Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 28, 2014

Park Scientists: gila monsters, geysers, and grizzly bears in American’s own backyard
Scientists in the Field series
Written by Mary Kay Carson; Photographs by Tom Uhlman
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780547792682
The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review
Grades 5 to 12

Take a road trip across American with husband and wife team, Carson and Uhlman to learn more about our national parks in this new entry in the Scientists in the Field series. Carson and Uhlman visit three major national parks: Yellowstone (Wyoming, Idaho, Montana), Saguaro (Arizona), and Great Smokey Mountains (Tennessee & North Carolina).

Our national parks, fifty-eight of them, have long been called “the country’s best idea.” They are important, because these treasured places have been protected so that future generations can explore them.

Parks are like natural laboratories. Scientists can collect data for years or decades without worrying about a highway going in or a meadow being plowed under.

There is much to discover in this tome. Here are just a few highlights. Wildlife biologist and bear scientist, Mark Haroldson studies grizzly bears in Yellowstone. Kevin Bonine, a herpetologist (a scientist who studies amphibians and reptiles) works in Saguaro studying the gila monster and evolutionary ecologist; Amy Luxbacher studies salamanders in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Readers will also learn about the opportunity to actively participate in the Citizen Scientists program available in some parks.

As with all books in this series, they are meticulously researched and have dozens of breathtaking color photographs that complement the text. Back matter for this book includes a map showing all our nation’s parks, a glossary of words to know, quote sources, selected bibliography, and index.

Hand this book to those who are traveling this summer or who loved the Mysteries in our National Parks series by Gloria Skurzynski.

Friday, April 25, 2014


Jubilee!: One Man's Big, Bold, and Very, Very Loud Celebration of Peace 
by Alicia Potter
illustrated by Matt Tavares
Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780763658564
Grades 2-5

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

I enjoy reading informational books about people and events I have never heard of before. I find it exciting to learn about little known figures and historical events. Jubilee! is a book about a musician and an event that I knew nothing about. It turns out the author, Alicia Potter, had never heard of Patrick Gilmore and his Jubilee Celebration of Peace either until she read an article in a local newspaper in Boston.

Alicia Potter, author of Mrs. Harkness and the Panda, teamed up with illustrator Matt Tavares to create this stunning picture book biography about a musician who decided to act in a big, bold manner to celebrate peace. Potter's engaging narrative tells the story of Irish immigrant Patrick Gilmore who was a bandleader and accomplished musician living in Boston in the 1800s. During the Civil War, he joined the Union as the bandleader for the army band. Upon returning from the war Gilmore wanted to do something huge to honor the soldiers and celebrate peace. He decided to organize a four-day peace jubilee centered around music in 1869. Children will be amazed by the size of the event Gilmore planned. 1,000 musicians and 10,000 singers performed at the Jubilee. So many people were involved that a new venue needed to be constructed in Boston in just three months to accommodate the musicians and audience members.

Tavares's watercolor, ink, gouache and pencil illustrations make readers feel like they are in 1800s. Onomatopoeia is effectively incorporated into the illustrations bringing an energy to the story; the words are set apart in large, colorful letters. WAA! SHREET! TOOT! BOOM!

Librarians should purchase Jubilee! for the biography section. It's sure to appeal to anyone who loves history, music and anything over-the-top! Display Jubilee! with other books about peace such as Wangari's Trees of Peace or create a music display along with Ballet for Martha.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Home for Mr. Emerson

A Home for Mr. Emerson 
by Barbara Kerley
illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Scholastic Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780545350884
Grades K-5

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.

The picture book biography duo of Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham are back! Kerley and Fotheringham are known for introducing young readers to interesting Americans from the past in What to Do About Alice?, The Extraordinary Mark Twain, and Those Rebels, John & Tom. In A Home for Mr. Emerson, young readers will learn about the life of writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. I think it's safe to say that the K-5 crowd does not know much about Emerson or his work.

Kerley eloquently weaves the theme of home throughout the narrative. Even as a child living in Boston, Emerson longed to live in the peaceful town of Concord, Massachusetts. As Emerson and his wife make a home for themselves in Concord, he fills journals with thoughts and reflections inspired by the nature around him. Quotes from Emerson are effectively incorporated into the story.

Fotheringham's bold illustrations depict larger than life books and an oversized Emerson walking across a map of the U.S. showing Emerson on his lecture circuit. Bold colors along with digital, patterned backgrounds make the artwork stand out.

Be sure to read the rich back matter. In addition to an author's note and list of quotation sources, readers are provided with a page of activities called "Build a World of Your Own." The author instructs children to think about words to describe themselves, favorite subjects, and favorite places as they create their own ideal world.

A Home for Mr. Emerson will inspire children to pick up a journal, go outside, look around and write. Pair this book with A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet.

A Home for Mr. Emerson was also reviewed by...
Waking Brain Cells
Through the Looking Glass

Friday, April 18, 2014

Alaska's Dog Heroes by Shelley Gill

Alaska's Dog Heroes: true stories of remarkable canines
by Shelley Gill; Illustrated by Robin James

Sasquatch Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781570619472
Grades 2-5
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Books about dogs are hugely popular with children of all ages. Students regularly come in asking for great stories with a dog as the main character (Shiloh by Phyllis Naylor or Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow). Before they leave they will also ask for a few nonfiction titles about dogs who work for a living. Sometimes there is more requests than I have books on the shelf.  Happily, I have another book I can recommend.

In Alaska’s Dog Heroes, Alaskan author Shelley Gill shares the stories of real-life dog heroes from Alaska’s history. There’s a German shepherd named Buddy. In April 2010, after his family’s home caught fire, Buddy ran off to help guide an Alaskan State Trooper and firefighters, who had gotten lost when responding to the call, through the twisting maze of back roads to his home. Buddy saved the day.

There’s also Anna, the little dog who  pulled an eight-dog team safely across the Arctic on January 9, 1994. Anna’s owner, Pam Flowers was the first woman to cross the Arctic alone. She couldn’t have done it without Anna.

There are fourteen mini biographies in all, including Balto, Togo, and Stickteen. Each brief entry is one page and is paired with a color illustration of the dog by artist Robin James. 

Dog loves will gobble up this one.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chasing Cheetahs by Sy Montgomery

Chasing Cheetahs: the race to save Africa's fastest cats
Scientists in the Field Series
Text by Sy Montgomery; Photographs by Nic Bishop

Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780547815497

Grades 5 thru 12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

The decision as to who reviews what goes fairly smoothly between Cathy and I until there is a new Scientists in the Field book, then, Watch Out! I won this time because Cathy is allergic to cats! What we love about the series is the variety of fascinating topics, the quality of writing, and the stunning photographs. Chasing Cheetahs: the race to save Africa’s fastest cats continues the tradition. It is by far one of the best books about these beautiful mammals...the fastest predatory animal on Earth. 

Sibert Medal winners, Sy Montgomery and Nick Bishop are a terrific team. Montgomery’s prose is perfect and though packed with lots of scientific information, the narrative is riveting and never overwhelms the reader.

In Chasing Cheetah’s, the dynamic writing team travels to the Cheetah Conservation Fund’s headquarters (CCF) in Namibia, Africa where they meet Laurie Marker. She and her team work tirelessly to save the cheetahs from extinction. In Namibia many cheetahs are shot by African farmers thinking they are after their livestock. When Marker moved to Namibia from the 1991, where 20 percent of the cheetahs live, she began visiting farmers and asking the questions that lead to a surprising conclusion: The way to save cheetahs is all about people, goats, and dogs. 

Accompanying the text are lots of photos taken by Nic Bishop. His keen eye and steady camera has captured some phenomenal scenes of the work being done at the CCF. Most of the pictures are of cheetahs, but I have to say my very favorite is of a chameleon cautiously marching across open ground found on page 45.

Sidebars with additional information that are placed throughout do not detract from the flow of the narrative. In fact, they enhance the reading experience. Montgomery is a master at making complex scientific information accessible. For example, read her explanation on "Secrets of DNA." Rounding out this award-worthy book is a bibliography, photo credits, and index. 

Chasing Cheetahs is great addition for middle school summer reading lists. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life

The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life 
by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781442435711
Grades PreS-3

The reviewer borrowed a copy of the book from the public library.

I think I have found my favorite nonfiction book of the year. One glance at the cover of The Scraps Book, and I knew it was something special. This picture book autobiography about the life and work of Lois Ehlert full of kid-appeal!

The first pages of the book instruct readers in colorful block letters:

DON'T READ THIS BOOK (unless you love books and art)

Ehlert tells the story of her life in a simple yet engaging style for young readers. She embeds photos from her past throughout the story. Bright collage and paint illustrations are placed throughout the book. A trip to the grocery store provided the inspiration for the fruit and vegetable illustrations from Eating the Alphabet. Her sister's cat gave her the idea for Feathers for Lunch. Readers will enjoy seeing Ehlert's sketches as she plans out the pages of Feathers for Lunch.

With each page turn, readers will discover more examples of Ehlert's signature collage and primary color illustrations accompanied by a narrative explaining how or why she created the pieces. Illustrations from Snowballs show readers how art can be made with everyday objects. A toothbrush was used to spatter paint on the owl in Lots of Spots.

The Scraps Book is more than an autobiography; it's an homage to making art, instructing readers to use material from around the house. Ehlert tells readers it's o.k. to make a mess. It's the perfect book for an author study of Ehlert, but I also hope librarians and teachers share it with children to inspire them to be creative.

Also reviewed by:
 100 Scope Notes
A Year of Reading