Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 24, 2015

Know Your Frenemy: Blog Tour

Friends and Frenemies: The Good, The Bad, and the Awkward 
by Jennifer Castle and Deborah Reber
illustrated by Kaela Graham
Zest Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-936976-91-1
Grades 5-8

Today's we're taking part in the Zest Books blog tour for Friends and Frenemies, which hits shelves later this week.

Middle school can be a challenging time for many kids. There are many changes (emotionally and physically) that tweens and teens face in grade 5-8. It's also a time period when friendships are important, and sometimes those peer relationships are bumpy. Friend and Frenemies is a new self-improvement book that will help middle grade and teen readers strengthen their friendships and work out conflicts with friends.

The book sets a positive tone and begins with examining what makes a good friend. The authors point out that there are different kinds of friendships: close friends, social friends, casual acquaintances, mentors and proteges. Quotes and friendship advice from "mentors" (older teens) and kids are incorporated into each chapter. Readers will find the conversational style, colorful fonts, cartoon-style illustrations, and slim size of the book inviting.

Other chapters give tips for making new friends and how to deal with conflicts that may arise. Communication is the theme of the book which also tackles boy/girl friendships and long-distance friendships. Quizzes and scenarios provide tweens with an opportunity to test their knowledge and learn about themselves.

The advice in the book is timeless and may apply to readers of different ages. The authors are careful not to get specific about technology, which can quickly become outdated. For example, the chapter entitled "Gossip and Rumors" does not bring up online behavior or social networking. Instead the authors shed light how why people gossip and what to do if a friend spreads a hurtful rumor.

Friends and Frenemies is not a book that libraries will likely purchase because of the interactive features (quizzes and questionnaires), but it would make a timely gift for kids entering middle school.

Visit the Zest Books blog to read an interview with the authors. Preview pages from the book here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Fab Four Friends

Fab Four Friends: The Boys Who Became the BEATLES 
by Susanna Reich
illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Henry Holt Books and Company, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9458-9
Grades K-5

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

Over the past few years I've added two Beatles biographies to my school library collection: The Beatles Were Fab by Kathleen Krull and Who Were the Beatles? by Geoff Edgers. These books are very popular with readers in grades 3-5.

Today a new biography of The Beatles hits shelves, and it's different than other books on the topic. This is a 32-page picture book aimed at K-2 readers. Author, Susanna Reich, focuses on the early lives of John, Paul, George and Ringo and how they came to form The Beatles.

The narrative style story begins with John and describes his family life, his love of rock music and how his mother gave him his first guitar. The story then moves on to Paul's childhood and how music helped him cope with the death of his mother. After a section about George, Reich describes how the three met and formed The Beatles. The band performed in Germany and even recorded a few songs before Ringo joined the band. Quotes are interspersed throughout the story enhancing the narrative. The last section of the book is dedicated to Ringo's early life growing up in a rough part of Liverpool.  

Gustavson's full-page, realistic, oil illustrations capture the youth and energy of the four musicians. The final two-page spread in the book depicts The Beatles on stage in their blue suits. The story ends with these words, which signal a beginning:

"Their songs were irresistible and they were the best of friends. That friendship cast a spell across the globe. The Beatles' days in the spotlight had just begun."

Reich includes a list of source notes and bibliography in the back matter. She explains in the Author's Note that her goal in writing the book was to "show how four ordinary boys growing up amid rubble of postwar Liverpool found music to be a powerful, even life-saving, force in their lives."

Fab Four Friends is an excellent jumping off point for young music fans who are interested in learning about how four boys from Liverpool formed one of the most successful and influential bands in the world.

Visit the publisher's site to view artwork from the book.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: 
Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6531-9
Grades 4-12

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

Voice of Freedom is a beautiful tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist and voting rights champion. Fannie Lou Hamer, also known as the spirit of the civil rights movement, was a respected leader and politician who didn't back down from fighting for voting rights even when she was threatened and physically harmed. This is a timely books since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Johnson 50 years ago this month.

The picture book biography uses poems to describe pivotal events in Hamer's life beginning with her childhood as she toiled in cotton fields while her school was open only four months each year. Weatherford does an excellent job of highlighting turning points and crucial events. When Hamer registered to vote in Mississippi in 1962, she faced discrimination and hatred from the circuit clerk, area police, and the plantation owner where she lived. This did not deter her from standing up for her rights; it made Hamer even more determined to vote.

"Before I could cast a single vote,
I had to pay a poll tax I couldn't afford-
and dodge the night riders
who cruised slow as molasses
past my house with guns
after my name was printed in the paper.
Too bad a voter registration card
could't pay the rent.
When Pap lost his job, we got by
on ten dollars a week raised
by those young voting-rights workers
who opened my eyes
to the change a-coming.
I hopped aboard that train." (p.17)

Ekua Holmes' vibrant and sometimes dark, paper collage illustrations pair perfectly with the poems. The paint, paper and maps used in the collages give the illustrations a rich texture. Back matter includes source notes, a time line, and bibliography.

All middle grade students should learn about the brave and inspiring Fannie Lou Hamer who fought for civil liberties including voting rights, fair wages, and decent schools. She went on to run for Congress, started the Head Start Program and paved the way for many African American politicians and activists who came after her. Voice of Freedom is a recommended purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries, and it would make a strong mentor text for a poetry unit.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans 
by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grades 5 and up

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

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many teens and adults will remember watching the news in horror as citizens struggled to survive squalid conditions in the Superbowl shelter while the city of New Orleans was under water. However, most of the students in my school were born after 2005 and know little about the devastating natural disaster and botched government response. Don Brown's latest nonfiction graphic novel introduces middle grade readers to the storm that had widespread repercussions on New Orleans and the Gulf coast region.

Brown uses earth tones and somber colors to reflect the tragic mood in the pen & ink illustrations. The storyline follows a chronological structure beginning with storm warnings from the weather service followed by the partial evacuation of the area to the breaching of the levees by flood waters. Brown does not blame one specific organization or government leader for failing to bring aid to the victims of the hurricane in New Orleans. Instead, he provides readers with facts ands events that shed light on the bureaucratic mess at the local, state and national levels. Much of the text takes the form of a narrative description of the events, but dialogue is also used in places. In the back matter, Brown lists source notes for each quote including the infamous quote from President Bush: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

The book does not shy away from the dark reality of the storm's impact on people in the region. Dead bodies are shown floating in contaminated water and desperate homeowners are illustrated trying to cut their way out of the homes to escape flood waters. The book ends on a hopeful note as workers are shown rebuilding homes. One worker in the foreground says, "We're coming back. This is home. This is life." A portion of the book's proceeds will be donated to New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. 

Upper elementary and middle school readers should read Drowned City for historical context before reading fiction titles such as Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere, Zane and the Hurricane, Another Kind of Hurricane and Ninth Ward.