Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 29, 2013

Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller

Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller   
by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Matt Tavares
Disney Hyperion Books, 2012
ISBN: 9780786808908
Grades K-5

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

Earlier in the month I attended Maine's Reading Round-Up of Children's Literature in Augusta. This is an annual state conference that brings together youth services librarians and school librarians. Each year the Lupine Award is presented at Reading Round-Up.

From the Lupine Award web site:

"The Lupine Award is designed to honor a living author or illustrator who is a resident of Maine, or who has created a work whose focus is Maine, as shown through the work’s characterization, plot or setting."

(Fans of Miss Rumphius will understand the significance of the lupine.)

This year a nonfiction book, Giant Squid by Mary Cerullo and Clyde Roper, won a Lupine honor in the juvenile/young adult category. Read Louise's review of Giant Squid.

I was pleased when I learned that the winner of the 2012 Lupine Award in the picture book category was also a nonfiction book, and I had the privilege of seeing Matt Tavares accept the Lupine Award at Reading Round-Up.

The picture book biography chronicles Helen Keller's life from infancy to adulthood. Rappaport eloquently weaves quotes from Helen's own writing into the narrative. The book is well designed. Quotes are set apart in large fonts in different colors. Brilliant watercolor, pencil and gouache illustrations encompass most of the two-page spread. Illustrations show Keller feeling water run from a pump into her hand, touching a horse, and feeling sea spray on her face as she and Annie Sullivan ride in a sailboat. Tavares explains in the illustrator's note that he focused on Keller's other senses (touch, hearing and taste) to illustrate her story. Helen's Big World is a book that deserves a place in a juvenile biography section. Visit Doreen Rappaport's web site to learn more and to view illustrations from the book.

Other book by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Tavares:

Lady Liberty: A Biography

Jack's Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy

Here are past winners:

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Our Garden by George Ancona

It's Our Garden: from seeds to harvest in a school garden
George Ancona
Candlewick Press. 2013
ISBN: 9780763653927
Grades 1-3
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Recently, at the day care center where my husband works as cook (Cooker John) they were awarded funds to purchase supplies to create a garden. Maine has adopted the 5210 Let’s Go! Childhood Obesity Prevent Program that works with communities and organizations to change unhealthy eating patterns and promote good nutrition and plenty of physical exercise. The program encourages having a garden in your backyard (or day care playground) so children experience growing and eating what they’ve planted in the hopes they will prefer a fresh salad instead of French fries. (Ummm! tomatoes!) So, when my husband turned to his local librarian to ask for some books on other community gardens, I was thrilled to hand over It’s Our Garden! : from seeds to harvest in a school garden by George Ancona.

It’s Our Garden provides an overview of how an elementary school in started and now maintains their garden. Ancona is an award-winning photographer who provides readers with a glimpse into the workings of this school garden throughout the four seasons. 

The idea for the garden at Acequia Madre Elementary School located in Sante Fe, New Mexico was the dream of third-grade teacher, Mrs. McCarthy. She talked to the other teachers, the principal, and the parents, and they all worked together to make her dream come true. Students and the community are involved in every aspect of this garden. From what is planted to the weeding to the harvest. Parents, siblings, grandparents, and other community members are happy to help make this garden a success. Even though the school is closed during the summer, garden chores must continue. As families come together to work, the garden becomes a community-gathering place. It provides a setting for music and gatherings of children, grownups, friends and families. The music fills the garden with joy.   

A small horno, the traditional oven used to bake bread is snuggled in a corner of the garden. Each spring it receives a fresh coat of adobe. In August it is used to bake yummy pizza. 

Everything about this book is so appealing. A simple, straightforward text, an abundance of color photos of children helping in every aspect of the garden, and drawings done by the students grace each page. The book is part celebration of the process in creating these wonderful, prosperous gardens at Acequia Madre Elementary School, and also a simple how-to that does answer some basic questions my husband’s day care had about the day-to-day workings of a garden.

Listed in the book is a list of books from Miss Sue’s Bookshelf and websites of other school gardens.

The tone of the book is a mixture of celebration and gentle encouragement. It’s Our Garden is a perfect book to share with students to celebrate Earth Day.

IT'S OUR GARDENText and photographs copyright © 2013 by George Ancona. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by the students of Acequia Madre Elementary School.Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Baseball Bonanza

Baseball is in the air! April is the start of the Major League Baseball season. Drive by any local park, and you'll find Little League practices in full swing. If you're planning to display or feature baseball books in your library or classroom this spring, we have some recommendations for you (with links to our reviews).

Other baseball book recommendations:

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
Winner of the 2009 Sibert Medal

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares

H is for Home Run: A Baseball Alphabet by Brad Herzog, illustrated by Melanie Rose

Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer by Bill Wise, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth

Heroes of Baseball: The Men Who Made It America's Favorite Game by Robert Lipsyte

All Star!: Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jim Burke

Mighty Jackie the Strikeout Queen by Marissa Moss, illustrated by C.F. Payne

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

From the Backlist- To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel
by Siena Cherson Siegel
illustrated by Mark Siegel
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006.
ISBN: 9780689867477
Grades 4-8

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

A few days ago we posted an infographic about the Sibert Medal. One of the facts we included in the infographic is that two graphic novels have won Sibert Honors.

The Sibert Medal criteria states that the committee will look for: "excellent, engaging, and distinctive use of language" and "excellent, engaging, and distinctive visual elements." This emphasis on both language and visual elements means that graphic novels may be considered for the Sibert medal. In the first year of the Sibert Medal (2001), Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss and What I Learned by Judd Winick won a Sibert Honor.

In 2007, To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel also won a Sibert Honor. The graphic novel memoir is written in the first person narrative and tells the story of how Siegel loved to dance and move from an early age.  As a young girl, she studied ballet in her dance teacher's basement studio in Boston. After seeing the Bolshoi Ballet perform Swan Lake and reading A Very Young Dancer, Siegel was inspired to become a professional ballet dancer. At age eleven, Siegel was accepted by the School of American Ballet, and her family moved to New York City. In just 64 pages, the author describes family turmoil, dancing in George Balanshine's ballet company, meeting Mikhail Baryshnikov, attempts to have a social life as a teenager, grueling rehearsals schedules, and ankle injuries.

The graphic novel format lends itself well to the autobiography. Each page contains numerous panels, and the soft watercolor and ink illustrations by the author's husband strike just the right tone. The majority of the memoir is told through captions; speech bubbles are used occasionally. Whimsical ballet shoe ribbons are incorporated in illustrations throughout the story. Ribbons are used in the chapter headings and include characters from ballets such as Harlequin and Columbine from The Nutcracker.

The Sibert Medal criteria also considers whether books are "respectful and of interest to children." To Dance is definitely of interest to the children (especially fourth and fifth grade girls) in my library. I suggest adding this graphic novel memoir to your library's graphic novel collection instead of shelving it with biographies to get the most exposure and ensure high circulation. You won't even need to booktalk the book; just display it with the cover facing out. Your readers will scoop it up and then tell their friends about this engaging and appealing graphic novel memoir.

Read School Library Journal's interview with Siena Cherson Siegal.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sibert Medal Infographic

I was intrigued by the data that Travis from shared in his Newbery Medal Infographic and Caldecott Medal Infographic, so I decided to try my hand at creating an infographic about the Sibert Medal. I used and adopted the same format Travis used so data could be compared among the three awards. The results are really interesting and may compel readers to go back and revisit some favorite nonfiction titles from past years. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Creepy Creatures by Valerie Bodden

Written by Valerie Bodden
ISBN: 9781608182329

Written by Valerie Bodden
ISBN: 9781608182343

Creepy Creatures series
Creative Company. 2013
Preschool to Kindergarten
I obtained a copy of both books from my local public library.

Ants and beetles, and termites and slugs and ticks and cockroaches! Oh, my!

Just in time for summer, Creative Company have added six new animals to their Creepy Creatures series: Ticks, Termites, Ants, Slugs, Cockroaches, and Beetles. I looked at Ticks and Cockroaches. This series provides readers with a overview of those insects that children are always curious about.

Each book is 24 pages in length with lots of close-up color photos that children love to pore over. The information is relayed using simple language, one or two sentences per page. Perfect for young listeners. Scientific words are set off in bold and then written out phonetically. 

You are walking in the woods on a summer day. Suddenly, you see a brown dot on your arm. You look closer. It's a tick!  Ticks are arachnids (un-RAK-nidz) They have two body parts and eight legs.

The books are handy because they offer a very basic introduction to each animal such as where they live, what they eat, how they grow, and any unique traits to help define them. Did you know cockroaches can hold their breath? That's why you see them in your sink; they climb up your drainpipe! 

The books have a table of contents, bibliography of books and web sites for more information, and an index. To round out the experience, each title includes an activity that emphasizes the animals physical characteristic.
You can take a peek inside the books in the series by visiting Creative Company's web site. 

I have so many preschoolers always wanting books with pictures of insects. This set will fill that need.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dirt by Ellen Lawrence


by Ellen Lawrence
FUNdamental Experiments Series
Bearport Publishing, 2013
ISBN: 9781617727375
Grades: K-4

Reviewed from a copy sent by the publisher.

Budding scientists will enjoy getting their hands dirty as they learn about soil in Dirt, part of the FUNdamental Experiments series. The book features seven experiments that are aimed at teaching readers about soil. Each experiment begins with a question. Are dead plants in soil? How do worms help plants? How do rocks become soil?

The directions to the experiments are written in a clear and logical manner. Each step is labeled with a number and readers will find the accompanying photographs helpful as they complete the experiments. Small human-like creatures (without clothes) pictured on each page will elicit a giggle from young readers. On some pages the figures view soil with a magnifying glass. Other pages show the people wearing hard hats and writing on clipboards. Parents and teacher will be pleased that the experiments call for common household objects such as coffee filters, plastic soda bottles, and flower pots.

The experiments are simple, but they require children use higher-level thinking skills. Throughout the book, children as asked to observe, think and reflect. One experiment asks readers to sort a cup of soil into three categories: non-living, living, and once-living. Another experiment has readers compare three types of soil and determine which one best holds water. Children are asked to write their observations and answer questions in notebooks.

Curious readers will enjoy reading two pages in the back of the book that offer explanations and answer the questions related to each experiment. Additional back matter includes a glossary, a quiz, and a list of related books. Other titles in the FUNdamental Experiments series include water, motion and color.

Click here to look inside the book.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Follow Follow by Marilyn Singer

Follow Follow: a book of Reverso Poems
a companion to Mirror Mirror
by Marilyn Singer; Illustrations by Josee Masse
Dial Books, 2013
ISBN: 9780803737693
All ages
I checked this book out of my local public library.

It is National Poetry Month! How lucky for us that Marilyn Singer has given us a new collection of reverso poems in this companion to Mirror Mirror (winner of the Cybil Award in Poetry and an ALA Notable). Some of my favorite classic fairy tales and fables are here -- with a twist. Josee Masse's gorgeous illustrations, created with Liquitex Acrylic on a Strathmore 500 series, are breathtaking. They beg readers to take a closer look. Follow Follow is a great book to share with anyone who will listen. 

I think my favorite is No Bigger Than Your Thumb. (Tom Thumb) 
Or, maybe Will the Real Princess Please Stand Up? (Princess and the Pea)

Last week I was very lucky to be invited to hear poet Richard Blanco. He was the guest author at the middle school’s yearly read-a-thon. I felt as if I was on another plain after listening to him for an hour. I loved how he intersperse his poems with anecdotes about what influences his writing.  I know I am not alone in feeling afraid of poetry.  I worry, every time I pick up a poetry book that I won’t understand what the poem is about. Blanco said many things, but one comment stood out. Blanco acknowledge that some people do say they tried poetry once and never went back to it, yet we don’t apply that action to anything else. If you watch a movie you don’t like, does them mean you never watch another movie? What about books? Pizza? Shoes? People? That comment made me think.

During April, make a point to share poems in your story time, with your classes, colleagues, friends, family, etc. This new collection of poems will amaze and provide endless enjoyment to readers of all ages.

Go here to read an excerpt.

posted by Louise

Monday, April 1, 2013

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! by Jonah Winter

You Never Heard of Willie Mays?!

Written by Jonah WInter; Illustrated by Terry Widener
Schwartz & Wade. 2013
ISBN: 9780375868443
Kindergarten thru Grade 4
I obtained a copy of this book from my local public library.

Monday, April 1st is opening day of baseball season. Fans have been waiting to celebrate the first pitch, the crack of the bat, and the suspense of who’s gonna win! Willie Mays played baseball when it was a whites only sport. Yet, his talent as a player would change white peoples attitude. Willie could catch, throw, run, and hit. He could do it all! He was not just a great “black” baseball player -- he was simply the greatest baseball player most people had ever seen. Period.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama on May 6, 1931, William Howard Mays, Jr loved playing baseball as a young boy. His pop had played in the semipros and coached Willie how to hit and play to center. At fifteen, Willie started with the Negro League, first with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos and then the Birmingham Black Barons. In 1951, when Mays was 21, he joined the major leagues -- The New York Giants. 

Using the same writing style as in You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax, author Jonah Winter has a faceless old timer recount the life and major accomplishments of Willie Mays. Like how he earned the nickname, "The Say Hey Kid." To us kids, Mays was just like a big kid himself. He was one of us, and we loved him. And he loved us right back. Talkin’ to the fans, he’d always say, “Hey!” in that high-pitched voice that earned him the nickname the Say Hey Kid.

And fans did love him. You could fill a whole book with all the jaw-dropping plays Willie made, all the homers he hit, all the bases he stole. (lots of them are on Youtube) The book ends with Willie making 'The Catch' in 1954 during Game 1 of the World Series. With millions of people watching on their TV’s, they witnessed Willie’s greatness. Watch that famous game by clicking here. 

Artist Terry Widener, a baseball enthusiast, used acrylic on chipboard to create the full page illustrations, many are two-page spreads, that perfectly convey the excitement of the game. Sidebars of additional information, mostly Willie’s stats, are in the shape of a ticket. 

The book begins with an author’s note, and ends with highlights of Willie Mays’s career, glossary of baseball terms, more information on the statistics used in the book. Throughout the book Winter’s included four radio broadcast quotes. He does explain that of the four quotes, two are re-created (there were no transcripts) and two are the announcers actual words.

A wonderful picture book biography to share with students, both baseball fans and those who just want to hear a fabulous story of someone who was amazing.

Watch Mays in 2010 being interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show