Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Strike: the farm workers fight for their rights By Larry Dane Brimmer

Strike: the farm workers fight for their rights
By Larry Dane Brimmer
Calkins Creek. October 2014
ISBN: 9781590789971
Grades 9 thru 12
I used an ARC given by the publisher to write this review.

In 1965, a group of Filipino and Chicano farm workers, unhappy with their deplorable working conditions and substandard wages organized a strike against the grape industry. The strike, which lasted over five years, would evolve into a nation-wide boycott of grapes in all forms, including wine. At the head of this strike was Cesar Chavez. Skillfully researched, Brimmer traces the strike, the role Chavez played in standing up to the big food growers, the development of the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA), and Chavez ongoing fight against the agribusinesses until his death in 1993. 

Brimmer is no stranger to writing quality nonfiction. Cathy and I have reviewed many of his titles on this blog. In Strike, black & white archival photographs and words of the workers, organizers, and growers complement the riveting text. Back matter includes author’s note, bibliography, timeline, source notes, and index.

According to Brimmer, Chavez was not a very dynamic speaker. Yet, he was dedicated and possessed a strong belief that farm workers should be treated with fairness. Though a quiet individual, Chavez often was unwilling to relinquish any control, even in the organizations that were precursors to UFWA. He also believed in nonviolence and gave up many opportunities for employment that would have brought he and his family a comfortable lifestyle. At the time of his death, Chavez was disillusioned with the constant attempts by the growers to undermine any progress in improving the working conditions for workers. He complained that for every step forward, they took two steps back. Even today, working conditions in many fields have gotten worse as the influence of the United Farm Workers has shrunk. Growers refuse to treat the workers with respect. More concerned with their profits, growers refuse to pay a living wage, provide cold fresh water, and stop using harmful pesticides.

Stike is an essential addition to library collections. Add it to any unit on American history, social justice, formation of unions, and agribusiness (Monsanto). Also, though this may be a stretch, I would include Strike in a display with dystopian fiction. It does have a lot of the elements teens enjoy: hopelessness, grim working and horrible living conditions, the minority revolt against big business, fighting, and…an unlikely hero.

¡Sí, se puedo! (Yes, It can be done!)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects Summer Blog Tour

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects: easy to pick up, hard to put down
Sophie Maletsky
Zest Books. 2014
ISBN: 9781936976546
The publisher sent me a copy of the book to review.
All ages.

We are pleased to take part in the 
Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects 
summer blog tour. 

Teens + duct tape = fun

Whenever the Teen Advisory Board at my library hosts events, duct tape crafts are one of the activities of choice. They never seem to tire of making wallets, flowers, and bracelets, but lately the afterschool crowd has been scouting around for more ideas. Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects is just the book to support their creativity.

sunglasses case
Sophie Maletsky ( is considered a duct tape expert and it shows with this jam-packed instruction book. The assortment of projects is wide-ranging--70+ in all--and is organized for home, for school, and to wear. The ideas range from a checkered beach bag, sunglasses case to a headband and makeup case. Need to clean your room? Try the desk organizer, woven basket or earring tree. Malestsky begins with the basics of brands and types of tapes and takes readers through essential techniques. Color photos that mirror the clearly written step-by-step directions accompany each project.

Sticky Fingers is perfect for those individuals who find duct tape projects (well, all craft projects) intimidating. 

Go here to download a Sticky Fingers Activity Guide.
Here is what other bloggers on the blog tour are saying about Sticky Fingers. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming 
by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014
ISBN: 9780399252518
Grades 4 and up
On shelves Aug. 26, 2014

The reviewer received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher.

I read Brown Girl Dreaming on an airplane flying over the midwest on the way home from the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas. I devoured it in one sitting then handed the book to Louise who also read it before we landed. I'm not sure if I can find the words to do justice to this beautifully crafted memoir, but I'll try.

Brown Girl Dreaming is an autobiographical account of Woodson's early life, raised by her mother and grandparents in South Carolina.  Told in verse, Woodson uses the fewest words possible to paint a vivid story of what life was like for her family living in the south in the 1960s. Jackie's point of view is strong, allowing readers to see the story from a child's eyes.

In downtown Greenville,
they painted over the WHITE ONLY signs,
except on the bathroom doors,
they didn't use a lot of paint
so you can still see the words, right there
like a ghost standing in front 
still keeping you out.

When Woodson and her siblings move to New York to live with their mother, the book offers readers a juxtaposition on life in America: north and south, rural and urban, black and white. Throughout the book, it's evident that Woodson had an affinity for writing and telling stories as a child.

How can I explain to anyone that stories are like
air to me,
I breathe them in and let them out over and over 

Louise and I discussed how there are many themes (family, friendship, acceptance and race) from the memoir that appear in Woodson's novels and picture books. Brown Girl Dreaming is a powerful and eloquent memoir that will elicit rich discussions and will serve an inspiration to young writers. I encourage all children's librarians and middle grade teachers to add it to their biography collections. Pair Brown Girl Dreaming with the middle grade novel, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, or Allen Say's memoir Painting from Memory.

Other books by Jacqueline Woodson:
Each Kindness
The Other Side
Coming On Home Soon
Show Way

See Jacqueline Woodson discuss her books in this video from

Monday, August 18, 2014

Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & her family's fight for desegregation
By Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781419710544
Grades 5-12
To write the review, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.
Few people are aware that in 1944, Gonzalo Mendez sued the Westminster School District in California when they wouldn't allow his children, Sylvia and Gonzalo, Jr. to attend the local public school. The principal stated, Rules are rules. The Mendez children have to go to the Mexican school. Sylvia, who spoke perfect English and was born in the United States, wondered if the reason was, because we have brown skin and thick black hair and our last name is Mendez? It was.
This exceptional informational picture book is a moving tribute to the Gonzalo family. Readers are taken through the events that finally lead to the decision that paved the way for the desegregation of all schools in the United States with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education. It took three years, from 1944 until April 15, 1947 when the San Francisco Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Mendez family. That June, Governor Earl Warren signed the law that all children in California were allowed to go to school together, regardless of race, ethnicity, or language.
Duncan Tonatiuh' is a Mexican author/illustrator. His book Diego Rivera: his world and ours won the 2012 Pura Belpre illustration award. In Separate is Never EqualTonatiuh's art incorporates hand-drawn collage and digitally colored illustrations resembling a traditional folk art style. Young Sylvia, in her long braids, is present in every two-page spread. Tonatiuh did extensive research for this book. The dialogue in the trial scene and throughout the story comes directly from court transcripts and from conversations with Sylvia Mendez. Back matter includes an author's note, glossary, bibliography and index.
All children need to be aware of the steps taken in history to fight for social justice. Separate is Never Equal goes hand-in-hand with Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin and other books on discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement. Another great book about changes for girls: Let me play : the story of Title IX : the law that changed the future of girls in America by Karen Blumenthal.

Read Elizabeth Bird's review of Separate is Never Equal on her Fuse8 blog.
Learn more about Duncan Tonatiuh. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Griffin and the Dinosaur

The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science
by Marc Aronson and Adrienne Mayor
illustrated by Chris Muller
National Geographic, 2014
ISBN: 9781426311086
Grades 4 and up

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

The Griffin and the Dinosaur is a nonfiction mystery that brings together mythology, history, science, and art. In a narrative style, Aronson chronicles Adrienne Mayor's quest to prove the link between the mythological griffin and fossils that ancient people may have unearthed. Over a ten year period, Mayor traveled to Greece numerous times, visited museums, interviewed archeologists, and pored over ancient texts. Mayor's perseverance paid off in 1986 while doing research at the Cornell Library. She came across photographs of protoceratops fossils while reading On the Trail of Ancient Man. The fossils found in the Gobi provided the evidence Mayor needed to link the protoceratops to griffin stories told by the ancient Scythians.

While writing the book, Aronson spent time with Mayor at the American Museum of Natural History and interviewed her at her home in California.  Muller's illustrations and the thoughtfully-placed photographs complement this intriguing story. A two-page map with detailed labels is located in the back of the book along with a glossary and list of related resources. The subject and length of the book (48 pages) will attract middle grade readers looking for a book to read an independently, and it would make an ideal classroom read aloud especially for students interested in mythology and ancient history.

Visit The Classroom Bookshelf blog for teaching ideas:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Guest Post: Wild Things Blog Tour

Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature 
by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson,
and Peter D. Sieruta
Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 9780763651503

The reviewers received a galley from the publisher.

We are excited to take part in the Wild Things blog tour. Today you are in for a real treat;  we have a guest post from authors Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson.

Bird, Danielson and Sieruta spent several years researching subversive, controversial and scandalous stories from children's literature. Part history and part social commentary, Wild Things is a must-read for educators, librarians, authors and parents with a passion for kidlit. These provocative anecdotes will cause readers to pause and reflect on the role of children's literature in our society and how it has evolved over the decades.

Guest Post by Betsy Bird and Julie Danielson

If you’re going to write a book about the wilder side of children’s literature, it’s fitting to open it with a chapter on subversive books. That’s what we thought anyway, and that is precisely what we did in Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature. We three authors are huge fans of more subversive tales in all forms – that is, all the way from board books to YA novels.

While most subversive elements in the world of children's literature are intentional, sometimes there are cases where readers simply read far too much into a tale. One such example is The Story of Ferdinand, published in 1936 and still a beloved picture book today. Written by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson, and met with wide acclaim upon its publication, it’s the story of a bull in Spain who enjoys spending his days quietly and who chooses not to fight at the bull fights in Madrid. He’s eventually taken there against his will, so his response is to sit down in the middle of the ring to admire the “flowers in all the lovely ladies’ hair.” He simply refuses to engage, and as a result the Banderilleros, Picadores, and Matador take him back to his pasture.

Poor Ferdinand. He was merely waving a peace sign, yet as the book grew in popularity, critics claimed that perhaps the beloved tale of the Spanish bull was no less than commentary on the Spanish Civil War. In time the book was accused of being communist and fascist and was even banned in some countries.

Author Munro Leaf’s response to the controversy was to note that no political machinations were involved, and he went on to state precisely why he wrote this particular story. But then we can’t give away all of our book’s secrets.

And even if Leaf didn’t intend for the book to represent opinions that swirl around in the world of adults, children’s literature has a tendency to accompany---and sometimes precede---great social changes, another phenomenon we explore in the pages of our book.

And what other picture books have comfortably settled themselves into the canon of subversive children’s book titles, whether they meant to or not? You can find out when Wild Things hits shelves in early August.   

 Be sure to visit the other stops on the Wild Things blog tour this month.

August 5th  100 Scope Notes

August 5th  Let's Get Busy Podcast

August 6th   There's a Book

August 8th   Guys Lit Wire

August 11th  Book Riot

August 11th  Green Bean Teen Queen

August 12th  Modgepodge Bookshelf

August 14th  Wendy on the Web

August 16th  Elizabeth O. Dulemba

August 18th  Into the Wardrobe

August 19th  Books 4 Your Kids   

August 20th  The Book Nest

August 21st  Random Chalk Talk

August 22nd  Children's Corner

Monday, August 4, 2014

Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin

Freedom Summer: the 1964 struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi
By Susan Goldman Rubin
Holiday House. 2014
ISBN: 9780823429202
Grades 7 thru 12
I reviewed a copy of the book sent by the publisher.

In 1964, Mississippi was the last frontier of the Civil Rights Movement in getting African Americans registered to vote. Racism was rampant, only 6.4 % of eligible blacks were registered voters, even though blacks made up more than half the state’s population. The reality was that despite all the sit-ins and marches, whites had little interest in the plight of the African American. 

In Freedom Summer, Susan Goldman Rubin explains how a number of major civil rights groups joined forces to create a summer project known as Freedom Summer. By involving white college students from the North to help register blacks to vote and to establish Freedom Schools, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) hoped to confront bigotry in Mississippi and make white America sympathetic to the fact that African Americans lived under constant threat of having their homes and churches burned, loss of their jobs, and even death. They faced all these threats just for the right to vote.

Rubin’s narrative explains the work these tireless volunteers accomplished as they faced many life-threatening situations from local law enforcement officials to the Ku Klux Klan as they went door-to-door educating children and adults on the importance of voter registration. Rubin frames the eventual success of Freedom Summer around the murder on June 21, 1964 of three civil rights workers: Andrew Goldman, Michael (Mickey) Henry Schwerner, and James Earl Chaney. Their death would make front-page news, thus bringing attention to the violence happening in Mississippi.

Interspersed throughout the text are historic, well-captioned black & white photos. The book is effectively documented, including a timeline, and an extensive bibliography.

DVD resources about Freedom Summer include 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America produced by The History Channel and PBS American Experience: Freedom Summer. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

When Lunch Fights Back

When Lunch Fights Back: Wickedly Clever Animal Defenses 
by Rebecca L. Johnson
Millbrook Press, 2014
ISBN: 9781467721097
Grades 3-6

The reviewer received an e-galley from the publisher.

Rebecca L. Johnson has made a name for herself as an outstanding writer of science books for children. Journey to the Deep won an Orbis Pictus Honor Award in 2011, and Zombie Makers was an ALA Notable Children's Book in 2013.

In her latest nonfiction book for middle grade readers, Johnson turns her attention to animal adaptations and defense mechanisms. When Lunch Fights Back will hook readers from the first chapter entitled, "Slip-Sliming Away." Readers learn how the hagfish produces strings of slime when predators attack. A close-up color photo shows slime oozing from the body of a hag fish. In each chapter, Johnson introduces readers to an animal and its defense mechanism and then explains "The Science Behind the Story."

Some of the other animals featured in the book include the African hairy frog with a concealed claw-like bone, the hoopoe chicken which shoots feces at enemies, and the Texas horned lizard that squirts blood out of its eyes. Johnson also adds information scientists who are studying the creatures and their defense mechanisms. The narrative writing style includes vivid descriptions making this a book that could serve as a mentor text for informational writing.

"In a blur of movement, the shark strikes. It grabs the hagfish in its toothy jaws- and instantly lets go. The shark's mouth is overflowing with thick, snot-like goo. The slimy stuff fills its throat and clogs its gills."

The layout of the book is ideal for young readers. Photos, captions and fact boxes are well-placed without interrupting the flow of the text. The black paper used at the beginning of each chapter with contrasting neon green headings and white text will definitely capture the attention of readers. Back matter includes a glossary, bibliography and companion books and videos.

When Lunch Fights Back is a complete package. It's sure to please science teachers looking for an engaging narrative text for the classroom, and it's will definitely be popular with children who want to reading about interesting, unusual and sometimes disgusting animals.