Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, December 28, 2015

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras 
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015
Grades 2-5

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras was recently featured in our list of Best Nonfiction Books of 2015. The picture book biography introduces readers to an influential Mexican artist who began his work as a printer.

Jose Guadalupe Posada worked as a printer and engraver in Mexico City in the late 1800s. He was known for illustrating political cartoons. Posada's calaveras became popular when he illustrated the poems for a local newspaper for Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Calaveras are images of skeletons associated with Day of the Dead celebrations. Most of Posada's drawings were humorous and meant to celebrate life, yet when revolution broke out the artist used his pen to criticize leaders of the Revolution.

Author and illustrator, Duncan Tonatiuh, eloquently incorporates Posada's artwork into the illustrations in the book. The combination of Tonatiuh's cartoon-style illustrations and Posada's black and white etchings are the perfect blend of the present and the past and capture the comical and political nature of the calaveras. On three pages, Tonatiuh breaks down Posada's printing and etching techniques into step-by-step instructions that clearly explain to young readers how Posada created his artwork. Posada's work influenced many great artists such as Diego Rivera; his work can be viewed in museums across North America.

Don't miss the rich back matter in the book including a detailed author's note, glossary, bibliography and list of museums where Posada's work can be seen. Funny Bones is an interesting story of an artist most students probably have never heard of before. The picture book can be used as an introduction to an artist study in art classes or in Spanish classes studying Day of the Dead. Posada's etchings may even inspire readers to create their own calaveras to celebrate life.

Be sure to check out Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Best Nonfiction Books of 2015

2015 turned out to be another banner year for nonfiction books for children. We looked back over our reviews from the year and selected 22 books that stood out as the best of the year. There are still many 2015 titles we plan to review in upcoming weeks.

We've organized the list into three categories: History, Science and Biography. Our hope is that librarians, teachers and parents will find this list helpful as they make purchases for children. We're looking forward to what 2016 will bring in the world of nonfiction.

Louise and Cathy


Arthur Levine Books: Scholastic, Inc.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Calkins Creek

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

Roaring Brook Press

Roaring Brook Press

Roaring Brook Press

National Geographic


Beach Lane Books

Ebola: Fears and Facts by Patricia Newman
Millbrook Press

Millbrook Press

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Abrams Books for Young Readers

Candlewick Press

Peachtree Publishers

Abrams Books for Young Readers

National Geographic Kids

by Carol Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online by Violet Blue

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online
by Violet Blue
No Starch Press. 2015
ISBN: 9781593276485
Grades 9 thru adult
I received a copy of this book from the publisher
This review reflects my opinion and not that of the Cybils YA Nonfiction Committee

Has your email, Twitter, Snapchat or other online account ever been hacked? Do you worry how easy your personal information - address, phone number, birthday, social security #  - is only a click away for anyone to find? If you feel overwhelmed with how to manage all your personal data, the this book is for you! Penned by Violet Blue, an award-winning author and investigative journalist, this tome offers tips to help keep your online self safe.

Though Blue states this book is for women, the information is spot on for anyone.

This book is packed with some serious self-defense moves. It’s designed to help you get organized so you can navigate the chaotic landscape of online privacy. You’ll learn how to look good to potential employers (or potential dates) safeguard your privacy from sleepy marketers, unethical megacorporations, scammers, stalkers, bullshit artists, and anyone who wants to silence women online.

Divided into ten chapters Blue explains the different ways you can define your boundaries. From email settings, social media and dating services to creating safe passwords for sites where credit card information is stored. Because of her background as a tech reporter, Blue is well aware of the growing phenomena of identity theft. She advices readers to regularly check their privacy settings every three months, and never save credit cards on online shopping sites like Amazon. Linking email accounts can be a disaster waiting to happen, as if always using the same prefix - vblue - for all your email addresses. To keep your passwords safe, never log in to any account using someone else's computer or smartphone.

Chapter four explains how to take charge if a situation arises where you’ve been hacked and your private content - swimsuit shots, selfies with cleavage - turns up all over the Internet. 

Blue’s writing is straightforward, blunt and to the point. She is passionate about making sure women take charge of their online information and urges them to understand the ramifications of what they put out there, especially on social media. Be vigilant. Those horror stories you read about could happen to you.

This isn’t a book filled with technical details of how to do this and that. Instead, Blue guides readers to outside resources, such as websites or software, that is helpful. There is a resource section, divided up by chapters, at the back of the book that is very thorough. 

The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy would be a valued resource for Internet safety courses at high school and collages. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

How to Swallow a Pig

How to Swallow a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom
by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Grades K-5
ISBN: 978-0-544-31365-1

In classic Jenkins/Page style, How to Swallow a Pig captivates readers with colorful, cut paper collage and interesting science facts. This highly engaging and informative nonfiction picture books uses a sequence text structure to explain the steps animals take to hunt for prey, build homes, and defend themselves. On the Celebrate Science blog, Melissa Stewart describes the text structure as "How-to Sequence Structure" with an "Expository Style."

As with other science picture books by Jenkins and Page, readers will be motivated to pick up the book and read it for pleasure while teachers will want to use the book as a mentor text for expository writing. Readers will enjoy learning how crows crack nuts, how armadillos defend themselves, and how pythons suffocate pigs then swallow them whole. Each step in the process is numbered and accompanied by cut paper illustrations with varying textures and colors. Science-minded readers will appreciate the additional information about each animal located in the back of the book. Pair How to Swallow a Pig with other nonfiction books with sequence text structures such as How to Clean a Hippopotamus or No Monkeys, No Chocolate.

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine 
by Laurie Wallmark
illustrated by April Chu
Creston Books, 2015
Grades 2-5
ISBN: 978-1-939547-20-0

This week is Computer Science in Education Week. Thousands of students across the country will take part in the Hour of Code and learn about computer programming.  Last year I assembled a display of books in my school library to promote Computer Science in Education Week, and I quickly realized there was a huge gap. Where were the books about women? We have books about Steve Jobs, Steve Wolzniak, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other men in tech. What about the women in computer science? What about Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper and Jean Bartik? Creston Books has recently published a biography to help fill the niche.

Laurie Wallmark and April Chu collaborated on Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, a new picture book biography about the woman who wrote the first computer code. Lovelace was the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, and she had an affinity for mathematics at a young age. Although it was the 1800s, her mother encouraged Ada to pursue math and science and hired a tutor to help Ada further her studies. The accessible narrative text highlights how Lovelace met mathematician and inventor, Charles Babbage, and collaborated with him on an Analytical Engine or "Thinking Machine" that would solve complex math problems.  Young readers will be intrigued by Lovelace's work on the Thinking Machine;  she wrote the algorithm for the machine and created the first computer program.

Chu's pencil illustrations use muted colors to bring a 17th century feeling to the story.  Back matter includes an author's note, timeline, and a bibliography. The story of Ada Lovelace serves as an inspiration to children and is the perfect book to read aloud during Computer Science in Education Week. I'm excited to share the book with children in my school, and it will have a prominent place in this year's library display. Next we need a biography of Grace Hopper.

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

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