Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why'd They Wear That?

Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History 
by Sarah Albee
National Geographic, 2015
ISBN: 9781426319198
Grades 5 and up

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

Sarah Albee's latest nonfiction book for tweens and teens is a fascinating look at the history of fashion through the ages. Why'd They Wear That? is the kind of book you can sit down and read from cover to cover (like I did) or readers may select chapters and passages of interest to read.

Albee explains in the Introduction, "What people wore can tell us about human history because fashion never stands still." There is a plethora of information in the book about fashion, history, society, and religion, Albee organizes the chapters by time periods and uses catchy headings like "Wrapper's Delight," "Dressed to Kill" and "Going for Baroque."

Readers will learn about culture, social classes, religious beliefs and science from this book. For example, purple is considered a royal color because it was so rare. The Phoenicians created Tyrian purple from the mucus of a snail, so it was in short supply. Hundreds of years later, it was still hard to produce purple dyes, so it was only worn by royalty.

The comprehensive book describes the history of armor, undergarments, shoes, makeup, wigs, and much more.  Not only does the book document centuries of fashion, but it explores how and why people wore what they did during each time period and across the continents.

Albee's conversational writing style will appeal to kids.

"Pestered by fleas? You could try a flea fur to rid yourself of those pesky bugs. This solution was popular among Europeans of high rank in the mid-1500s. Here's what you you: Take a small dead animal- head, claws, tail, and all- and drape it jauntily over one of your arms. Then wait for awhile." (p. 64)

By the way, flea furs didn't work as a way of getting rid of fleas. According to the book, fleas are attracted to body heat not fur.

The design and layout of the book are outstanding. The size of the book (9 1/8" x 10 7/8") allows ample space for the numerous photographs and artwork. Fact boxes and sidebars are off-set in colorful blue and yellow, which doesn't interrupt the flow of the main text. The images are effectively placed near text on that that subject. One amazing photograph shows a young woman in an extremely tight corset. On the next page readers will be astonished by a series of four photographs that illustrate how a woman wore a hoop under a dress in 1860.

Albee's extensive research process is evident in her writing and the hundreds of images used in the book. Back matter includes a lengthy bibliography and a list of the images used. Why'd They Wear That is a highly recommended purchase for a school or public library collection, and it would make a fun gift for a middle grade reader.

Other books by Sarah Albee include Bugged: How Insects Changed History and Poop Happened!: A History of the Wold from the Bottom Up.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Turning Fifteen On The Road to Freedom

Turning 15 On the Road to Freedom: my story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March
By Lynda Blackmon Lowery; as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley; Illustrated by PJ Loughran
Dial Books. 2015
ISBN: 9780803741232
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.
Grades 4 thru 12

Joining the Civil Rights Movement to help end segregation and allow African Americans the right to vote, Lynda Blackmon Lowery, born in Selma, Alabama in 1950, was too young to take part in the sit-ins. Instead, she was a "gopher," Her job was to go for help. 

By the time I was fifteen years old, I had been in jail nine times.

The Civil Rights march in Selma took place on Sunday, March 7, 1965; Lynda Blackmon Lowery was only fourteen when she took part in that historic march now called, Bloody Sunday.  She was sprayed with tear gas and beaten, but those seven stitches over her eye and twenty-eight in the back of her head did not deter her from joining in march to Montgomery. Dr. King’s march from Selma to Montgomery would show Governor George Wallace and the world that black people still demanded the right to vote—that beatings and violence would not stop us. Lowery would turn fifteen on the second day of the march.

Lowery’s memoir is engaging as she recounts her experience being an African-American teenager and an active member in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama during a very tumultuous time in our country’s history.  Her commitment to the movement despite her terror illustrates the tremendous dedication and determination it took for all those involved, both black and white, to win the right for all U.S. citizens to vote.

Well-selected historic photos are interspersed throughout the text along with Loughran’s graphic style illustrations. In her author's note, Lowery gives a brief explanation of what historical events lead up to that infamous march from Selma to Montgomery. She also includes brief bios of three who lost their lives days before or after Bloody Sunday.

Listen to an interview with Lynda Blackmon Lowery on

Lowery states: We were determined to do something and we did it. If you are determined, you can overcome your fears, and then you can change the world.

Pair this with the graphic novel March. Book One and March. Book Two by John Lewis, Russell Freedman’s Because They Marched: the people's campaign for voting rights that changed America, and Freedom Summer by Susan Goldman Rubin, and  BrownGirl Dreaming and The Other Side, both by Jacqueline Woodson.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2014 CYBILS Winners

Yesterday the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (CYBILS) announced the winners for 2014. The CYBILS recognizes books that have both literary merit and kid appeal. 

Louise was a 2nd round judge in the Young Adult Nonfiction category. 
The winner of the YA Nonfiction Award was The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming. 

Congratulations to Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen for winning in the Elementary/ Middle Grade Nonfiction category for Feathers: Not Just for Flying.

Cathy was the chair of the Book Apps committee. This year the winner was the interactive STEM story, Kalley's Machine Plus Cats.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Draw What You See

Draw What You See: The Life and Art of Benny Andrews 
by Kathleen Benson
illustrated with paintings by Benny Andrews
Clarion Books, 2015
ISBN: 9780544104877
Grades 2-5

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

Picture book biographies are in demand at my elementary school library. Many classroom teachers ask students to select biographies to read as part of book challenges and reading units. When a child asks me for a biography recommendation, I often pull out books about people that are unfamiliar to young readers. Some of my favorite picture book biographies to recommend to children are Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas by Meghan McCarthy, and Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown

Draw What You See is an inspiring, picture book biography that recently hit shelves, and I'm looking forward to adding it to my list of recommended books. American artist, Benny Andrews, began drawing in 1933 at the age of three. His family worked in cotton fields in Georgia, and his mother made sure he went to high school instead of working in the fields. After college, Andrews traveled around the world with the Air Force. The G.I. Bill funded his tuition at art school in Chicago in 1954 where he painted people around him from jazz musicians to the janitors at his school. He continued to paint when he moved to New York City; he also fought to have the works of African American artists displayed in museums.

Kathleen Benson's narrative writing captures the essence of Benny Andrew's life and work in thirty-two pages. Andrews' oil and collage paintings make the perfect illustrations for a book about an artist who saw art everywhere. Before his death, Andrews traveled to New Orleans to work with children affected by Hurricane Katrina. He was a talented artist who used his art to help make an impact on society.

Benson includes a timeline, list of sources, and more information about the artist in the back of the book. Pair Draw What You See with A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet and The Iridescence of Birds by Patricia MacLachlan.

Friday, February 6, 2015

2015 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

Despite a snow storm raging in Chicago -- and in the Northeast -- on Monday, February 2, the 2015 Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA's Midwinter meeting. Cathy and I were thrilled by the titles chosen by the 2015 Robert F. Sibert Committee. We reviewed all of the honor books and the winner -- and placed them on our Best of 2014 list! We would like to give a huge thank you to all the individuals on all the book award committees, who spent pretty much all their free time for a whole year reading hundreds of books.

The Robert F. Sibert Medal is for the most distinguished informational book for children.

2015 Sibert Honor Books

And the winner is....

Go here for a complete listing of all the youth media award winners.

Happy reading! 

Louise and Cathy

Monday, February 2, 2015

Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine

Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink
by Gail Carson Levine
Harper. 2014
ISBN: 9780062275301
Grades 4 -12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library

Looking back at a book from 2014.

In Write to Writer: from think to ink, Levine guides hopeful writers on creating stories that will captivate readers. Picking up where she left off in Writing Magic: creating stories that fly--and using the same format--Levine breaks down the writing process into thirty-nine chapters organized in eight sections emphasizing building characters, developing a plot, aspects of a story to her thoughts on blogging. 

Levine does a wonderful job of explaining and using examples to make her point. Every chapter ends with writing exercises. She even includes a section for those interested in writing prose and poetry. 

Students will find Levine's writing engaging and her advice very accessible. 

Encourage students to visit Levine's blog where she continues to offer tips on writing.