Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, March 31, 2014

Firefly July by Paul Janeczko

Firefly July: a year of very short poems
Selected by Paul Janeczko; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Candlewick Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780763648428
All ages (Preschool up through high school)
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

There are times when a book comes across my desk that is so perfect I am at a loss for the best words to describe it. From the design, selection of poems, to the illustrations done by the incredibly talented Maine artist Melissa SweetFirefly July: a year of very short poems, selected by anthologist Paul Janeczko is one of those books. It is the combination of poems and Sweet’s attention to the smallest detail as she interprets those poems, all just a few lines long, that makes this book so appealing.

Starting with spring, readers are taken though the four seasons. Sweet’s signature collage art captures the playfulness and essence of each poem. The pictures and text do play nicely together. It is possible to interpret the meaning of each poem by looking at the pictures. In April Halprin Wayland’s poem, Sandpipers, you can actually see the sandpipers hemming the ocean.
Sandpipers run with
their needle beaks digging—they’re
hemming the ocean.

Whoever was responsible for the design of this book had a keen eye for detail, for many of the poems are placed directly on the object they describe. For example, Screen Door by James Stevenson is placed on a screen door.

Contributors include Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, X.J. Kennedy, Richard Wright, Alice Shertle; 36 in all. The art even matches up across the gutters. The only minor flaw, and it does not detract from the book's overall quality, is with the double-page spread for Fall. It takes awhile to find the letters that spell F-A-L-L.

Firefly July can be used in a myriad of ways with students. Not only as an introduction to poetry, but when studying the night sky show the page with the poem by Charles Reznikoff. When sharing Kittens First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes, read, In the Alley by Alice Schertle. 
            In the alley, a
stray cat drinks the round white moon
from a rain puddle.

In closing, the final poem by Jim Harrison and Ted Kosser, shows a sleeping child wrapped in a quilt made of fabric that has snippets of illustrations from the book; a beautiful conclusion to a book that will be read again and again.

The End.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale
by Demi
Henry Holt and Company, 2014
ISBN: 9780805097290
Grades 2-5

The reviewer received a galley from the publisher.

Elementary school students are often assigned a project in which students are asked to choose a biography from the school or public library, read the book, then write a report or create a project that highlights the accomplishments of the person. As a school librarian, I am pleased when teachers require students go beyond the fiction section of the library to explore biographies. When ordering books, I'm always on the lookout for biographies that are meaty enough for the research project yet written in a manner that an elementary reader can access. Florence Nightingale by Demi is exactly that kind of book.

On page one, the author introduces the time and place (Florence, Italy in 1820), which provides young readers with an historical context. From an early age, Florence knew she wanted to become a nurse, but her wealthy parents did not approve. Eventually, Florence convinced her parents that she was determined to help others, and she worked in an orphanage in Germany where she became trained in nursing.

In just forty pages, Demi captures the importance of Nightingale's work as she transformed the terrible conditions of hospitals and battlefield infirmaries into healthy and hygienic places for patients to heal. Nightingale's theories about cleanliness and germs were used to train nurses in London and were put into practice in the Civil War in the U.S. The information is laid out in a clear, concise and chronological manner and contains enough facts for research assignments, and it will also satisfy readers who are interested in the history of medicine.

Young readers will enjoy Demi's intricate, patterned illustrations that reflect the 1800s. Demi's beautifully illustrated and accessible picture book biography is the perfect book to introduce Nightingale to a new generation of readers. Visit the Macmillan site to view pages from the book.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Girl from the Tar Paper School by Teri Kanefield

The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the advent of The Civil
Rights Movement
by Teri Kanefield
Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781419707964
Grades 6-12
I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

In 1950, fifteen-year-old Barbara Rose Johns was sick and tired of the horrible conditions she and other black students endured attending the Robert R. Moton High School. Nothing more than tar paper shacks, the buildings were called “the chicken coops. The roof leaked when it rained. Some students sat under umbrellas so the ink on their papers wouldn’t run. Potbellied wood stoves instead of furnaces heated the makeshift classrooms. Students sitting near the stove were too hot; those farther away too cold.  Joan asked herself, why couldn’t the black students attend Farmville High School with its superior facilities?

Teri Kanefield writes a very readable narrative that is part biography, part social history, recounts the courageous actions of the high school student whose act of rebellion is credited with starting the modern civil rights movement. The author's use of historical images and photographs that have never before been published perfectly complements the text. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline of selected important events in Civil Rights, endnotes, sources, and index.

Barbara was described as smart, yet quiet. Yet, her classmates were eager to participate in her strike that began at eleven o’clock on Monday, April 23, 1951 during a regularly scheduled assembly.

Barbara gave a speech that students later described as electrifying and inspiring. She talked about the appalling conditions at their school and the inability of the PTA and others to secure better facilities. She said the students had the right to equal facilities, and it was clear that nothing would happen unless the students banded together and took action.

The NAACP supported the strike and the case went to the Supreme Court. Though things did not go as hoped, the strike helped outlaw segregation in the famous court decision (Brown vs Board of Educaiton) that declared segregation of schools unconstitutional.  

I found the quiet courage of Barbara Johns a real page-turner. To think that she had the fortitude to stage a nonviolent protest years before Rosa Park refused to give up her seat on the segregated bus is inspiring. What I also liked was the fact that after finishing high school, Barbara quietly faded from the public. She raised a family and, after acquiring a bachelor’s degree in library science in 1979, worked for twenty-four years as a school librarian. She passed away in 1991.

The Girl from the Tar Paper School is an excellent addition to the wealth of titles about The Civil Rights Movement. I recommend this book for all libraries and be sure to include it in displays for Black History Month, courageous women, and especially about people who did make a difference.

 Visit the author's blog to learn more about Barbara Johns. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kidlit Celebrates Women's History

The Kidlit Celebrates Women's History Month blog is back again this year with many wonderful guest bloggers and reviews of books featuring women who made a difference. Be sure to check out today's post written by Louise and Mary Ann Scheuer from the Great Kid Books blog.

Mary Ann and Louise have written a joint review of Clara and Davie by Patricia Polacco, and they include many excellent books and resources on Clara Barton.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Feathers: Not Just for Flying 
by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen
Charlesbridge, 2014
ISBN: 9781580894302
Grades K-5

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

Melissa Stewart is the author of over 100 nonfiction books for children including Under the Snow, No Monkeys, No Chocolate and Inside Volcanoes. She is a prolific writer and researcher of all things science, and I had the pleasure of hosting her for an author event at my school last week.

I'm really excited about Melissa's latest science picture book, Feathers: Not Just for Flying. This is a book that is going to please everyone: children, parents, teachers and librarians. Kids will enjoy learning about how different species of birds use their feathers. Teachers will want to share the book with classes because of the rich language and similes used to describe the feathers and their uses. Parents and grandparents will want to share this book with the children in their lives.

The book is designed to look like a scrapbook full of bird photos. The primary text at the top of the page is poetic as it introduces readers to the various functions of feathers. Secondary text placed in boxes that appear as paper taped into a scrapbook, provide more information about the birds. Stewart pointed out that this format makes the book accessible to both younger children and older children.

"Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella...or protect skin like sunscreen."

Brannen's gorgeous watercolor illustrations will make readers think they are looking at real feathers. The illustrator effectively captures the colors, textures, and shapes of the feathers. Captions and labels provide readers with more information about each feather and bird.

Bird lovers and science-minded readers will enjoy reading the page about the different feather designs. Pair this book with Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard to inspire readers to notice birds in their own lives. Visit the Charlesbridge Publishing site to download a readers' theater script and a curriculum guide.

Images published with permission from Charlesbridge.