Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Family Romanov Blog Tour and Giveaway

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & The Fall of Imperial Russia  
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780375867828
Grades 7 and up

The reviewers received copies of the book from the publisher.

We are pleased to take part in The Family Romanov Blog Tour. Be sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post for a chance to win a copy of the book.

The fate of the Romanovs, the last ruling monarchy in Russia, has been the subject of many books and movies. People hoped the Grand Duchess Anastasia had escaped the bloody massacre that befell the rest of her family: Tsar Nicholas II & Empress Alexandra, sisters Olga, Tatiana and Marie, and brother Alexi. But by 2007, the skeletal remains of all family members had been unearthed, thus putting the “Anastasia-is-still-alive” myth to rest.
In this comprehensive history by award-winning author Candace Fleming, readers will get an intimate look at the Romanov family and how their indifference to the needs of their people led to the workers’ strikes of 1905 and to Lenin’s rise to power in November 1915. Using sidebars throughout the book, Fleming inserts personal stories of the men and women who wished for a better life and how the Tsar’s lack of concern, in the end, would affect the lives of the Romanov family.

Louise's Thoughts:
As a child and into adulthood, I was obsessed with the fate of Grand Duchess Anastasia. I wanted to believe she alone survived while other family members perished. Questions I often pondered: why was her family executed? Was Tsar Nicholas really indifferent to the needs of his people? And…who exactly was Rasputin? Was he the evil and manipulating man some made him out to be? Breathtaking in its scope, Fleming does an excellent job weaving in the answers to these questions and more. What is different from her previous titles (Amelia Lost: the life and disappearance of Amelia Earhart and The Lincoln's: a scrapbook look at Abraham and Mary) is the book’s overall design. The Family Romanov resembles a traditional nonfiction book where the text is uninterrupted and photos are grouped together on glossy paper and placed in the middle of the book. It works really well here because there is so much depth in what Fleming is covering.

Cathy's Thoughts:
From the first chapter, I felt like I had been transported to turn of the century Russia. Fleming hooks readers by describing what it was like to attend a ball at the Winter Palace of the royal family and then contrasts it with the story of the impoverished Russian peasants. Fleming's captivating writing style, impeccable research and use of quotes made this a book I couldn't put down. Fleming paints a complex portrait of the Romanovs, which caused me to feel a range of emotions as I read. At times I was infuriated by their luxurious lifestyle while the majority of Russians suffered in poverty, yet other times I felt pity for the family. Nicholas and Alexandra were out of touch and intimidated by the outside world, they sheltered their children, and desperately tried to keep their ill son in good health. As I read the story of the Romanovs, their strange relationship with Rasputin, the plight of the factory workers & peasants and the rise of the Communist Party, I wished I had this book when I was required to read Animal Farm as a high school sophomore. 

Visit Candace Fleming's blog for more information about how she researched and chose the photographs for the book, how she worked from two calendar systems (Julian and Gregorian),  and more.

  • We are giving away one copy of The Family Romanov.
  • You must be 13 years or older to enter.
  • Only one entry per person will be accepted.
  • Entries will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on August 1, 2014.
  • The winner will be contacted by email. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, we will select a new winner.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bugged: how insects changed history by Sarah Albee

Bugged: how insects changed history
by Sarah Albee; Illustrations by Robert Leighton
Walker Books. 2014
ISBN: 9780802734235
I reviewed a copy sent from the publisher.
Perfect for grades 6 and up

Sarah Albee (Poop Happened: a history of the world from the bottom up) is back with another romp through history. This time, Albee explains how insects have changed history.

Insects have been around since the beginning of time. Over ten quintillion of them exist throughout the world. We try to control them or eliminate them, but they keep coming back. Sometimes stronger than ever! Using a humorous voice with a bit of an attitude, and incorporating fun and informational graphics, Bugged is not your everyday history book. It is a combination of world history, social history, natural science, epidemiology, public health, conservation, and microbiology. 

Readers will learn that there are good and bad insects. Some bugs, like honeybees and silkworms, are beneficial. While other bugs -- fleas and mosquitoes -- transmit diseases that killed a huge number of people through plagues and epidemics. In the U.S., between 1874 and 1876, locust darkened the skies from the Dakotas down to Texas. Crops were devoured in minutes, as was the wool right off the bodies of live sheep! Throughout human history, insects have contributed to some of the most interesting, deadly, and shocking episodes.

Bugged: how insects changed history is well researched. Back matter includes a glossary of terms, bibliography of print material for further reading and websites, source notes, and index.

In world history courses, add Bugged to the reading list. It will complement what students are studying, while injecting a bit of humor.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Boy and a Jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar 
by Alan Rabinowitz
illustrated by Catia Chien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
ISBN: 9780547875071
Grades K-5

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

Wildlife conservationist, Alan Rabinowitz, stuttered as a child. However, he had a gift for talking to animals. Alan's parents took him to doctors and specialists looking for a cure for his stuttering, but it was the zoo that held the answer. At the Bronx Zoo, Alan fluently whispered a promise to a jaguar.

Young readers will empathize with Rabinowitz in this picture book autobiography. As an adult, Rabinowitz kept his promise and used his voice to speak for the animals, including the jaguar. Chien's acrylic illustrations capture the emotions of the characters. On one page, Alan stares out into the dark blue sky. The only words on the two-page spread read, "I can speak, but nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken." This is a contrast to the rich colors of the jungle on the following pages where Alan reflects, "The jungle makes me feel more alive than I have ever felt."

A Boy and a Jaguar is an inspirational true story of a young man who overcame adversity and had an impact on the world. Pair this book with The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps or On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.

This book was also reviewed by...
Librarian's Quest
Waking Brain Cells

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hidden like Anne Frank by Marcel Prins

Hidden Like Anne Frank: 14 true stories of survival
by Marcel Prins and Peter Henk Steenhuis; translated by Laura Watkinson
An Arthur A. Levine Book; Scholastic. 2014
ISBN: 9789545543620
Grades 7 thru 12
To review this book, I checked a copy out from my local public library

Anne Frank recorded in her diary the two years the Frank family spent in hiding during World War II. Though Anne’s story is the most well known, Prins, an award-winning documentary filmmaker and cameraman, and journalist Peter Henk Steenhuis, give us 14 individuals, also from the Netherlands, and share their experience going into hiding. Some children were as young as three or four; some teenagers. About 28,000 Jews were hidden in the Netherlands. “Roughly 16,000 survived and 12,000 were caught or betrayed

As a boy growing up in the Netherlands, Marcel Prins was curious about his mother’s experience of going into hiding during World War II. She would tell Marcel about the exciting parts, and the times when she had been scared or sad. Her story (the first in this collection) would make an impression on Marcel. He wondered what going into hiding actually involved. Where did you go? How did you know who to trust? How did you find money to pay for your hiding place? What did you do when you were frightened?

In these 14 true stories, written in first-person by the individuals, readers gain a first-hand account of what it was really like for many Jewish children who went into hiding during World War II. Some lived with people they knew; others lived with complete strangers. There were those who were treated with love and kindness; while others were beaten. Told in first person, each story is in the voice of the individual as they reach back over fifty years into their memories to share their painful experience.  

At the beginning of each entry a map shows the places in the Netherlands where that person went into hiding. Black & white photographs of the individuals and their families before they went into hiding, places where they were living while in hiding, and of scenes from that time. Back matter has photos of each survivor as an adult and glossary of words or names that may be unfamiliar to readers.

Hidden Like Anne Frank is powerful because each heartbreaking entry recounts this traumatic period from the survivor’s childhood. The website that accompanies this book includes one or more animated films that illustrate the memories of the survivors. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Everybody Paints!

Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family 
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Chronicle Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780811869843
Grades 5 and up

As a child growing up in Maine, Wyeth was a well-known name in my home. I vividly remember visiting the Portland Museum of Art with my parents the year I was in 6th grade for a special exhibition of Andrew Wyeth's tempera paintings. I was pleased to learn that Susan Goldman Rubin had published a history of the Wyeth family for young readers. Rubin has a background in art, and has written some top-notch biographies about many artists including Georgia O'Keefe, Edward Hopper, Diego Rivera, and Andy Warhol.

Everybody Paints! tells the story of three generations of Wyeth artists: N.C., Andrew and Jamie. The book's title is derived from a quote by Jamie Wyeth, "Everybody in my family paints, excluding possibly the dogs." Written in a narrative style, the story is structured chronologically beginning with N.C.'s early life growing up in the late 19th century. Rubin uses quotes to fill in the details of the narrative as she tells the story of how N.C. Wyeth convinced his parents to let him study art when he was a young man. N.C. studied art with Howard Pyle and found success as an illustrator for children's books such as Treasure Island and as an artist for Scribner's and The Saturday Evening Post.

N.C. gave art lessons to his children and encouraged them to draw and paint at their home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His youngest son, Andrew, shared his father's passion for art and became a successful artist known for his watercolor and tempera paintings including Christina's World and The Helga Pictures. The Wyeth family owns a summer home in Cushing, Maine, therefore the state is the setting for many Wyeth landscapes and portraits. Andrew's son Jamie showed an early talent for drawing. He was surrounded by the work of his father and grandfather, and studied painting with his aunt. Some of Jamie's best known works include a portrait of President Kennedy he was commissioned to paint for Jackie Kennedy in 1967 and a portrait of Andy Warhol he painted in 1976.

The unique design and size of the book (112 pages and 8 1/4 inches in height) will entice readers to pick it up and read it. Each glossy page is a different color, and full page images of paintings and illustrations by the Wyeths are placed throughout the book. This is effective in providing reference points for young readers who are not familiar with the Wyeths' art. Back matter includes a list of locations where artwork may be viewed, image credits, bibliography, and index. Source notes are available on the author's website.

Everybody Paints! is an inspiring story that will encourage budding artists to devote their energy to their art, and it exposes young readers to three important American artists. Teachers could even read aloud Everybody Paints! as part of a nonfiction unit or integrated art unit.

If you find yourself in midcoast Maine next month, you could meet Jamie Wyeth and Susan Goldman Rubin. They will be signing copies of Everybody Paints! at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland on August 7th.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper

A Woman in the House (and Senate): how women came to the United States Congress, broke down barriers, and changed the country.
By Ilene Cooper; Illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley
Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781419710360
Grades 7 and up
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

It is interesting what we take for granted, especially the opportunities for women. Now girls are told that when they grow up they can be whatever they want: lawyer, doctor, scientist, musician, athlete, or the president of the United States. The sky’s the limit! But there was a time when  - and not that long ago – a women’s career choice was very limited. In A Woman in the House (and Senate), Ilene Cooper offers readers a fascinating look at American history and how a few women, those who desired something more, would break down barriers and go where no woman had gone before; their victories, and defeats, opened doors for other women.

From the first Congress, in 1789, until the 65th Congress, in 1917, women served neither in the House of Representatives nor the Senate. It wasn’t until the folks from Montana sent the first woman to the U.S. Congress. Her name was Jeannette Rankin and she took her oath of office, along with the male members, on March 5, 1917 in the House of Representatives.  

The book is a lesson in civics, as well as an account of the lives of the women who helped shape it. Cooper begins with the women’s suffrage movement and takes us up to the 2012 election where the 113th Congress welcomed the most women to the Senate in history! Of the 100-member body, one-fifth were women. The book is divided into eight parts that focuses on a particular time of major social changes, such as The Roaring Twenties and Prohibition, the Great Depression and through McCarthyism, The Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Within each part are brief portraits of the women who were in office during that period and what they did--and didn't--accomplish. 

The writing is fresh, erudite, and highly entertaining. There are lots of photos and illustrations by Baddeley enhance the reading experience. Back matter includes a mini civics lesson in the appendix, a complete list of women in Congress, endnotes, bibliography, and index.

As Former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe states in the introduction, 
If we are to celebrate and strengthen the vast array of options available to girls and women today, we must learn about those who fought to give life and reality to our dreams. If we are to attain our fullest potential as a nation and exercise our rights as Americans, we must understand that those rights came to us not by entitlement but by tenacity and perseverance.

To learn more about the women who served in Congress, 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour and Giveaway

We're pleased to take part in the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary blog tour.  Alyson Beecher, chair of the Schneider Family Book Award, shared the Top Ten Schneider Award Favorites on the Nerdy Book Club blog yesterday.

The Schneider Family Book Award is an American Library Association Award that honors "an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." The criteria states that the book may be fiction or nonfiction. Over the past ten years, two nonfiction books have won the award. This year the winning book for younger children was the picture book biography, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet.

Louise reviewed A Splash of Red on our blog last year. We had the honor of seeing Jen and Melissa receive the Schneider Family Book Award at the ALA Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas last week.

In 2010 Bonnie Christensen won the Schneider Family Book Award for her picture book biography, Django: World's Greatest Jazz Guitarist.

Louise's thoughts on Django:
What attracted my husband to me when we first met was that I owned a Django Reinhardt record (we're talking vinyl here, folks). He turned to me and said, "I see you have excellent taste in music." I knew I did because no one has ever equaled Django's sound and technique. His music is fun, and Reinhardt's ability to move up and down that fret board lightning fast, making chords all with only two fingers makes him the perfect subject for the Schneider Family Book Award.

Using a rhythmic narrative, this informational picture book biography gives readers a brief overview of the life of the world's greatest jazz guitarist. Readers learn of Reinhardt's birth in 1910 in a gypsy encampment to his playing music throughout Europe, the accident that injured his left hand and up to 1930 when to took his first steps into performing in France.

"Django's only just beginning,
Bright and brillian stages waiting
Django's gypsy jazz guitar.
To float on music to the stars,
Float on music to the stars."

Cathy's thoughts on Django:
I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie Christensen on a shuttle bus after the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet in Washington, D.C. in 2010. We chatted about our families and our hometowns. Near the end of our ride, Bonnie mentioned that her book, Django, had received the Schneider Family Book Award. Bonnie told me what an honor it was to win the award and said she would be signing copies of Django the next morning. The next day, I stood in line in the exhibit hall and had Bonnie sign a copy of the book for my school library. 

When I  returned to school in the fall, I read Django to my third grade classes as part of a biography unit. Christensen's lyrical narrative and muted, oil illustrations captivated my students. The children were inspired by Reindhardt's  determination to continue performing after suffering serious injuries to his hand in a fire. None of my third grade students had heard of Django Reinhardt before reading the picture book. Thanks to the work of Bonnie Christensen and the Schneider Family Book Award, a new generation of readers know about Django Reinhart's inspiring story of overcoming adversity.

Check out all of the blogs taking part in the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway:

July 6 Nerdy Book Club
July 6 Kid Lit Frenzy
July 7 Nonfiction Detectives
July 9 Teach Mentor Texts
July 10 There’s a Book For That
July 11 Kathie Comments
July 12 Disability in Kidlit
July 14 Librarian in Cute Shoes
July 15 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
July 16 Read, Write, and Reflect
July 17 Read Now Sleep Later
July 18 Unleashing Readers
July 19 Great Kid Books
July 20 Maria’s Mélange

In honor of the 10th anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award, the blog tour will give away the winning titles from 2014. One person will win a set of all 3 Schneider Family Book Award Winners from 2014. Participants must be 13 years or older and have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Post-ALA Report

We're back in Maine after four busy days of publisher previews, dinners, meetings, presentations, awards ceremonies, and time in the exhibit hall scouting out new books at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas. It's a wonderful opportunity to find out about new books and to talk directly with publishers and authors about their work.

Here are some upcoming nonfiction titles we're looking forward to reviewing on the blog this year.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Publication Date: 8/28/14
Nancy Paulsen Books

Everybody Paints: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family by Susan Goldman Rubin
On shelves now
Chronicle Books

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming
Publication Date: 7/8/14
Schwartz & Wade

Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin
On shelves now
Holiday House

Ida M. Tarbell: The Woman Who Challenged Big Business- and Won!
 by Emily Arnold McCully
Publication Date: 7/8/14
Clarion Books

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of a Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate
Publication Date: 10/7/14
Clarion Books

Little Author in the Big Woods: A Biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder
 by Yona Zeldis McDonough and Jennifer Thermes
Publication Date: 9/16/14
Henry Holt and Co.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet
Publication Date: 9/15/14

Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Publication Date: 10/14/14
Roaring Brook Press

Strike!: The Farm Workers' Fight for Their Rights by Larry Dane Brimner
Publication Date: 10/1/14
Calkins Creek Books

A Woman in the House (and Senate) by Ilene Cooper
On shelves now
Harry N. Abrams

While we were in Las Vegas we took part in a panel presentation, Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries, with our friends Mary Ann Scheuer from Great Kids Books and Alyson Beecher from Kid Lit Frenzy.

Our presentation focused on how to evaluate nonfiction and bring quality nonfiction books into the classroom to help students meet Common Core State Standards.

Here are the slides from our presentation.