Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, October 27, 2014

El Deafo by Cece Bell

El Deafo
Written and illustrated by Cece Bell
Amulet Books; an imprint of Abrams. 2014
ISBN: 9781409710209
Grades 3-12
To write this review, I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Everyone has a superpower. What is yours?

In El Deafo, author-illustrator Cece Bell shares her experience growing up deaf. 
I was a regular little kid. I played with my mom’s stuff. I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley, and big sister, Sarah.
Everything was fine until, at 4 ½, she contracted meningitis. We are not told how long Bell was in the hospital recovering, but when she got better something was different.

She couldn’t hear.  

Bell does a terrific job conveying her frustration at being different, especially when wearing the clunky hearing devices, so different from what children use today. Though she could hear people talking, Bell couldn’t always make out what they were actually saying. Things changed when she gets The Phonic Ear. Paired with a microphone, the Phonic Ear allowed Bell to hear her teacher, Mrs. Lufton. The Phonic Ear, clarifies her voice-really sharpens it! Even when I don’t see Mrs. Lufton’s face, I can understand every word she says without having to lip-read at all. In fact, the Phonic Ear was so powerful Mrs. Lufton could be heard wherever she was in the school building...even the bathroom!  FLUSH!!!!

There are some very funny moments in El Deafo, and heartbreaking, too. Readers will relate to the universal feeling of wanting to fit in and have a best friend. As Bell states in the author’s note, I was a deaf kid surrounded by kids who could hear. I felt different, and in my mind, being different was not a good thing. It is unfortunate that it is only when we are adults can one truly appreciate our uniqueness. Only then can we accept that, being different can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.

This memoir, told in graphic format, is both amusing and very moving. It will appeal to fans of Smile by Raina Telgemeier. El Deafo is a must-read for every one.

Watch the video of Cece Bell talking about El Deafo.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Neighborhood Sharks

Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands 
by Katherine Roy
David Macaulay Studio (Roaring Brook Press), 2014
Grades 2-5

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

The shark section gets a lot of traffic in my elementary school library. Many young readers are fascinated by the creatures, so I was excited when I heard about Neighborhood Sharks at a Macmillan preview over the summer. Neighborhood Sharks is not your typical, informational book about sharks. The book focuses on great white sharks that live near the Farallon Islands near San Francisco and includes bold illustrations instead of photographs. The text alternates between narrative and expository writing. After introducing readers to a shark stalking its prey, Roy describes the special features that aid sharks in their search for food: teeth, jaws, sense of smell and more. One page explains how the design of a shark's body is ideal for swiftly swimming though the water. The concept is reinforced in a diagram that compares the body of a shark to the design of a jet plane.

Roy's writing style is engaging and the book packed full of important information about great whites. The complex vocabulary, science concepts and illustrations of seals being eaten make this a book for older elementary school readers (grades two and up). Back matter includes an author's note, list of sources, recommended books and sites, and a map.

Visit Katherine Roy's blog for more information about Neighborhood Sharks.

Monday, October 20, 2014


ISBN: 9781847803016
ISBN: 9781847802996
ISBN: 9781847805171
Written and photographed by Suzi Eszterhas
Frances Lincoln Children's Books. 2014
Preschool to Grade 2
I received these titles from the publisher.

After a long night of hunting in the forests of India, a mother tigress carefully returns to her den. She crawls into this secret place where she has hidden treasure - her tiny babies. The babies are called cubs and she is the only one in the whole world who knows they are there.  From Tigers

I was excited to see this new series about wild animals and how they grow in their natural habitat for a younger audience. Each book, in the Eyes on the Wild series, begins with the moment the animals is born and follows it until they are grown, ready to be on their own. The book concludes with a one page list of animal facts where it includes a few brief sentences explaining why the animal is endangered and a website for more information. There is no bibliography.

Eszterhas, a well-known wildlife photographer for National Geographic Kids, Ranger Rick, and Your Big Back Yard, fills the books with beautiful color photos. Each picture, some filling the page, perfectly mirrors what she describes in the text.

These books will be useful for the yearly unit on wild animals for primary grade students in my community.

For a list of other titles in the series, visit the author's website.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Buried Sunlight by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

Buried Sunlight: how fossil fuels have changed our world
Written by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm; Illustrated by Molly Bang
Blue Sky Press. 2014
ISBN: 9780545577854
Grades 3-12
To review this book, I borrowed it from my local public library.

Author-illustrator Molly Bang has now written four books about the sun’s life-sustaining role in our world. She began with My Light that explained the sun’s role in creating electricity. Partnering with MIT professor Penny Chisholm, the two wrote Living Sunlight: how plants bring the Earth to life and Ocean Sunlight: how tiny plants feed the seas. Living Sunlight is about how the sun gives us life through photosynthesis, the most important process on Earth and how that process connects all of life. Ocean Sunlight explains how phytoplankton, tiny sunlight-fueled plants feed all life in the seas. 

In Buried Sunlight: how fossil fuels have changed our world, Bang & Chisholm continue the series to explain how fossil fuels came to exist and how civilizations dependence on them has seriously altered our world. 

When we humans started using fossil fuels, we did not understand that our actions could influence the entire planet. Now we know that they can have a profound impact on our Earth and its biosphere. We must consider carefully the impact our choices have on our current world as well as on future generations.

Bang & Chisholm do an excellent job simplifying the process of photosynthesis and its role in the cycle of life on Earth. When a world is in balance the exchange of CO2 and O is in balance. Yet our increased dependency on fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas,  has created a world out of balance; what scientists call Global Warming.  
Some people still ask, “So What?” Earth has changed a LOT over the billions of years since it was born! It’s been MUCH warmer, and MUCH colder, than it is today! Why NOT burn fossil fuels?  The changes that are happening now are progressing too rapidly; many living creatures are unable to adjust to them. Bang calls for action when she asks, "What will happen to humans when there are no plants and water is scarce?"

Bang's illustrations are colorful and fill every inch of the page. They mirror precisely what is being explained in the text. The best part of the book is the author notes. Six pages further explain what is being discussed in the book. 

To help children gain knowledge of basic scientific principals, all four titles in this series are highly recommended. To see some of the illustrations, go here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Super Sniffers by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent

Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job
By Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Bloomsbury. 2014
ISBN: 9780802736185
Grades 3-6
To review this book, I borrowed a copy from my local public library.

I couldn't resist reviewing another book about dogs who use their incredible sense of smell to help get the job done.

Take any dog, any dog, for a walk along a sidewalk or in a park, and you won’t be walking much—you’ll be standing there holding a leash while the dog sniffs at every bush and every lamppost.

That’s good, because with their keen sense of smell –a bloodhound has over three hundred million sensitive cells that can detect odors–dogs have been recruited to help in a variety of service areas. In Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job, veteran science writer Dorothy Hinshaw Patent combines how dogs are trained with some real-life examples. There are search-and-rescue dogs, law enforcement canines and dogs who are helping save our planet by sniffing out invasive weeds, locating the scat of endangered species, and detecting contaminated water.

Entries are one to two pages. Sidebars highlight a specific dog and their job. Lots of color photos enhance the text. Back matter includes further reading, and index.

Patent is a master at engaging her readers as she combines scientific information with examples of dogs at work. Pair Super Sniffers with another book by Patent, Dogs on Duty: soldiers best friends on the battlefield and beyond and Sniffer Dogs: how dogs (and their noses) save the world by Nancy F. Castaldo

Friday, October 10, 2014

Who Was Here? Discovering Wild Animal Tracks

Who Was Here?: Discovering Wild Animal Tracks 
by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press, 2014
Grades K-3

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

Young readers will enjoy learning about animals tracks in this engaging science picture books. The writing style alternates between descriptive poems and expository paragraphs as readers try to guess the animals based on the tracks and the clues in the text.

"A saw-toothed swimmer left this trail, 
dragging its flat, paddle-shaped tail.
Its family works as a busy team, 
piling sticks to build a dam in the stream."

Upon turning the page, readers see an illustration of the animal in its habitat along with information about the animal.

"Beavers have five toes. Their hind feet are webbed to help them swim."

The soft, earth tones  and textures in the water color and mixed media collage illustrations make this a book readers will want to revisit, and the tracks are illustrated in actual size. The book contains tracks from animals that live in different habitats including black bears, kangaroos, and hippos. Back matter includes tips for looking for animal tracks and a list of related books and websites.

Pair Who Was Here? with Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow by Joyce Sidman or What in the Wild? by David M. Schwartz.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beetle Busters by Loree Griffin Burns

Beetle Busters: a rogue insect and the people who track it

By Loree Griffin Burns; 
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Scientists in the Field
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780547792675
Grades 5-12
I reviewed a copy of this book sent by the publisher.

If cutting trees in one community today would save the trees in your backyard tomorrow, would it be worth it?
Would you feel the same way if you lived in that community and the trees being cut down were the only ones in your entire neighborhood?

The Asian longhornd beetle is from China and spends most if its life inside trees.  One beetle cannot kill a tree, but one beetle will lay more than twenty-five eggs in its lifetime. And since beetles lay their eggs on the same tree, it is only a matter of time before the tree is weakened to the point of collapse. The first Asian longhorned bettle made its way to the US in 1996. The larva was lurking in the wood of shipping pallets, spools, and crates that came from China. The first Asian longhorn beetle was discovered in maple trees in Brooklyn, New York. Clint McFarland, federal project manager for the Asian Longhorned Beetle Cooperative Eradication Program in Massachusetts believes that the only way to kill Asian longhorned beetles is to cut down the infected tree and chip it to pieces.

In her author’s note, Burns explains that the idea to write this book came after Asian longhorned beetles were found in her small town in Massachusetts. She wanted to believe in what McFarland and other scientists thought was the best way to destroy the beetles, but she also wanted to save her beloved trees. Like she did in Citizen Scientists, Burns challenges readers to roll up their sleeves and become a beetle buster. If we all work together, maybe we can eradicate this invasive pest that threatens to destroy our entire northeastern hardwood forests.  

The color photographs, maps, sidebars and absorbing text work together to make this new title in the Scientists in the Field series a must read. Back matter includes glossary, bibliography, and index.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch

The Next Wave: 
the quest to harness the power of the oceans

Scientists in the Field
Elizabeth Rusch
Houghton Mifflin. 2014
ISBN: 9780544099999
Grades 5-12
The publisher sent me this book for reviewing.

When I first moved to Maine I lived on an island where I experienced first hand the strength and power of the ocean. From being trapped on the island when the weather was too rough for the ferry to travel from the mainland to standing on the beach watching the pounding surf, I found that the ocean is always in motion from the wind and the pull of the tides. How to harness that energy to create electricity is the subject of Elizabeth Rusch’s new book, The Next Wave: the quest to harness the power of the oceans.

A great deal of energy generated around the world is lost from resistance in wires when transported long distances. One of the benefits of ocean energy is that the electricity can be generated –and used—near where people live.

Humans use a lot of electricity to power our homes and hobbies. Since most of the world’s population lives near an ocean, it makes sense to come up with a way to trap this type of renewable energy, thus allowing humanity to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels. Harnessing the oceans energy is not an easy task.

Rusch takes us to the Pacific Northwest where we meet Professor Annette von Jouanne, her students, and her private company partners together work diligently to create a wave-energy device that floats on top of the water. Will it be able to withstand the punishing waves of the ocean in order to turn those waves into electricity? Just maybe, with the work of Ocean Power Technologies, utilizing this technology may happen sooner than we think.

Cathy and I are fans of the Scientists in the Field series. The partnership between writer and photographer, as they work together to make the science accessible, relevant and interesting is one of the cornerstones of this award winning series. The books are well researched and the addition of sidebars offers in-depth explanations on key points from the text. Back matter includes a glossary, source notes, bibliography, often an author’s note, and an index. I especially enjoy how each title highlights a scientist whose life work is immersed in the unpredictable and dynamic natural world.

When introducing The Next Wave by Elizabeth Rusch to students, I suggest you first share the wordless picture book, Wave by Suzy Lee. The illustrations will highlight why you should never turn your back on the ocean.

Friday, October 3, 2014

CYBILS Nominations

The Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS) nominations are now open. Readers may nominate their favorite children's books and book apps for the 2014 CYBILS. To be eligible, books must be published between Oct. 16, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2014. Click for more information on how to nominate books.