Thursday, July 30, 2015

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights  
by Ann Bausum
Viking-an imprint of Penguin, 2015
ISBN: 9780670016792
Grades 9-12

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

Ann Bausum is known for writing nonfiction books about civil rights and social justice. Her latest book for teens, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, describes how the Stonewall riots were a turning point for the gay rights movement in America.

Bausum writes in a narrative style and provides readers with historical context as she describes what it was like to be gay in the 1960s. There were dangers to being openly gay: losing your job, being ostracized by your family, being labeled mentally ill by the medical community and being targeted or arrested by law enforcement. 

"Those who resisted the path of suicide- or tried it and survived- did their best to bear the weight of oppression and the self-imposed silence that often accompanied same-sex preferences. This very anonymity made it that much harder to fight back against injustices. If you remained silent and anonymous, how could you fight your oppression?" (p. 17)

The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar run by the mafia in Greenwich Village, was one of the few safe places where gay people could go and be themselves in New York.

"The whole place had a subterranean, primitive feel. Barricaded windows. Black walls. Minimal furnishings." (p.6)

Despite its lack of ambiance and decor, The Stonewall Inn was constantly busy because it had music, a dance floor and allowed same-sex dancing. Because it was operated by the mafia, the police left the bar alone for the most part. That changed on the night of June 28, 1969 when a police task force was sent in to raid the establishment. As bar workers and patrons were arrested and loaded into police vehicles, the crowd rioted and fought back hurling bricks, trash cans, and bottles at the police.

Bausum builds the tension and excitement as she describes what it was like for police officers and a reporter from the Village Voice to be trapped inside the bar while thousands rioted in the streets. People even ripped up a parking meter and used it to break down the door of the bar. The following days brought more riots and protests. The Stonewall riots became a catalyst for bringing together people in the gay community and led to the organization of marches, protests and gay pride parades across the country.

"Forget the Fourth of July. The gay community had its own declaration of independence to celebrate: the one it had just made on Christopher Street in New York." (p. 74)

Exactly one year after the Stonewall riots, the first Christopher Street Liberation Day march took place in New York.

In chapter 9, Bausum describes the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The author calls out President Reagan and President Bush for not showing concern or interest in battling the deadly disease. The final chapter of the book ends on an optimistic note as the author highlights progress the gay rights movement has made over the past few decades including the legalization of gay marriage.

The use of quotes and detailed descriptions of events, places and people bring the story to life. The book contains some black and white photographs, but Bausum explains there were few photos from the riots because they were not covered by the most mainstream media outlets. Bausum's research for the book is impressive; a five page bibliography, source notes, and an author's note are part of the back matter.

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights is a powerful and important book about pivotal social justice events that few teens may know about. The book deserves a place in high school and public libraries. I hope in the not too distant future biographies for teens are published about Craig Rodwell, Barbara Gittings, Harvey Milk and other leaders in the gay rights movement.

Visit the publisher's site to read an excerpt from the book.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Octopus Scientists

The Octopus Scientists: Exploring the Mind of a Mollusk
(Scientists in the Field series)
by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Keith Ellenbogen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-544-232709
Grades 5 and up

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

Sy Montgomery has a gift for crafting nonfiction texts that transport readers into the world of scientists on location. In The Octopus Scientists, Montgomery brings readers on location to the island of Moorea near Tahiti in the South Pacific.

Montomgery and underwater photographer, Keith Ellenbogen, joined a team of scientists from around the world as they looked for the Pacific day octopus. Even though the octopus is not rare, it's difficult to see one in its natural habitat because it can squeeze into small places and can change colors to blend in with its surroundings. The octopus has a large brain for a mollusk, and Jennifer Mather, lead scientist for the project, hopes to learn more about how octopuses use their brains to solve problems and make decisions.

Readers meet the four octopus scientists in the first chapter of the book. The photographs and brief biographies of each scientist will help readers keep track of each scientist during the narrative. Montgomery builds excitement, suspense, and a sense of adventure through the first person narrative, dialogue and vivid descriptions of what it's like to spend days diving and searching for the elusive octopus.

"We are always at risk of puncture by the poisonous spines of sea urchins or the deadly and nearly invisible sand-colored stonefish. We're constantly scraping fingers, knees and bellies on the sharp skeletons of dead corals that poke up from the bottom. The ropes of our buoy markers and collection buckets and the lines holding our pencils to our dive slates tangle on the dead coral and one another." (p. 28)

Readers get a sense of the persistence and patience it takes to be a scientist when the group doesn't spot an octopus after two days of diving.

"I was beginning to wonder how anyone could ever find octopuses anywhere. The octopus specializes in looking like anything but itself. It squeezes itself into a den so tight you might never see it there, hides or rests most of the time, and moves dens frequently. How do you find a hiding, invisible creature in place you've never been to before?" (p. 16-17)

On the third day they spot an octopus. They continue to explore several different diving sites over two weeks. Ellenbogen's underwater photographs of octopuses and other marine life are visually stunning. Readers will be surprised to see octopuses in so many different colors, sizes and shapes. By the end of the trip, the scientists located eighteen octopuses. Montgomery explains that even though the scientists were not able to answer all of their questions, they made some significant discoveries. For example, the octopuses in Mororea had different feeding patterns and stayed in their dens for shorter periods that octopuses they studied in Hawaii.

The Octopus Scientists is a recommended purchase for school and public library. It would make an excellent mentor text for a writing class working on first person narratives, and it would be an exciting read aloud in a middle school science class.

Be sure to check out the Activity and Discussion Guide for The Octopus Scientists.

Monday, July 20, 2015

enormous SMALLNESS

enormous SMALLNESS: A Story of E.E. Cummings 
by Matthew Burgess
illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Enchanted Lion Books, 2015
Grades 2-5

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

I've heard from several public librarians that picture book biographies rarely circulate from their biography collections. I'm fortunate that in the school library where I work my K-5 students regularly check out picture book biographies. Much of it is because teachers read aloud picture book biographies to their classes, and they encourage older readers to continue to read picture books.  I also try to book talk picture book biographies to students whenever I have the chance. This summer I read a picture book biography that I can't wait to share with my students and their teachers in September.

Enormous Smallness is a lengthy (64 pages) picture book biography about the poet E.E. Cummings. The book has a whimsical tone and incorporates a lot of word play in the style of Melissa Sweet. The accessible narrative writing describes how Cummings was curious and observant as a child, and his mother often wrote down poems that Cummings dictated. Burgess traces Cummings' life as he graduates from Harvard, fights in World War I, and returns to the states to pursue his dream of becoming a poet. The book does an excellent job of showing how Cummings' style impacted American poetry.

"Using a style all his own, 
e.e. put lowercase letters where capitals normally of, 
and his playful punctuation grabbed readers' attention.
His poems were alive with experimentation and surprise!"

Di Giacomo's playful collage illustrations perfectly reflect the joy Cummings found in words and in the world around him. The placement of poems and text on the illustrations is quite effective. On one page, a tree serves as the background for a quote by John Keats. One another page, a poem by Cummings is placed on the dark silhouette of an elephant.

Enormous Smallness would make an excellent read aloud as part of a biography or poetry unit. After reading about Cummings' life and poetry, readers may be inspired to write their own poems or create their own poem collages. Back matter includes more poems by Cummings, a timeline and an author's note. Pair Enormous Smallness with Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People by Monica Brown or A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet .

Visit the author's website to view spreads from the book.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall 
by Anita Silvey
foreword by Jane Goodall
National Geographic Kids, 2015
ISBN: 9781426315183
Grades 4-8

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

Anita Silvey eloquently captures the life and work of Jane Goodall in this narrative nonfiction book for middle grade readers. There is so much to like about the book. First, Jane Goodall is an inspiring person for children. Another strength is Silvey's writing style; it's descriptive yet concise. The pacing of the story and length of the book (96 pages) are just right for middle grade readers.

In the first chapters, Silvey describes the primatologist's love of the natural world as a child. Fans of the picture books Me, Jane and The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life With the Chimps will be interested to learn more details about how the young Goodall's interest in animals led to her study of chimpanzees. Silvey traces the work of Goodall as an unhappy secretary to the pivotal events that led her to relocate to Gombe in Tanzania where she observed chimpanzees in the wild. Goodall's work in Gombe and discoveries in the field changed what scientists thought they knew about chimpanzees.

Jane had never "dreamed of seeing anything so exciting." Even more thrilling, she watched David Greybeard and his friend Goliath pick up small twigs and strip off the leaves. They modified an object to make a tool- a behavior that was believed by scientists to be unique to humans. (p. 34)

The book's design is outstanding. The story is organized chronologically; each chapter begins with a full page photo and an interesting lead to hook readers. Numerous black & white and color photographs of Goodall are placed on the page so that the flow of reading is not interrupted. Readers will enjoy the sidebars and pages of extra information about chimpanzees, animals of Gombe, and important people in Goodall's life. Back matter is extensive and includes a family scrapbook of chimpanzees from Gombe, a timeline, maps, source notes and more.

The last few chapters of the book focus on Goodall's conservation efforts and her work to improve the conditions of chimpanzees held in captivity in zoos and at research facilities. Middle grade readers will be interested to learn how technological advances have changed how primatologists study chimpanzees in the wild. Untamed is sure to strike a chord with readers who wish to make a difference in the world. The final line of the book is a call to action from Goodall herself. "Together we can make the world a better place for all living things."

Untamed is a recommended purchase for school and public libraries. It's a book that readers will pick up and read for pleasure, and it would make an ideal nonfiction read aloud for an upper elementary and middle school classroom.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Upcoming Nonfiction Titles Discovered at ALA

Louise and I have returned from the West Coast after attending the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. One of the best parts of attending ALA is having opportunities to talk with authors, illustrators, editors and publicists about books that are on the horizon. A highlight was listening to Melissa Sweet talk about her art, and she showed us some photos of collages from her upcoming biography of E.B. White.

In the exhibit hall, publishers also display new releases and upcoming titles for librarians to preview.  I was pleased to see so many high quality nonfiction titles that are due to be released in the next few months. Here are some of the titles that caught my attention.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsburg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
by Steve Sheinkin
Published by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
On shelves Sept. 22, 2015

Moon Bears by Mark Newman
Published by Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan)
On shelves Nov. 17, 2015

Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter
by Barbara Herkert and Gabi Swiatkowska
Published by Henry Holt and Co. (Macmillan)
On shelves Oct. 27, 2015

The Rain Wizard: The Amazing, Mysterious True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield
by Larry Dane Brimmer
Published by Calkins Creek
On shelves September 8, 2015

Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation 
by Peggy Thomas and Stacy Innerst
Published by Calkins Creek
On shelves September 8, 2015

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans
by Phil Bildner and John Parra
Published by Chronicle Books
On shelves Aug. 4, 2015

Forgotten Bones: Uncovering a Slave Cemetery by Lois Miner Huey
Published by Millbrook Press (Lerner)
On shelves Oct. 1, 2015

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins
by Sandra Markle
Published by Millbrook Press (Lerner)
On shelves Oct. 1, 2015

The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition
by Chris Barton and Cathy Gendron
Published by Millbrook Press (Lerner)
On shelves Sept. 1, 2015

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Published by Roaring Brook Press (Macmillan)
On shelves Sept. 29, 2015

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune
by Pamela Turner and Gareth Hinds
Published by Charlesbridge
On shelves Feb. 2, 2016

Lillian's Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
by Jonah Winter and Shane Evans
Published by Schwartz & Wade (Random House)
On shelves July 14, 2015

Breakthrough: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever
by Jim Murphy
Published by Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin)
On shelves Dec. 8, 2015

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans
by Don Brown
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
On shelves August 4, 2015

 Fur, Fins and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo 
by Cassandre Maxwell
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
On shelves Aug. 10, 2015

 In the Canyon by Liz Garton Scanlon and Ashley Wolff
Published by Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster)
On shelves Aug. 18, 2015

Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton America's First Private Eye
by Samantha Seiple
Published by Scholastic Press
On shelves Sept. 29, 2015

Alyson at the Kidlit Frenzy blog also had a nonfiction recap from ALA.