Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sally Ride: a photography of America’s pioneering woman in space by Tam O’Shaughnessy

Sally Ride: a photography of America’s pioneering woman in space
Tam O’Shaughnessy
Roaring Brook Press. 2015
ISBN: 9781596439948
Grades 6-12
I received a copy of this book from the publisher
This review reflects my own opinion and not that of the 2015 Cybils Committee.

The story of Sally Ride is lovingly shared by her friend and life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy. The two met when Sally was thirteen and Tam was twelve. Tam and Sally would remain friends until they became a couple in 1985.

O’Shaughnessy fills the book with personal stories about Sally’s youth, her time as a tennis player, her college years, being the first woman in space, and her life after NASA.

While working on her dissertation on free-electron lasers while at Stanford, Ride got astronaut fever when she saw an add in the student newspaper. For the first time NASA was recruiting women to join the astronaut training program; Sally, someone loved physics because it explains everything. In August of 1977, Sally received e a phone call from George Abbey, director of sight operations at Johnson Space Center. 

““We’ve got a job here for you, if you’re still interested in taking it.” Sally had made the cut. She was going to be an astronaut!”

With the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Ride knew it would be a long time before she could go on another space mission. She retired from NAS to begin a quiet life as a college professor. 

In 2001, Sally and Tam started the  company, Sally Ride Science. Our goal was to bring science to life through science events and books. We wanted to show young people that science is fascinating, creative, and fun; and that the women and men working in science are regular people who come from all walks of life.

Sadly, Sally Ride passed away from pancreatic cancer on Monday, July 23, 2012. She will forever be remembered as the woman who broke gender barriers to be the first American woman in space; was confident and hardworking with a great sense of humor; an inspiration for girls and boys to be themselves, to be courageous, and to reach for their dreams. 

This is a photobiography. O'Shaughnessy packs the book with lots of photographs and personal memorabilia, all well-captioned, that enhances the reading experience. There is only one very minor design flaw; when the type is placed against a red background the narrative difficult to read. Back matter includes a cast of characters, timeline of Sally’s life, and index. 

Highly recommended.

Watch a short video by National Geographic on Sally Ride.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye by Samantha Seiple

Lincoln's Spymaster: Allan Pinkerton, America's First Private Eye 

by Samantha Seiple
Scholastic Press. 2015
ISBN: 9780545708975
I was sent a copy of this book from the publisher.
Grades 6-12
This review reflects my opinion and not that of the Cybils YA Nonfiction Committee

Over the centuries, immigrants have enriched our (American) culture and Allan Pinkerton was no exception. Arriving in the US from Scotland in 1847, Pinkerton was a natural at police and detective work. This dynamic biography of American’s first private eye is a captivating read. Pinkerton had a strong work ethic, commanding presence, distaste for corruption that would make this “hard-nosed boss” the most famous detective, especially during the Lincoln administration (1861-1865). In 1849 Pinkerton opened his National Detective Agency and quickly found work on the expanding railroad. 

Full-page and half-page archival photos & engravings accompany the story that highlights some of Pinkerton’s adventures. 

Pinkerton pioneered the technique of going undercover—using a disguise and acting a part—so he could secretly infiltrate situations to gain access to the suspect of the crime without raising suspicion. 

This technique, still used to this day, helped Pinkerton infiltrate the secessionists and successfully thwart their plan to assassinate Lincoln on his way to his inauguration which was to take place on March 4, 1861 in Washington, D.C. With the start of the Civil War on April 12, 1861, six days after Lincoln took office, Pinkerton and his secret agents worked hand in hand with the commander-in-chief of the Union army throughout the war.  

After the Civil War and as the West was being settled there were many gangs found robbing trains and banks which was an extremely profitable business. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was kept busy  hunting down The Frank Reno Gang, Jessie James, and the Cole-Younger Gang, to name a few. 

Pinkerton would run the agency, even after a massive stroke that left him unable to work in the field, until his death in 1884. His two sons, Billy and Bob took over the agency which, by 1890’s, began shifting their work to crime prevention. It wasn’t long before the name “Pinkerton” also became synonymous with “armed guard”. 

Pinkerton's influence can be seen to this day in how crimes are solved. His hard-boiled character was the inspiration for many detective stories: Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Philip Marlow (The Big Sleep), Lord Peter Wimsey (Dorothy L. Sayers), Inspector Morse (Colin Dexter novels) and Inspector Lynley created by Elizabeth George, to name a few. 

And to think it began with America's willingness to embrace an immigrant from Scotland.

Hand this to fans of Steve Sheinkin.

Monday, November 23, 2015

2016 Orbis Pictus Award

Over the weekend, the Orbis Pictus Award winner and honors were announced during a luncheon at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Minneapolis. The Orbis Pictus Award recognizes "excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children."

2016 Orbis Picture Winner:
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown 

2016 Honor Books:
Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff and Iacopo Bruno

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad

Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Visit the Orbis Pictus site to see a list of recommended informational books from 2016.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Chicken Followed Me Home!

A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl  
by Robin Page
Beach Lane Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4814-1028-1
Grades K-3

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

Robin Page is known for collaborating with Steven Jenkins on nonfiction picture books such as What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?,  My First Day, Time to Eat and How to Clean a Hippopotamus. Her latest informational book, A Chicken Followed Me Home, is a solo project.

Using a questions and answer format, Page provides young readers with important advice about raising chickens including the kinds of chickens, chick coops, what to feed chickens, and how eggs are fertilized and hatched.

The bold, digital illustrations use contrasting colors to catch the attention of readers. Two pages include clearly labeled diagrams of a hen and rooster. On the page about eggs, Page includes the statistic that the average chicken lays 260 eggs each year. The illustration of 260 white eggs on a red background is the perfect visual for young readers. The book is full of information for curious readers, and the structure and organization make it highly accessible. Back matter includes more questions and answers about chickens and a list of books for further reading for readers who want to learn more.

A Chicken Followed Me Home is a wonderful addition to a primary nonfiction collection and it may even inspire some children to raise their own chickens at home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Nonfiction News: November 2015

Louise and I have been focused on reviewing the best nonfiction books of the year, and it's been a while since we've shared Nonfiction News. Here are some articles and blog posts that have caught our attention lately.

It's getting close to awards season. Alyson Beecher posted her Mock Sibert list on Kidlit Frenzy today. She has compiled a list of excellent titles; many we've reviewed on our blog.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced the finalists for the 2016 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Awards.

Melissa Stewart's blog, Celebrate Science, is a wealth of information for librarians and teachers. This month she write about nonfiction categories: life story, survey text, specialized text, and concept text.

It's also CYBILS Season. Louise is currently serving as a first round judge in the YA Nonfiction category, and I'm the chair the Book Apps. Here are the lists of nominated nonfiction titles in case you missed them.

CYBILS Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction
CYBILS YA Nonfiction

Judges are currently reading and discussing the titles, and the short lists will be announced on January 1st.

The Shelf Talker blog on the Publisher's Weekly site has been keeping track of how many stars children's book receive this year. Here's the latest list as of October 19th. There are several nonfiction titles that have received 5 and 6 stars so far this year including The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, Drowned City, Earmuffs for Everyone, and Most Dangerous.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Overturning Wrongful Convictions: science serving justice

by Elizabeth A. Murray, PhD
Twenty-First Century Books. 2015
ISBN: 9781467725132
Grades 8-12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

This is a Cybils book. The opinion expressed in this review is mine, not the committee's.

Being wrongfully convicted of a crime you didn’t commit and spending years behind bars is a frightening thought. How can such injustices happen? In Overturning Wrongful Convictions, Elizabeth Murray, a forensic scientist, explains that the very sciences that put people behind bars can also set them free. 

Each chapter explains just how the system can break down and where mistakes have been made. From mistaken eyewitness identification, police misconduct, faulty forensic science, poor legal representation, courtroom mistakes, and other factors that can result in the wrong person serving someone else’s time

Because of her experience as a forensic scientist, Murray’s narrative weaves real-life stories of prisoners and the process taken to prove their innocents with explanations on the different sciences used to convict or exonerate prisoners. Take Kenny Waters. In May of 1980 Waters was accused of murdering his neighbor, Katharina Reitz Brow. Though convicted because blood matching his type was found at the crime scene, eighteen years later and the improvements in DNA testing, Brow would be exonerated. (though he would die six months after his release from an accidental fall). 
Since 1989 more than 1,400 Americans who were wrongfully accused have been exonerated by using the same sciences that convicted them. One organization, The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 with the sole purpose of exculpate those falsely convicted. The organization receives more than three thousand requests each year, but can only accept a small number of inquiries because of the amount of time involved - from one to ten years.

Full-page and half-page color photographs, side bars, and accompany the text. The extensive back matter includes  exoneration profiles of those stories mentioned in the book, source notes, selected bibliography, three pages of suggestions for further reading, and an index. I particularly found the narrative interesting, even with all the scientific information, Murray excelled at making the information accessible. We learn that exoneration is achieved, mostly through DNA testing and fingerprints. 

Overturning Wrongful Convictions: science serving justice is a recommended purchase for high school and public libraries where forensic science is of interest or there are fans of the TV show, NCIS.  How fitting to have a Raven on the book's cover for they are often referred to as harbinger of powerful secrets. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Rhythm Ride by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound 
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Roaring Brook Press, 2015
Grades 5-8

Rhythm Ride, Andrea Davis Pinkney's latest nonfiction work, is a dynamic look at the life of Berry Gordy, the rise of Motown Records and the success of dozens of African American singers and songwriters from the 1960s to the 1990s. The first chapter,"Greeting from the Groove," introduces the narrator of the story: the Groove. The Groove takes readers on a road trip through the history of Motown and speaks directly to readers along the way.

Full-page and half-page black and white photographs accompany the story of how Gordy established Motown Records in a home in a Detroit neighborhood. Gordy wanted to offer African American artists better recording contracts and larger distribution than other record companies that often took advantage of talented artists.

Each chapter introduces readers to a new artist or group and describes the tight-knit Motown family including Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5. Pinkney's lyrical writing captures the feeling of R&B music. As I was reading, I felt like I was in the Hitsville, USA house in Detroit watching history unfold. Pinkney's thorough research is evident in the details she includes in the story. Readers get a true behind-the-scenes look into Motown Records as Berry Gordy hired Maxine Powell to provide etiquette and finishing lessons to Motown artists. Cholly Atkins was hired to choreograph moves for groups when they performed live. It was Powell who gave The Supremes makeovers and helped them become more polished, and Atkins choreographed the movements to "Stop! In the Name of Love."

The book artfully weaves together music, history, and business. In the chapter titled, "Ugly Sighting" Pinkney reminds readers that even though many Motown artists were successful and famous, there were many terrible events happening to African American children and teenagers in our country including Claudette Colvin and Emmett Till.

The last chapter of the book describes the sale of Motown Records to EMI Music Publishing. Be sure to read the extensive back matter including the author's note, timeline, discography, and source notes. Pinkney explains that the voice of the Groove is modeled after her cousin Scoopy, a radio professional and voiceover actor.

Rhythm Ride is a must-read of 2015, and it's a recommended purchase for school and public libraries. I should warn you that the Groove will get into your system while you're reading, and you'll have the urge to put on some R&B music and dance. Don't resist!

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

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