbeat and not heavily laden with tons of details that would overwhelm reluctant readers. Blumenthal keeps her focus on Jobs and his role in his companies. She includes Jobs short-comings, while always placing them into the bigger picture: his passion and drive to create a desktop computer that would be special, an amazing tool that would improve a persons life.

Curious about what was on Steven Jobs iPod? Go to page 222 of Blumenthal's book. There you will find a small listing taken from Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography: Steve Jobs. (Simon & Schuster.2011)

So, what's on your iPod? Let us know!

[Reviewed by Louise]

Friday, November 2, 2012

Nic Bishop Snakes

Nic Bishop Snakes
by Nic Bishop
Scholastic Nonfiction, 2012
Grades 2-5

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

I have to confess... I'm not a fan of snakes. In fact, I'm downright scared of snakes. I don't mind frogs, toads, spiders, and most insects. However, creatures that slither give me the creeps. You can image my hesitation when I sat down recently to read Nic Bishops latest nonfiction book about the scaly creatures.  Bishop is known for his up-close photography, and I wasn't so sure I wanted to see snakes under a zoom lens. However, Bishop's stunning photography coupled with amazing snake facts made me appreciate the beauty of snakes.

Each two-page spread includes a full-page, close-up photograph of a snake with a page of text on the opposite page. The vibrant colors and textures of the reptiles are amplified by the close-up photography. The page I found amazing shows a feathered bush viper with large scales that look like leaves. Bishop includes detailed captions to help readers identify the species. Children will love the photograph of an African eat-eating snaked with an enormous egg in its jaws.

"Special spines inside the snake's throat will crack the egg, so the snake can slurp down the contents. Then it will spit out the empty eggshell and take a rest, looking very exhausted."

Other snakes featured in the book include the carpet python, Mojave rattlesnake, hognose snake, and parrot snake. Bishop explains in an author's note that it took him a while to make the decision to focus on snakes because he knew they would be difficult to photograph. He photographed a number of the snakes in captivity so he that could capture them in just the right light and in ways that showed off their scales or coils.

Librarians only need to put this book on display, and it will be scooped up by animal lovers. Nic Bishop Snakes even made my snake phobia melt away while I was learning about these incredible reptiles.

Visit Nic Bishop's web site to find out more about how he researches his books:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records

Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth Records

by Seymour Simon
Chronicle Books. 2012
ISBN: 9781452107851
Grades 4 thru 7
The publisher sent us a copy of this book.

Think your life is hard where you live?

In Seymour Simon's Extreme Earth, readers will travel to the coldest, the hottest, the deepest, the highest, to the rainiest place and explore the most extreme places on Earth. Simon not only includes amazing destinations but amazing records, as well as some ‘mind-bending’ facts.

Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, partway between South Africa and South America, the tiny island of Tristan da Cunha is the remotest place on Earth. The small volcanic peak has a population of approximately 300 people who share the island with a dozen species of seabirds, including the rockhopper penguin and several kinds of albatross. In 1961, a volcano erupted and all of the inhabitants left, only to return in 1963 when it was safe. It now has a post office, hospital, school, and crayfish factory. It has it’s own postal code from the United Kingdom, TDCU 1ZZ, and the stamps issued at the island post office are collected around the world. Do you know the name of this small island’s capital? It is Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.

When snowfall is measured regularly, the snowest place on Earth is the Paradise area on the south slope of Mount Rainier in Washington State. The average snowfall there is 56 feet (17 meters) per year. “That’s about the height of a dozen children standing on each other’s shoulders.” But, the place where the most snow fell in a 24-hour period was at Silver Lake, Colorado when a blizzard dumped 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow on April 14, 1921.

The book boasts beautiful color photographs on every page, and many side bars of facts. Did you know that Antarctica contains more than 90 percent of Earth’s ice? As of this writing, some of the ice sheets are 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) deep.They believe that some of the ice may be more than 100,000 years old. 

Seymour Simon is a prolifict author of more than 250 books about science. Lucky for us, he is an author we can trust will offer consistency and quality in his books. His Extreme Earth Records will be popular with those children who enjoy world records or love reading books full of facts.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Impossible Rescue by Martin W. Sandler

The Impossible Rescue: the True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure.
By Martin W. Sandler
Candlewick Press. 2012
ISBN: 9780763650803
Grades 7 and up
A copy of this book was checked out from the public library.

It all began during the final month of the whaling season in 1897. The captains of eight whaleships from San Francisco were fishing in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. They believed they had a few more weeks of fair weather to continue whaling before heading south. Yet, suddenly, without warning during the first week of September, the temperatures plunged dramatically and soon, heavy ice was sweating in from far out to sea. The ships were forced to lay anchor to wait for favorable winds to drive the ice away. But when the warmer winds came, the ice didn’t melt, and the ships were trapped.

Looking out at the ice, Captain Tilton and the crew of one of the ships, the Alexander, thought it seemed to stretch on forever. Feeling alarmed, Tilton and his men understood the dangers of spending the winter trapped in the ice. It meant surviving months of almost twenty-four-hour-a-day darkness and temperatures that plummeted to as far as sixty degrees below zero. Not to mention running out of supplies and the possibility of having the ship torn apart by fast-moving ice.

Martin W. Sandler has written a nail-bitting account of this incredible — nay, impossible – rescue mission undertaken during the dead of winter, which was nothing short of suicide. It would take bravery, detailed planning, commitment, and most importantly, luck, before the sailors, some 265 men would arrive back safely in Seattle.

The rescue mission took ten months and was carried out by the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of The United States Coast Guard. The plan was to take the Bear, the Revenue Cutter Service ship, as far north as the icy conditions would allow. When Bear got as far as possible, three officers would be put ashore. It would be their task to proceed overland to where the whaleman were trapped. The three men, First Lieutenant David Jarvis, Dr. Samuel Call, and Second Lieutenant Ellsworth Bertholf would travel more than 1,500 miles using dog sleds, to get as far north as possible in time to save the men. They had to arrive before March, because that is when the sailors would run out of supplies. What was truly remarkable about this whole mission was that there was no loss of life.

Told in chronological order, the thirteen chapters put readers inside "mission control." From the audacious plan through a hazardous crossing, to contact with the sailors, we are with the rescue team every step of the way. The book is lavishly illustrated with historic maps and black & white photos, all of which are well captioned. Sandler -- drawing on diaries, letters, reports, journals, and in some cases, detailed reminiscences of key participants -- weaves throughout the story the actual words of those who were there. In addition, Dr. Samuel Call took many of the photographs!

The book is well documented with a bibliography, a timeline, photography credits, and index. And, not to leave readers wondering, Sanders includes under “What Happened to Them,” a short summary of what happened to the key players after the rescue was over.

 The Impossible Rescue is a fascinating and absorbing read. Put this in a display with other books on survival, explorers, orienteering, and wilderness survival.

Reviewed by Louise