Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Freedom Over Me

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life 
by Ashley Bryan
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016
Grades 4 and up

As 2016 comes to a close there are still many amazing nonfiction books in my review pile. Freedom Over Me is one of those titles that rises to the top this year. Beloved author and illustrator, Ashley Bryan, based the book on an historical document: The Fairchilds Appraisement of the Estate from July 5, 1828. The document, which can be viewed in the back of book, lists eleven slaves and their prices along with animals and cotton owned by the Fairchild Estate. Bryan took inspiration from the document and wrote poems and painted portraits of each person listed.

The first poem describes Mrs. Mary Fairchilds, a widow who is selling her family's estate which includes eleven slaves.  On the following page titled "For Sale,"  Bryan paints the eleven slaves owned by the Fairchilds and labels the picture with names and prices. Historical deeds and documents are effectively layered behind the pen, ink and watercolor illustrations. Each poem brings to life a slave from the appraisement list. In the following poems, Bryan imagines the work, dreams and relationships of each slave. Stephen is 32 year-old carpenter. Readers learn that he secretly learned to read and is in love with Jane. The next page describes Stephen's dreams of being free, marrying Jane and building houses. The poems continue in the same pattern with a two-page spread introducing the person followed by two pages describing his/her dreams.

Freedom Over Me is a powerful book that is a must purchase for school and public libraries. The poems beg to be read aloud in true Ashley Bryan style. Upper elementary, middle school and high school history teachers should read Freedom Over Me with their students. The poems and illustrations are sure to elicit important discussions about the history slavery in our country. Pair with Never Forgotten by Leo Dillon and Pat McKissack or I Lay My Stitches Down by Cynthia Grady.

Visit the publisher's page to view pages from the book.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Spotlight on Pamela S. Turner

Samurai Rising 
by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds
Charlesbridge, 2016
Grades 6 and up

It's been a banner year for nonfiction author, Pamela S. Turner. Many nonfiction fans know Turner's Scientists in the Field books such as  The Frog Scientist and The Dolphins of Shark Bay. Earlier this year, Charlesbridge released Samurai Rising, Turner's epic biography of Minamoto Yoshitsune. Aimed at upper middle grade and teen readers, the biography details the exciting life of Yoshitune, a scrawny risk taker who became Japan's bravest Samurai in twelfth-century Japan. Rebellion, revenge, rivalries and fierce battles make this a thrilling page-turner for teen readers.

Be sure to check out the Samurai Rising activity guide for educators.

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird
by Pamela S. Turner
photographs by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Grades 5 and up

Turner also has a new book in the Scientist in the Field series, Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World's Brightest Bird. The book examines the work of Dr. Gavin Hunt and his team of scientists as they study the intelligence of crows in New Caledonia. The species of New Caledonian crows are exceptional because they craft and use their own tools and have the ability to solve problems and puzzles. Turner and Comins shadowed Dr. Hunt and his team and documents their work with crows on location. Close-up photographs, an engaging narrative and a spotlight on real scientists are part of the Scientist in the Field formula making it an interesting read for kids and adults who enjoy learning about science.

Here's a Crow Smarts activity guide for educators. Videos featuring the New Caledonia crows can be found on the Turner's website.