Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, February 29, 2016

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea

Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor
by Robert Burleigh
illustrated by Raul Colon
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
Grades 2-6

This unique picture book biography written in the first person tells the story of how Marie Tharp 's love of maps and background in science led her to map the ocean floor between 1957-1977.

"At last I was a young scientist, graduated from college and eager to work. But was science ready for me? In those days it wasn't easy being both a woman and a scientist."

Readers will learn about Tharp's work using measurements or "soundings" to document the depth of the ocean. Tharp went on to confirm the theory of the continental drift.

"It felt good. I knew we were changing the way people looked at the earth."

Colon's gorgeous pencil and watercolor illustrations use texture and muted earth tones. Examples of charts and graphs are included in the illustrations, which will help children understand the science behind graphing the soundings or measurements.

Pair Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea with Look Up!: The Story of the First Woman Astronomer by Burleigh and Colon. The book may also be used in STEM programming in school and public libraries.

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

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

Monday, February 22, 2016


Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever

by Jim Murphy
Clarion Books. 2015
ISBN: 9780547821832
Grades 8-12
I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher.

On a cold day in November 1944, eighteen-month-old Eileen Saxon was brought into an operating room at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She could barely breathe, and her lips and fingertips had turned a dusky blue, the result of a heart condition known as blue baby syndrome. An unlikely trio prepared to operate. Chief Surgeon, Dr. Alfred Blalock. Dr. Helen Taussig, a world famous pediatric physican and standing on a stool was Vivien Thomas, Dr. Blalock’s research assistant. Thomas was the only person who had ever carried out the procedure successfully, on a research animal, yet most people at the hospital thought he was a janitor.

So why wasn’t he the one doing the operation? 

Born in 1910, Vivien Thomas dreamed of becoming a doctor. At age sixteen, he went to work and saved his money with the intent of attending college and go on to medical school. But before he could set foot inside a classroom, the stock market collapsed and sent the United States into the Great Depression. Thomas watched helplessly as the bank that held his tuition money closed its doors for good and his savings disappeared — along with his hopes of going to college.

Needing work, Thomas became Dr. Alfred Blalock’s research assistant, a job he would hold for over thirty years. It would be Thomas, whose perseverance had him working long hours in the lab to find the solution to many important medical conditions under Blalock’s supervision. Yet, even though he was an equal creator of the blue baby operation, Vivien Thomas was not mentioned in any lectures or articles written by Blalock or Taussig. Was he upset about that? Murphy offers some suggestions as to why Thomas was overlooked (Was it because he was African American?), but in the end this book is mostly about a remarkable, humble man who believed the work he did was what was most important.

Jim Murphy, a master at crafting compelling narrative nonfiction gives readers a peek into factors that prevented Thomas from receiving the recognition he deserved for his role in this medical breakthrough that would pave the way for heart surgery for years to come. 
He incorporates quotes from primary sources, and peppers well-captioned black & white photos that enhance the text throughout. Back matter includes source notes, bibliography, and index.

Breakthrough! is an important addition to library collections. An absorbing read.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Reproductive Rights: Who Decides? Blog Tour

Reproductive Rights: Who Decides?
by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein
Twenty-First Century Books, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4677-4187-3
Grades 9-12

In 2013 Louise reviewed For the Good of Mankind by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein. Today I am pleased to review Vicki's latest nonfiction book for teens, Reproductive Rights: Who Decides? 

If you have viewed any of the recent Republican or Democratic debates, you have seen the topic of reproductive rights passionately discussed by candidates. However, many teens (and adults) may not be aware of the long and controversial history of reproductive rights in our country and around the world. Vicki Oransky Wittenstein sheds light on this important topic as she weaves together a history of religious views, social opinions, medical advances, courts cases and government laws related to reproductive rights.

The book is organized chronologically beginning with the use of contraceptives in Ancient Egypt and Persia. Following chapters describe how religious beliefs (Roman Catholic and Puritan) and societal views of women influenced women's health and reproduction. Women in the U.S. in the 1800s didn't have the right to vote, and they also were limited in their choices when it came to reproduction.  Women who wished to use birth control for family planning were limited due to the lack of information on the topic, resistance from doctors, and restrictions placed on birth control by churches. Anti-obsentity laws were passed in the late 1800s making literature published about birth control practices illegal and punishable by jail. One chapter of the book describes the work of activist Margaret Sanger at the turn of the century and is followed by a chapter on how the birth control pill changed women's lives once it was approved by the FDA in 1957.

It is evident that Wittenstein spend a great deal of time researching the history of birth control and reproductive issues. The information is presented in a clear and concise manner without the author inserting her personal opinion. The book effectively explores several societal and medical issues such as wealthy vs. poor women and their access to birth control and healthcare. Black and white photographs and sidebars help readers comprehend the complex topic. A lengthy bibliography, source notes, a timeline and lists of print and digital resources are located in the back of the book.

Reproductive Rights: Who Decides? is highly recommended for high school libraries and for teen collections in public libraries. The book will be an informative read for teens interested in women's health, individual rights, medical history and laws, and it could be studied in history or health classes or used by students when writing argumentative essays or debating the topic of reproductive rights and the rights of individuals.

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

Before becoming an author, VICKI ORANKSY WITTENSTEIN prosecuted criminal cases as an assistant district attorney with the Manhattan District Attorney's office. She earned an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Vicki has written a number of science articles and books for the juvenile market, including Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths, which won the 2011 Science Communication Award from the American Institute of Physics. Her book For the Good of Mankind? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation was a Junior Literary Guild selection. Vicki and her husband live in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her website at

Be sure to visit the other blogs on the blog tour.
Mon, Feb 15
Tues, Feb 16
The Book Monsters
Wed, Feb 17
Library Fanatic
Thurs, Feb 18
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Feb 19
The Nonfiction Detectives
Sat, Feb 20
Ms. Yingling Reads
Mon, Feb 22
The Launch Pad
Tues, Feb 23
Through the Tollbooth
Wed, Feb 24
Unleashing Readers
Thurs, Feb 25
The Pirate Tree
Fri, Feb 26
Teach Mentor Texts

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble

Elizabeth Started All the TROUBLE 
by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Matt Faulkner
Disney Hyperion, 2016
Grades 2-8

Elizabeth Started All the TROUBLE... That's Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of course. Author, Doreen Rappaport, and illustrator, Matt Faulkner, have teamed up to create a comprehensive look at the history of the women's right movement in the U.S.. There have been several picture books biographies published about specific women who fought for women's rights including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer. What makes this book unique is that it is a look at the history of the suffrage movement and the many women who fought for the right to vote.

The book begins with Abigail Adams advocating for women to have equal rights and ends with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Along the way, young readers will learn about the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth at Seneca Falls. Rappaport writes in an engaging narrative style that fits well with Faulkner's illustrations. Faulkner captures the personalities of the subjects. The use of speech bubbles and caricatures of historical figures help to soften the heavy topic for young readers.  Information is also cleverly conveyed in newspapers and signs found in the illustrations. In just 40 pages, readers will gain a solid overview of the suffrage movement from Susan B. Anthony and suffragists of the 1800s, to women who fought in the Civil War, and Alice Paul who was jailed for picketing outside the White House.

Children and adults should be sure to take time to read the back matter that includes a list of Trailblazers,  important dates, and lists of books and websites on the suffragist movement. Elizabeth Started All the TROUBLE is a recommended purchase for schools and public libraries. It's a book that can be shared with large groups of children and would make an interesting read for young readers interested in our country's history especially in a voting year.

Visit Doreen Rappaport's website to see pages from the book and to learn more about women's history.

The reviewer received an advance copy of the book from the illustrator.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

FROM THE BACKLIST - Aaron and Alexander: the Most Famous Duel in American History by Don Brown

Aaron and Alexander: the Most Famous Duel in American History

Written and illustrated by Don Brown
Roaring Brook Press. 2015
ISBN: 9781596439986
Grades 5 - 12
I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Aaron and Alexander could have been friends. They were alike in many ways. But the ways in which they were different made them the worst of enemies.

Brown’s informational picture book, illustrated in his signature cartoon style, gives readers a brief look at what might have contributed to the animosity between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton that would lead to the famous duel. 

We learn that both men lost their families at a young age, were highly intelligent, brave, and fought in the Revolutionary War. 

After the war, Aaron and Alexander became successful lawyers in New York City. They sometimes worked together, including successfully defending a man against sensational murder chargers. They shared meals. They shared friends. “Good terms,” said Alexander of his and Aaron’s connection.

What led up to the duel was their clash over politics. The two men were in opposing political camps. Hamilton felt strongly that Burr would be a terrible leader and said so publicly. In his author’s note, Brown explains that Hamilton had a huge influence on American history. He was involved in the writing of the Constitution, authored 51 of the 89 essays in the Federalists Papers published in 1788, and became our first secretary of the treasury under George Washington. Hamilton’s contributions to American history were many, Burr was an inconsequential senator and vice president.

In Aaron and Alexander, the marriage of text, illustrations, and the author’s note makes this an excellent book to share with students. It is an engaging introduction to American history. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Glow by W.H. Beck

Glow: Animals with Their Own Night Lights 
by W.H. Beck
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Grades K-5

Children will be instantly attracted to the close-up photographs of unusual creatures contrasted on black backgrounds in Glow, a nonfiction picture book featuring bioluminescent animals such as lanternfish, atolla jellyfish, vampire fish and the glowing sucker octopus. Beck explains on the first page that "bioluminescence is when living things make their own light" or glow. The book then provides readers with the different ways animals use bioluminescence to hide, attract others, hunt and call for help.

The hybrid nonfiction text blends narrative and expository styles. The narrative is printed in a large font and uses a controlled vocabulary making the text accessible to young readers. Expository captions use science terms and a more complex vocabulary to provide readers with additional information making this a book that will appeal to both young children (gr. K-2) and older readers (gr. 3-5).

Glow would work as a nonfiction read aloud in story times or science classes, and it is certain to inspire children to learn more about the animals described in the book.

Visit W.H. Beck's site to learn more about Glow.

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