Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, March 28, 2016

FROM THE BACKLIST: The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth
Written by Kathryn Lasky; Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Little, Brown and Company. 1994
ISBN: 0316515264
I am on a crusade to get some really terrific and often overlooked informational picture books into the hands of teachers and parents. These books, read aloud to middle and high school students, could be a gateway for important conversations and growth. 
All ages

More than two thousand years ago, Eratosthenes (AIR-uh-TOS-thuh-neez) lived in the great city of Alexandria. Though he wrote many, many books on a wide range of topics, Eratosthenes is known for his accomplishment of measuring the circumference of the earth. Using camels and plumb lines, he used the angle of shadows to come up with his number that was off by only 200 miles. Quite an amazing achievement without the help of modern technology. 

In her author’s note, Lasky explains that though Eratosthenes gave us many volumes of work, he left behind no personal documents, no diaries, no birth records. Consequently, this spirited narrative is a blend of speculation on what Eratosthenes might have been like growing up, the questions he could have asked, mixed with details about life in Greece at that time.

Some of the questions Lasky imagines: 
How far away is the sun?
Where does the wind come from?
How much of earth is land?
How high is the highest mountain?
How big around was earth?

The story is enhanced by the illustrations, rendered in acrylics, by Kevin Hawkes. Hawkes double page paintings appropriately add a twist of humor to Lasky’s offering of life in Ancient Greece.

Who was Eratosthenes? He was born in 276 BC in Cyrene, a Greek city on the coast of Africa in the country that is now called Libya. He was a man of learning, a lover of lists, was particularly drawn to mathematics and geography. Eratosthenes worked as chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria; his employer was King Ptolemy. 

Back matter includes an afterword, bibliographies both from Lasky and Hawkes.

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth is a book to share with students to show the amazing accomplishments that are waiting to be discovered, and questions waiting to be answered by those possessing a curious mind. A perfect companion for those interested in learning more about mathematicians, scientists, and Ancient Greece.

I borrowed this book from my local public library.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine  
by Heather Lang
illustrated by Raul Colon
Calkins Creek, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-62091-650-6
Grades 2-6

Heather Lang and Raul Colon have collaborated to share the exciting story of Ruth Law in the picture book biography, Fearless Flyer. Before Amelia Earhart won the hearts of Americans with her aviation accomplishments, Ruth Law was flying "daredevil tricks" and aiming to do what no other aviator had done before: fly nonstop from Chicago to New York. Instead of spending pages describing Law's childhood and how she became interested in flying, this story jumps right into the action on page one by introducing Law's goal of breaking flying records.

"She made up her mind to fly from Chicago to New York City. When Ruth Law made up her mind, there was no use trying to stop her."

Readers will be amazed by the work Ruth had to do to prepare for the trip including adding three gas tanks to her plane and cutting up maps and attaching them to rollers. Lang effectively embeds quotes from Law into the narrative. The excitement and tension builds as Law encounters problems during the record-breaking flight including high winds, thick fog and running low on gas. Raul Colon's pencil and lithograph illustrations in yellow and blue hues let readers know they are reading a book about the past.

Back matter includes photos and more information about Law including the surprising fact that Orville Wright refused to teach her to fly. Pair Fearless Flyer with Talkin' About Bessie by Nikki Grimes, Soar, Elinor! by Tami Lewis Brown or Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by Meghan McCarthy.

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

FROM THE BACKLIST: Bodies from the Ash by James M. Deem

Bodies from the Ash: Life and Death in Ancient Rome 
By James M. Deem
Houghton Mifflin Co. 2005
ISBN: 0618473084
I am on a crusade to get some really terrific and often overlooked informational picture books into the hands of teachers and parents. These books, read aloud to middle and high school students, could be a gateway for important conversations and growth. 

Grades 2-12

In Vacation Under the Volcano, Book 13 in the Magic Tree House series, Morgan Le Fay sends Jack and Annie to Pompeii. Their assignment: rescue a special book, Vir Fortissimus in Mundo (The Strongest Man in the World). As they spin back in time to the Roman Empire, the two Master Librarians are unaware that within minutes of their arrival one of the worst natural disasters in history will happen. Around one o'clock in the afternoon, on August 24, AD 79., Mount Vesuvius in Italy erupted, burying the city of Pompeii in pumice and ash.

To learn more about Pompeii and the volcano, I turned to Bodies from the Ash, an exciting narrative about the eruption, the excavation centuries later of Pompeii, and the story of the plaster bodies.

Just what were plaster bodies? The technique of pouring plaster into hollow cavities left behind by the decaying bodies. First used in 1863 by excavator Giuseppe Fiorelli, the cavities were caused when volcanic matter surrounded a body and hardened as it cooled. A body would decay inside the hardened deposit, leaving behind a hollowed space and a skeleton where a body once lain. Over time, these mummy-like plastic people have offered visitors a glimpse of life during the Roman Empire. 

The text is complemented by numerous black & white photos that are well captioned. Back matter includes bibliography and index. 

Deem's (Bodies from the Bog) lifelong interest in Pompeii led him to write this well-researched narrative nonfiction. Share it will those curious about Roman history or books about volcanoes. Eruption by Elizabeth Rusch and Inside Volcanoes by Melissa Stewart

I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Monday, March 14, 2016

FROM THE BACKLIST: If the World Were a Village by David J. Smith

If the World were a Village: a book about World’s People
Book 1 in the CitizenKid series
Written by David J. Smith; Illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong
Kids Can Press. 2nd edition. 2011
ISBN: 9781554535958
I am on a crusade to get some really terrific and often overlooked informational picture books into the hands of teachers and parents. These books, read aloud to middle and high school students, could be a gateway for important conversations and growth. 

World-mindedness is an attitude, and an approach to life. It is a sense that our planet is actually a village, and we share this small, precious village with our neighbors. Smith believes that by having a map of the world in our heads, knowing who are our neighbors, where they live and how they live, is a positive first step to living in peace.

Using the 2002 edition (the book was updated in 2011) Smith asks readers to imagine our planet, with a population of over 6 billion, 200 million (6,200,000,000), as a village made up of 100 people. He then breaks down the village into several topics: nationalities, languages, ages, religions, food, air and water, schooling and literacy, money and possessions, and electricity. The brief text hugs a double-page illustration that relates some very sobering statistics.  For example, Air and Water, we learn that 75 people have access to a source of safe water, while the other 25 must spend a large part of each day simple getting safe water. 
According to Smith, our village in 1900, had a population of 32 people and will increase to nearly 200 in 2050 if the population continues to increase at a rate of 1.6 per year. 

An author’s note offers many useful tips for teachers and parents on how to incorporate world-mindfulness in your every day conversation with children.

A thought-provoking book. A great addition to any social studies class.

Other books by Smith include, If America were a Village, This Child  Every Child, and I: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking At Big Ideas and Numbers.

Go here to learn more about Smith and his world-mindedness project.
Click here to listen to Smith talk about how he came up with the idea for his series of books. 

I borrowed a copy of this book from my local public library.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Secret Subway

The Secret Subway 
by Shana Corey
illustrated by Red Nose Studios
Schwartz & Wade, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-375-87071-2
Grades K-5

In the 1860s, stagecoaches, horses, peddlers and garbage clogged the streets of New York City. Coeditor of Scientific American, Alfred Ely Beach, had an innovative solution to the city's problem: an underground train powered by a fan. Corey's engaging narrative style brings excitement to the story of New York's first subway system. Unfortunately, the underground train was grounded when politicians gave in to pressure from shopkeepers who wanted to keep shoppers above ground.

Red Nose Studio created polymer clay figures for the illustrations; their process is shown on the book's jacket. The facial expressions on the characters and the lively writing style bring the story to life and make this an ideal read aloud for all ages. Be sure to read the author's note for more information about Beach and the use of pneumatic power. A recommended purchase for school and public library collections.

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