Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scholastic Discover More: Planets

Scholastic Discover More: Planets 

by Penelope Arlon and Tory Gordon-Harris
Scholastic Inc., 2012
ISBN: 9780545330282
Grades 2 and up

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

A few months ago, Louise and I posted a piece about how to evaluate nonfiction for children. In that post we described the different types of nonfiction texts (browser, specialized, concept, biography, and how-to).

Some nonfiction texts delve deeply into one topic. You can usually tell those books by the pages of back matter including source notes, extensive bibliography and notes from the author. Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin fits into the "specialized" category.

Another type of nonfiction text is the "browser." Children in my library check out a lot of browsers. They love to share interesting facts and stats with their friends as they pore over the photos and information in "browsers" such as world record books. Scholastic Discover More: Planets falls into the browser category.

This book will appeal to children as soon as they open the cover. Colorful photographs and illustrations will capture their attention, and the information is presented in a manner that children who are beginning to read independently will find easy to comprehend. Scholastic offers three levels of books in the Discover More series: emergent reader, confident reader, and expert reader. Discover More: Planets is categorized as a book for confident readers.

Fans of mythology will enjoy the section that shows how each planet is named for a Roman god. A two-page timeline provides readers with important dates in space exploration. Each planet is presented on a two-page spread. The information is presented in small chunks and in the form of fact boxes and captions. The book is designed so that readers may open to any page and begin reading, which many developing readers find less daunting than reading an entire nonfiction text from cover to cover. Students in need of in-depth information for research projects may find this series limiting. However, the books will please readers who want to sit back, relax and learn about science.

Each book in the series comes with access to a free digital book. The e-book companion for Discover More: Planets was impressive. The digital text focused on space machines and included close-up photographs of the Mars rovers along with photos and illustrations of space probes and satellites. Readers will enjoy testing their space knowledge with the "Quick Quiz." Scholastic Discover More: Planets has the potential to inspire young readers to check out more nonfiction books about the solar system and outer space.

To see the complete list of books in the Scholastic Discover More series, visit the site:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rabbit's Snow Dance by James and Joseph Bruchac

A look back at a folktale from 2012.

Rabbit's Snow Dance
As told by James & Joseph Bruchac; Illustrated by Jeff Newman
Dial Books. 2012
ISBN: 9780803732704
Grades K and up
I checked out a copy of this book from my local public library.

Do you go out looking for pussy willows? In this entertaining take on a traditional Native American fable, father and son storytelling pair, Joseph and James Bruchac have re-told this engaging cautionary tale about how pussy willows came to be. 

Long ago, Rabbit had a long, beautiful tail. But even though his tale was long, his patience was short. When Rabbit wanted something he chanted, I want it. I want it. I want it right now!

What is sending Rabbit into a tantrum is his desire to eat the tasty leaves and buds at the top of the trees, but he can't reach them. If there was snow, Rabbit could easily reach them with his big snowshoe feet that allow him to walk on top of the snow. But, it is summertime. Rabbit decides it should snow right now, so he starts his special snow song and dance, ignoring the pleas from the other animals.

I bet you can guess the outcome. Rabbit sings and dances and soon there is so much snow - too much-- it covers all but the top leaves of the tallest tree. Worn out from all that dancing and singing, and before he takes one bite, Rabbit takes a long nap at the top of that tree. It is when he wakes, the snow all melted by the hot summer sun, that he falls down, down, down and little pieces of his tail get caught on one branch and another. And, ever since then, at the time of year when the snow goes away, you can see those little furry pieces of Rabbit's tale stuck on certain trees. Some call them pussy willows...

Newman's colorful illustrations, rendered in watercolor, gouache, and ink, are terrific. They show very expressive animals. From the worried looks of the bear and moose to the almost giddy smiles of Lynx, Otter, and Grouse who help with the snow dance, the pictures perfectly complement this tale about patience.

Be forewarned. When sharing this story with any age, Rabbit's snow chant is contagious. 

Thump! Thump!
Thump! Thump!
"Yo, Yo, Yo!
Yo, Yo, Yo!"

Happy Spring!

Listen to Joe tell a version of this traditional tale.
Read Debbie Reese's review on her blog American Indians in Children's Literature.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909

By Michelle Markel; Pictures by Melissa Sweet
Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins) 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-1804427
Grades 2 and up
I used a copy from the public library for this review

In 1909, thousands of young women, many just twelve years old, streamed from factories to strike. One young woman, Clara Lemlich, was their leader. In Brave Girl, Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 Michelle Markel celebrates how Clara stood up for what she believed was right and set in motion a strike that would make conditions better for garment workers in NYC and throughout the United States. 

This book tells the true story of Clara Lemlich, a Jewish immigrant who came to America to flee persecution in Eastern Europe. After moving with her family into the tenements in NYC, no one will hire Clara’s father. They will, however, hire Clara. Like thousand of other immigrant girls, Clara becomes a garment worker. They earn a few dollars a month, but it helps pay for food and rent. So instead of carrying books to school, many girls carry sewing machines to work. This was not the America Clara had imagined. Fed up with the horrible working conditions (Has everyone read Lyddie by Katherine Paterson, Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, or Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold McCully?) Clara begins speaking out, urging her fellow workers to team up and join a union. When she spoke out against the factory owners, Clara was beaten, arrested seventeen times, and had six ribs broken, but they can’t break her spirit.

Maine artist, Melissa Sweet, uses watercolor, gouache, and mixed media to create the paintings used in this book. Sweet frames each illustration to give the impression we are looking through a scrapbook, seeing snapshots of Clara’s life. They capture Clara’s determination and reflect the spirit of the thousands of women who stuck together to make their lives a bit better. There is one quite stunning illustration that allows us to look down on rows and rows of young women bent over their sewing tables. It gives one the perspective of how cramped their working conditions were. 

The combination of text and illustrations work together to make Brave Girl a must read for those in grades 5 and up. An author’s note give more back story about the garment industry, and the bibliography lists general and primary sources.

Brave Girl is a very powerful story. When addressing older students, use it to explain the benefits of Unions, the horrors of sweatshops in other countries, and how they -- the students -- can make a difference. 

Highly recommended.

To see selected pages from this book, go here.
For more books celebrating Women's History Month, go to Kidlit.
To learn more about women leadership, go here.

Friday, March 15, 2013

From the Backlist: The Mermaid Queen and other titles for Women's History Month

Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History!
by Shana Corey
illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Scholastic Press, 2009
ISBN: 9780439698351
Grades: K-5

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

Each month we'll be visiting nonfiction titles from past as part of our "From the Backlist" series. (The backlist is publishing term for books published in previous years.)

This month is we're celebrating Women's History Month, and one of my favorite picture book biographies is Mermaid Queen. This book is full of kid appeal! Corey eloquently tells the story of Annette Kellerman, a woman who made swimming for pleasure and fitness acceptable for women at the turn of the last century. Kellerman began swimming to strengthen her legs when she was a child. Swimming made her strong, and she loved it. Kellerman enjoyed swimming, diving and showing girls they could be athletes, too. People were shocked when she attempted to swim the English Channel, and she stunned Americans with her athletic bathing suit that showed off her legs. Kellerman's amazing life story coupled with Corey's narrative style and rich word choice make this a perfect book to read aloud.

"When she wasn't racing, she daydreamed about the ballerinas she'd loved as a little girl. She whirled and twirled, She dipped and danced and dived. No was was sure exactly what she was doing, but Annette didn't care one bit. She loved her new invention. It wasn't quite water ballet, and it wasn't quite swimming- it was water ballet!"

Bold computer illustrations will delight readers. Splashes of water in bright blue and orange are used in backgrounds and as frames around illustrations. An author's note give provides readers with further information about Kellerman. It's evident from the source notes that Corey did extensive research when writing the book. Not only is this book fun to read aloud to children, it's also important to show them how far we have evolved as a society. The next time kids see women swimming in the Olympics, they'll think of Annette Kellerman, the Mermaid Queen.

Be sure to visit the Kidlit Celebrates Women's History blog for articles and book reviews by a variety of kidlit authors and bloggers:

Here are some other excellent books to share with children during Women's History Month (with links to our reviews). 

Elizabeth Leads the Way
by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

Monday, March 11, 2013

Look Up!: bird-watching in your own backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Look Up!: Bird-watching in your own backyard

Written and illustrated by Annette Leblanc Cate
Candlewick Press. 2013
ISBN: 9780763645618
Grades 4 and up
The publisher sent a copy for review.

If you have students, friends, or you yourself are interested in learning how to identify birds then read Look Up! It is a terrific introduction to not just watching birds, but how to sketch them as well. Cate’s cartoon illustrations of birds, dozens of them, chatting about their unique and distinctive characteristics are combined with tons of birding facts, great suggestions for how to observe birds, and helpful tips on sketching what you see. Go here and click on ‘view an inside slide’)

Bird watching doesn’t have to include high tech instruments. The author recommends leaving your binoculars inside. Instead, one needs practice seeing the whole bird..its shape, size, and the way it moves. Birds are, by far, the easiest-to-see of all wild creatures. No matter how small your corner of the world, there will be some birds in it. You might be amazed at just how thrilling it can be to see new birds, find out about them, and learn their names.

Cate goes on to emphasize that by spending time outside observing what’s around you can help you to see the world of birds in a whole new way. When you take the time to sit and patiently draw them [birds], you do more than see them: you experience them. You feel more connected to the natural world, more at home in it.  Cate believes that once you become aware of the birds in your backyard, and you've paid attention to their shape, color, habits, and songs, then is the time to open a field guide to find out more details. Great advice! 

As I said earlier, there is so much detail in this book, but one never feels overwhelmed. This book is perfect for those who learn best with the combination of picture and text. Placed throughout are side charts with more information. Also, a bibliography, and an index.

Even the endpapers are packed with tips for enjoying this life-long hobby. Cate says, One of the best things about bird-watching is that it’s a hobby that you can have for your whole life. And if you keep sketchbooks, you’ll have a record of your lifelong pursuit, and that will be an amazing thing to have. This definitely will be one of my top Ten books for 2013.

Display with Bateman’s Backyard Birds by Robert Bateman, and The Boy who Drew Birds: a story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies; illustrated by Melissa Sweet.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Here Come the Humpbacks by April Pulley Sayre

Here Come the Humpbacks!
Written by April Pulley Sayre; Illustrated by Jamie Hogan
Charlesbridge. 2013
ISBN: 9781580894050
Ages 4-7
I received a copy of the book from the illustrator.

Flippers paddle. Flukes push. In every ocean on Earth, humpback whales swim.

Acclaimed science writer, April Pulley Sayre (Stars Beneath Your Bed) and Maine illustrator Jamie Hogan (Warmer World) have teamed up in Here Come the Humpbacks, a nifty informational picture book for a slightly older audience that introduces children to whale migration.  

The main text follows a mother humpback as she gives birth to her calf, and their eventual migration from the Caribbean Sea to Stellwagen Banks in the Gulf of Maine. The main narrative text uses short, informational sentences.

By April, the waters are quieter. The escort whale and most other whales have migrated. But the calf and his mother still cruise the reefs. She has not eaten for six months. She is ten tons lighter than she was last May. 
The mother does not have teeth for tearing, and the passage from her mouth to her stomach is small. She needs many small fish in one big bite. Those fish swim in cold waters, far, far north. It is time, at last, to migrate

Supplementing the text are expository sidebars. 

Teeth or No Teeth
Whales are divided into two main types: toothed whales and baleen whales. Toothed whales, such as orcas, use their sharp teeth to catch fish and other prey. Humpback whales are baleen whales. Baleen is a stiff fringe that hangs down from each side of a whale’s mouth. It is made of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails and hair. The baleen acts as a sieve to keep food in the whale’s mouth as the water drains out.” 

 As the whales travel north, they do face many dangers, either from predators (orcas) and environmental challenges (ocean pollution, busy shipping lanes)

Jamie Hogan’s illustrations, done in charcoal pencil and pastel on sanded paper are expansive. Using muted blues, greens, and grays (with a splash of red) we are immersed in the ocean world of the humpbacks. There are a few pages where the black text over the darker tones of the illustrations makes it difficult to read. 

The book lacks additional reading recommendations, but Pulley does include a comment about whale migration, the difficulties studying whales, and how the number of humpbacks is slowly increasing. A fine addition to libraries.

Pair this with Turtle, Turtle, Watch Out! by April Pulley Sayre, Surprising Sharks by Nicola Davies, The Whale Scientists: solving the mystery of whale strandings by Fran Hodgkins,
And for fun, Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

Electric Ben: The Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin  
by Robert Byrd
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
ISBN: 9780803737495
Grades 3-8
The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from her public library.

Robert Byrd recently won a 2013 Sibert Honor and an Orbis Pictus Honor for Electric Ben. In January, we included the title in a list of books from 2012 we wished we had reviewed. Well, there's no time like the present!

Upon opening the picture book biography, it's easy to see why this book was recognized by the Sibert committee. Byrd's ink and watercolor illustrations will attract the attention of middle grade readers. The layout of each page is different, which makes turning the page exciting. On one page, the intricate illustrations show Franklin as a young man standing on the streets of Philadelphia munching on bread with brick buildings and the waterfront in the background. On the accompanying page a small illustration in a circle depicts Franklin on board a ship writing his observations of flying fish and dolphins. Detailed captions describe each of Byrd's illustrations.

The book follows Franklin's life from his early years growing up in Boston to his move to Philadelphia where he started his printing shop to later years spent in Europe. Readers will learn about Benjamin Franklin the witty writer, inventor, and statesman. Franklin was constantly looking for ways to help improve the lives of others. We can thank Mr. Franklin for libraries. He formed a "lending club" that became the first library in the America.

"Franklin was the key founder of the first hospital in America. He sponsored a police force, where townspeople paid to have their streets patrolled. He formed a volunteer fire brigade. It became the nation's first full-time firefighting force."

Even though this is a picture book biography, the audience is for older elementary and middle school students. There is a lot of print on page that might overwhelm beginning readers, but proficient readers will be amazed by the accomplishments of our founding father. The back matter (author's note, timeline and bibliography) is comprehensive. Readers will be interested in the "About the Pictures" section where Byrd explains how he based the color palette on Colonial colors and describes the research to illustrate the book.

Electric Ben deserves a place in a juvenile biography collection. It's unlike other biographies of Benjamin Franklin, and it's a prime example of how picture books can be for older readers, too.