Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Splash of Red: the life and art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant

A Splash of Red: the life and art of Horace Pippin

Written by Jen Bryant; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Knopf. 2013
ISBN: 9780375867125
All ages
I used a copy checked out from my local public library for this review.

It's snowing, again, here in Maine. Everywhere I look it is white…white…white. 

How perfect, then, to read A Splash of Red. The team that gave us A River of Words: the story of William Carlos Williams (Caldecott honor, 2009) has again paired up to write this beautiful and inspiring story about a man who had lost the use of his right arm, his drawing arm, but through sheer determination he overcomes his injury to draw and paint again.

Horace Pippin, a self-taught American artist, was born on February 22, 1888, in the town of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Horace grew fast -- so fast that his mother could barely keep up with the mending. "He’ll be a giant someday,” the neighbors would say. Grandma Pippin smiled at Horace’s long legs and big hands. She figured the neighbors were right. 

Though Horace had to work hard helping his family by fetching flour for his mother, sorting laundry, holding the milk delivery horse, or playing with his baby brother, in the evenings Horace always took time to sketch out what he’d seen that day. Using scrapes of paper and charcoal, Horace loved to draw. He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him. He loved thinking about a friend or a pet, then drawing them from the picture in his mind.

The book traces the major turning points in Pippin’s life. Though he worked, he continued to draw until, while fighting in World War I, a bullet badly damaged his right arm. When it healed, he couldn’t lift or move it the way he used to. Now, when someone said, “Make a picture for us, Horace!”...Horace could not. Yet, he continued to make picture in his head. And then one evening, With his left hand, he grasped his right wrist. He thrust the poker into the flames until it glowed red-hot. Using his good arm to move the hurt one, he scorched lines into wood. Horace, with much patience and determination, began to draw again.  

The magnificent Maine artist Melissa Sweet, using her signature style of mixing illustration rendered in watercolor, gouache, with collage art are perfect companions for Bryant’s text. Together, they create a tone of light and joy. In her illustrator’s note, Sweet explains how she made the art supplies Pippin won in the contest, I re-created the brushes and pencils, which I carved from basswood and painted to look as realistic as the ones Horace might have received. I learned, too, that once he got those art supplies, Pippin used them to make small oval paintings on muslin of Bible scenes. I’ve imagined one of those paintings on the title page.

A Splash of Red is a wonderful example of quality nonfiction. The text is accessible, factual, and lists resources for more information: books, films, and websites for further reading. Sprinkled throughout the book are quotes from Pippin and Sweet lists her sources.

This is a beautiful, inspiring book; an introduction to an important American artist. Perfect for all libraries.

Visit the website set up for this book that has a lots of great stuff, including a book trailer. 

Also visit Sweet’s website...Don’t you love the quote! and Jen Bryant’s website.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

From the Backlist- Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky

Last week Louise reviewed Miss Moore Thought Otherwise. The picture book biography describes how librarian Anne Carroll Moore made libraries more accessible to children in the early 1900s. We thought it would be the perfect time to revisit another nonfiction book about dedicated librarians who went to great lengths to make sure their patrons had access to information.

Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky
by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannela Schmitzer
Harper Collins, 2001
ISBN: 0060291354
Grades 4-8
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her public library.

Many nonfiction books have been written about the Great Depression, but few people know about the pack horse librarians of Kentucky. In 1933, the Work Progress Administration was created to put Americans back to work by paying people to build roads, schools, parks, etc... The WPA also paid librarians to travel into the mountains on horseback to bring reading material to residents of remote areas of Kentucky.

"The Kentucky pack horse librarians were tough. They had to be in order to travel atop horses and mules over the rockiest terrain, through all kinds of weather..."

In just fifty-eight pages, Appelt and Schmitzer eloquently tell the story of the tough, determined and caring librarians who made special connections with their patrons. They were all local women (and even a few men) who knew what people wanted to read. The librarians provided their own horses, the books and magazines were donated by local organizations, and the salaries were paid by the WPA. Readers will be intrigued by the dozens of black and white photographs showing librarians reading with patrons in their cabins, delivering books on horseback, and greeting school children.

Although the pack horse librarian program ended in 1943, it made a great impact on improving the lives of adults and children in isolated parts of Kentucky. The authors did their research, and an extensive bibliography is included in the back of the book. Down Shin Creek is an inspiring story that will capture the attention of middle grade readers while teaching them about U.S. history. Unfortunately, Down Cut Shin Creek is now out of print, so hold on to the copies that you own or pick up a used copy if you can. With the Common Core State Standards requiring more high quality, narrative nonfiction in schools, Harper Collins would be wise to reprint this gem.

Check out these books about other amazing librarians.

by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya

Biblioburro: A True Story from Columbia
by Jeanette Winter

My Librarian is  Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by 
Margriet Ruurs

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lincoln's Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Lincoln's Grave Robbers
Steve Sheinkin
Scholastic. 2013
ISBN: 9780545405720
Grades 5 and up
An uncorrected proof provided by the publisher was used for this review.

Why did a few cony men, those who deal in counterfeit money, decide to steal Lincoln’s body? 

In Lincoln's Grave Robbers, we learn that the idea to run off with our 16th president’s body was to get Benjamin Boyd, one of the nation's top engrave of counterfeit plates, out of jail.  He had been arrested on October 20, 1875. Money made from Boyd’s plates were so close to the real thing that it was extremely difficult to identify, so without Boyd’s talent, counterfeiter’s were no longer on easy street. 

Desperate to get him out of jail was James “Big Jim” Kennally, boss of counterfeiting around Chicago. Kennally's plan was to steal Lincoln’s body from his tomb in Springfield,IL and hold it as ransom until Boyd was released from prison and he got $200,000 in cash. Kennally and his gang decided that to stage the event on election night, November 7, 1876. This particular election, between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden, would go down in history as the most contentious election in American history. (that is until 2000.) Who would notice a trio of strangers in Springfield amidst all those who were there to vote. The Lincoln Monument would be deserted -- everyone would be in town, voting and then waiting for election results to come into the newspaper offices by telegraph. And later that night, as they sped off with Lincoln's casket, the roads would be conveniently busy. "A wagon going along the roads would not be noticed," Swegles later explained, "since those who saw it would think it contained farmers going home from the polls."

The theft almost worked, but for Lewis C. Swegles, a career criminal turned snitch, “a roper”, who kept the Secret Service informed of every detail. If not for Swegles, the plot would not have been intercepted nor the criminals caught and brought to justice. 

Steve Sheinkin once again digs back into our history to uncover a fascinating story and pulls it all together in a page turner reminiscent of the hard-boiled detective stories of the 1920’s. We learn how Secret Service agents conducted their sting operation without the use of today’s high-tech tools, just good old-fashioned police know-how.

The addition of historic photos, all well-captioned, adds depth to this exciting event. As with other books by Sheinkin (The Notorious Benedict Arnold & Bomb), once I begin reading I can't stop until the end. He writes so well. The one difference I did feel with Lincoln's Grave Robbers was the narrative slowed a bit as Sheinkin tried to cover additional topics -- counterfeiting, stealing bodies for medical research, the formation of the secret service, and the reburial of Lincoln’s body in Springfield. These were important to the overall narrative, but it did feel as if he was getting off topic for a few pages, then he'd go back to the main topic and things would pick up. I bet he would be an entertaining speaker. Readers will be glad to have the listing of all the names mentioned in the text. That helped me keep track of the who was a good guy and who was not. In addition, included are a glossary of phrases (shover, pipe, boodle game, and hack), plus source notes, an index, and a Body Snatcher Bonus Section.  

Display Lincoln’s Grave Robbers with Candace Fleming’s, The Lincolns: a scrapbook look at Abraham and Mary, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: the story behind the friendship by Russell Freedman, Second Sight by Gary Blackwood, Assassin by Anna Myers, An Acquaintance with Darkness by Ann Rinaldi.

For a virtual tour of Lincoln's tomb, go here.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise
Written by Jan Pinborough; illustrated by Debby Atwell
Houghton Mifflin. 2013
ISBN: 9789547471051
I received a copy of the book from the publisher.

In the 1870’s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery. But Annie thought otherwise.

And so begins Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children written by Jan Pinborough; illustrated by Maine artist Debby Atwell.

Pinborough uses simple language to introduce to readers the real-life accomplishments of Anne Carroll Moore, the person credited with defining the role of children librarians. Born in Limerick, Maine on July 12, 1871, Moore graduated from the Pratt Institute one-year library program in 1896. Her first job was organizing a children’s room at the Pratt Institute. Some libraries were beginning to let children come inside, but Annie’s library had something brand new – a library room planned just for children. Children could come in and takes books off the shelves. And in the evenings Annie read aloud to them—just as her father had read to her.

After ten years working at Pratt, Moore became supervisor of the children’s section of all thirty-six branches of the New York Public Library. She saw that many librarians did not let children touch the books, for fear that they would smudge their pages or break their spines. They thought if children were allowed to take books home, they would surely forget to bring them back. But Miss Moore thought otherwise. While at the New York Public Library, she encouraged librarians to talk with children and share stories. When it was announced that a grand new library would be built on Fifth Avenue and Forty-Second Street, Miss Moore was determined to make its new Central Children’s Room the best it could be for all the children of New York.

Gracing the text is the folksy art of Maine artist Debby Atwell. Her primitive style illustrations use acrylic paint in thick strokes and bold colors and show adults and children enjoying the many wonderful opportunities at Miss Moore’s library.  

Pinborough includes an author’s note and a good listing of books for further reading. Watch the book trailer created by the Mooresville Public Library.

All that librarians do everyday to enrich the lives of children, encouraging them to love books with a wide variety of programming can all be traced back to this quintessential librarian. Maybe we could encourage ALSC (the Association for Library Service to Children) to create an Anne Carroll Moore Day as a way to acknowledge and celebrate Moore and her contemporaries for their work in making libraries accessible to children.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Nonfiction Awards

A lot has happened in the past two weeks. Louise and I traveled to Seattle to attend the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference. While we were at the conference, a number of children's literature awards were announced. Here's a re-cap of recent award results (with links to our reviews).

The National Council for Teachers of English announced the winner of the 2013 Orbis Pictus Award. The Orbis Pictus recognizes "excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children." We are pleased that the winner of the 2013 Orbis Pictus Award is Monsieur Marceau by Leda Schubert and Gerard DuBois. Not only did we review this picture book biography, but we named it one of our Top Ten Biographies of 2012.

2013 Orbis Pictus Winner

2013 Orbis Pictus Honor Books

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd

Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham

ALA Youth Media Awards

Robert F. Sibert Medal Informational Book Medal

The Sibert Medal is awarded annually to the author and illustrator of "the most distinguished informational book published in the United States." The award is sponsored by ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), and the award is for informational books for children up to age 14.

The winner of the Sibert Medal was announced during the ALA Youth Media Awards last week in Seattle. I was in the room when the announcement was made, and the winning title received a lot of cheers and applause from the audience.

2013 Robert F. Sibert Medal Winner

Bomb also won a 2013 Newbery Honor and a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. 

2013 Sibert Honor Books

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Robert Byrd

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

Other Nonfiction Books That Were Recognized

 It was named one of ten adult books for teen readers.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal was a finalist for YALSA's Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult Readers Award.

Andrea Davis Pinkney won a Coretta Scott King Author Award for Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America.