Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 23, 2018

All That Trash Written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy

All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff
Written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy
Paula Wiseman Books: an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2018
ISBN: 9781481477529
Ages 4 thru 18

The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review.

In 1987, Lowell Harrelson, the owner of the National Waste Contractors in Alabama, came up with, what he thought, a perfect solution when he was told that a New York landfill was almost out of room. He would take the 3,186 tons of trash and dump it in North Carolina. “First, he rented a barge to carry the garbage. Second, he got a tugboat and crew to tow the barge.” 

Harrelson’s idea was to use the methane gas created from the decomposing garbage and turn it into energy! Unfortunately, no state in the U.S. would let him dump the stuff. After five months and more than six thousand miles later, a New York judge ordered that the rotten and stinky garbage was to be burned. It became 400 tons of ash. 

McCarthy’s comic style, big-eyed characters, rendered in acrylic paint, perfectly compliment the simple narrative. This informational picture book about the importance of recycling and protecting our environment is engaging.

In addition to a selected bibliography, back matter also includes facts on garbage barge, recycling, and ocean garbage. Readers also learn what the crew aboard the tugboat, Break of Dawn did during those five long months hauling the increasingly rotting (and very smelly) garbage.

This is a perfect book to share with any age when talking about recycling. 

Click here to listen to the 1987 NBC news report featuring Tom Brokaw about the barge. 

If using All That Trash with high school students, may I suggest The Story of Stuff Project. Their website offers many videos on environmental concerns and suggestions on how to become an advocate. According to their film, “The Story of Microfibers, “Every day, the world throws away billions and billions and billions of plastic bottles.”

Monday, April 16, 2018

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon

Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon 
by Annette Bay Pimentel
illustrated by Michael Archer
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018
Grades K-5

This morning 30,000 runners will compete in the Boston Marathon. The race is one of the oldest marathons in existence. When the Boston Marathon was established in 1897, women were not allowed to entered. This did not change until 1972. 

Girl Running, a new picture book biography of Bobbi Gibb chronicles the story of the first woman to compete in the Boston Marathon. After introducing readers to a young Gibb who loved to run, the story shifts to 1966 when Bobbi Gibb was denied entry to the Boston Marathon because of her gender. This didn't stop Gibb. She put on a large sweatshirt and joined the race near the start line.

Pimentel describes the excitement and of Gibb running the race in unofficially as she's cheered on by onlookers. The text is simple and accessible to young readers. Archer uses different textures and patterns using oil paint and collage to show movement and motion. Don't miss the Afterword which contains more information about Gibbs and the history of women running in the Boston Marathon. Read aloud Girl Running to children of all ages. It is sure to spark discussions about gender equity and how one person can make a difference.  

Monday, April 9, 2018

Born to Swing by Mara Rockliff

Born to Swing: Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Life in Jazz
Written by Mara Rockliff; Illustrated by Michele Wood
Calkins Creek. 2018
ISBN: 9781629795553
Grades 2 and up
The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review.

Born February 3, 1898 in Memphis, Tennessee, Lillian Hardin Armstrong came to the music scene when only men played music professionally. As a young girl she studied music, but when she heard jazz, that was it. She was hooked. 

“I was born to swing, that’s all. Call it what you want, blues, swing, jazz, it caught hold of me way back in Memphis and it looks like it won’t ever let  go.” 

It seemed the music was so deep inside her, Lil couldn’t help but let it all come out whenever she played the piano. Growing up near Beale Street in Memphis, Mister W. C. Handy, the Father of Blues, would march his band right down the middle of the street. Lil longed to go listen, but her mother said, “Oh, no.” “Devil music.” She kept Lil far away.

When her family moved North, part of the Great Migration, they ended up in Chicago. There, she would meet Jelly Roll Morton and other Jazz greats. While working as the piano player for the New Orleans Creole Jazz Band, she met a fellow from New Orleans…Louis Armstrong. They married and would write together, play together, and formed a band, The Hot Five, and recorded together.  

In this lively picture book biography, Rockliff let’s Lil tell her story. Complementing the text are the illustrations of Michele Wood. Rendered in acrylic, the paintings are vibrant and capture the pulse of the music and the times.

Back matter includes a timeline, author’s note, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources. 

Lil Hardin Armstrong performed in the days of the Big Bands. Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. "I did it all. I wrote songs, I led bands. Men, women - oh, it made no difference to me, so long as they could swing those tunes." 

Go here and listen to Lil sing and play the piano. Be sure to play her music whenever you share this book with students of all ages, especially those who play in the school jazz band. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

New Nonfiction Releases- March and April

Don't miss these upcoming nonfiction titles for children and young adults.

March Releases

Siege: How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution
 by Roxanne Orgill
Candlewick Press

Outrageous Animal Adaptations
 by Michael J. Rosen
Twenty-First Century Books

Meet My Family!: Animal Babies and Their Families
by Laurie Purdie Salas and Stephanie Fizer Coleman
Millbrook Press

by Penelope Bagieu
First Second

Blue Grass Boy: The Story of Bill Monroe, Father of Blue Grass Music
by Barb Rosenstock and Edwin Fortheringham
Boyds Mill Press

by Anita Sanchez and Gilbert Ford
HMH Books for Young Readers

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
by Isabel Quintero
Abrams Books

Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume and the Little Black Dress
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree 
by Sally M. Walker
Henry Holt and Co.

Drawn from Nature
by Helen Ahpornsiri
Candlewick Press

Dog Days of History: The Incredible Story of Our Best Friends
 by Sarah Albee
National Geographic Kids

April Releases

Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
by Elizabeth Partridge

Abraham Lincoln's Dueling Words
 by Donna Janell Bowman and S.D. Schindler
Peachtree Publishers

Terrific Tongues!
 by Maria Gianferrari and Jia Liu
Boyds Mill Press

Fossil by Fossil: Comparing Dinosaur Bones
by Sara Levine
Millbrook Press

They Lost Their Heads!
 by Carlyn Beccia

Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker's Story
 by Joseph Bruchac and Liz Amini-Holmes
Albert Whitman Company

Crash: The Great Depression and the Fall and Rise of America in the 1930s
by Marc Favreau
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag
by Rob Sanders and Steven Salerno
Random House

Camp Panda: Helping Cubs Return to the Wild
by Catherine Thimmesh 
HMH Books for Young Readers

Sharks: Nature's Perfect Hunters
 by Joe Flood
First Second

Back from the Brink: Saving Animals from Extinction
 by Nancy F. Castaldo
HMH Books for Young Readers

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Nonfiction Detectives are guests on Picture Book Builders!

If you've ever wondered why some picture books are successful, and others are not, then be sure to put this fantastic review site, Picture Book Builders, on your list of favorites. Created by eight diverse writers, "each post explores – how one element of a picture book’s story or art manages to grab us or wow us or strike an emotional chord."

Today, Cathy and I have the pleasure of being their guests. If you've ever wondered how Cathy and I came up with the idea to start this blog, and what elements we look for when selecting nonfiction titles to review, go here and read the full interview.

Thank you to Suzanne Slade for reaching out to us.

Cathy and Louise

Monday, March 26, 2018

Itch!: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch

Itch!: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About What Makes You Scratch 
by Anita Sanchez
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Grades 3-6

Anita Sanchez explores the question: Why do people itch? in her latest nonfiction picture book. The idea for the book came to Sanchez while she was reading her grandfather's journal. He was a soldier in World War I, and surprisingly he wrote about being itchy and dealing with lice.

Itch! is organized into nine chapters and explores topic such as fleas, plants, mosquitos and bedbugs. Each chapter begins with a narrative related to the topic before switching to an expository style. Sanchez devotes the first chapter to describing the layers of the skin, the purpose of skin and how nerves function before shifting the focus of the book to the organisms (plants, insects, arachnids) that make our skin itch.

Sidebars are creatively displayed on bits of notebook paper tacked onto corkboard. Ford's cartoon-style illustrations add a comic element to topics that might make some readers cringe. A lengthy bibliography, list of websites, glossary, and author's note are included in the back matter. Itch! is a fact-filled, high-interest, nonfiction book that creatively blends history and science to teach readers about a sometimes irritating topic.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Plant, Cook, Eat! by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig

Plant, Cook, Eat! : A Children’s Cookbook
By Joe Archer and Caroline Craig
Charlesbridge. 2018
ISBN: 9781580898171
All ages

To write this review, I borrowed this book from my local public library.

Growing your own food can be a rewarding family experience. Children love to watch the magic as the little seeds sprout and grow into a tasty tomato, spinach, or peas. The authors of Plant, Cook, Eat! have put together a very inspiring book about the joys of growing and cooking vegetables. The book is illustrated with color photos that offer inspiration and a visual of what is being explained in the text.

The first part gives double-page tips on all things you need to know to get started. From what plants need to grow, getting tools and equipment, making compost, to deciding whether to have a garden plot or pots on the porch. Part two offers more specific information on each vegetable covered in the book - kale, carrots, peas, onions, lettuce, pole beans, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, peppers, swiss chard, and zucchini, followed by a yummy recipe. 

Grow peas? Make pea gnocchi. Potatoes? How about potato pancakes? The cooking directions are clear and easy to follow.  Photos show the finished dish. 

Back matter includes further information on vegetable varieties, glossary, and index.
A visual treat, this is a great book to add to your collections, and share with students or families these last few weeks of winter.

About the authors: Joe Archer is the horticulturalist at Kew Gardens in the UK and Caroline Craig is cook and food writer at The Guardian.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
by Penelope Bagieu
First Second: 2018
ISBN: 9781626728684
Grades 5 and up

I borrowed this book from my local public library to write this review.

I am going to say right off that I loved this book. It was both a visual delight and a wealth of fascinating information about 29 feisty women, some I had heard of, and some I had not, and all they did to rock our world. French illustrator and comic artist, Bagieu came up with the idea for this book when she decided to write a story a week about a “woman who did exactly what she wanted with her life.” She states in her author’s note, “All those stories led to the book you’re reading right now.”

Each entry, about three or eight pages in length, offers a brief overview of the obstacles and victories of each woman. Bagieu includes their birth date, city/country of origin, any childhood influences, and thoughtfully explains how they overcame adversity and changed history. 

Agnodice was born in Fourth Century Athens when women are were barred from practicing medicine because they were suspected of performing abortions. “As a child, Agnodice witnessed women in her family suffer (and die) in childbirth. Instead of calling a male physician, women decided to manage the births themselves. Agnodice was outraged. Once she came of age, Agnodice studied medicine in Egypt. Upon returning to Greece, she dresses as a man and quickly became “the go-to Ob-Gyn in Athens.” Other physicians, upset by her popularity, accused Agnodice of seducing her married patience. But at her trail, to prove her innocence, Agnodice reveals that she was a woman. (In the picture it shows her holding up her toga) “Now even more outraged (and humiliated, mostly for being duped), these husbands and doctors sentence Agnodice to death for practicing medicine illegally. Coming to her rescue, a large group of angry women, many Agnodice’s patience, chastised their husbands for their verdict, telling them it was their fault for banning women from practicing medicine in the first place. After Agnodice was freed they made it legal for women to become doctors. 

Mae Jemison, Astronaut, has the distinction of being the first Black Woman to travel into space and be a guest in an episode of Star Trek.

And then, there is Heddy Lamar, actress and inventor. 

Okay. I could go on and on (which I do when explaining this book to anyone who asks, “What have you read lately”), but I'll stop. Though it is unfortunate Bagieu does not include any source notes or books for further reading, I believe this collection of biographies in comic format is the perfect book to give to reluctant readers or those who love reading comics. 

Click here to read an interview with Bagieu. 


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Becoming Madeleine

Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters
by Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018
Grades 4-8

The recent release of A Wrinkle in Time film, directed by Ava Duvernay, has brought renewed interest in the 1963 Newbery Award winning novel for middle grade readers. A Wrinkle in Time is a favorite for many children and adults, yet most readers do not know about the life of the author, Madeleine L'Engle.

Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Lena Roy, granddaughters of L'Engle,  pay tribute to their grandmother in the new biography, Becoming Madeleine. The book is organized chronologically beginning with Madeleine's childhood. The authors provides a glimpse into the life of the talented and complex L'Engle, the only child of Charles and Madeleine "Mado" Camp.

Photographs, letters, journals entries, report cards, and poems are interspersed with the text to paint a vivid picture of a young girl who dreamed of becoming a writer. At times, the book is heart-wrenching. After moving from New York City to France, Madeleine is sent away to a boarding school in Montreux, Switzerland, where she is viewed as an outcast by classmates and is treated harshly teachers. After several years abroad, Madeleine and her parents  leave Europe to be near her grandmother in Jacksonville, Florida. Madeleine thrives at Ashley Hall, a private girls' high school in Florida, where she writes and acts. An only child, L'Engle was close with both of her parents. Her father was a professional writer and served as inspiration for L'Engle later in her life.

Middle grade readers will be amazed by the determination and persistence of L'Engle as she tried to publish A Wrinkle in Time. Even though she had previously published several novels, no publishing houses were willing to take a risk on a science fiction book for children featuring a female protagonist. Once Farrar Straus Giroux took a chance and bought the rights, history was made. Pick up a copy of Becoming Madeleine to give to aspiring writers and fans of A Wrinkle in Time.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Between the Lines by Sandra Neil Wallace

Between the Lines: How Ernie Barnes Went from the Football Field to the Art Gallery
Sandra Neil Wallace; Illustrations by Bryan Collier
Simon & Schuster. 2018
ISBN: 9781481443876
Grades 3 and up
To write this review, I used a copy sent by the publisher.

As a child, Ernest Barnes loved to paint. He would wait until the backyard turned to mud after a North Carolina rain. Painting mud.  With a stick, he drew lines: straight, curved, loops, and lines that crossed. Growing up in the segregated South of the 1940’s, Barnes introduction to the master painters was at the house of a white lawyer where his mother was a housekeeper. The first time Ernest saw a room full of leather books and mahogany frames “that Mama polished, he stared at the beautiful paintings in the frames.”

Though he never left the house without a sketchbook, it was his talent as a football player that allowed Ernest to attend college on a football scholarship. After college, Barnes would play for the American Football League until 1964. when he became the Official Artist for the American Football League and was paid a football players salary. 

In this compelling narrative, Wallace conveys Barnes determination to fulfill his dream of one day making his living as an artist. Born in 1938, Barnes was one of the most important artist of his time. Known for his style of elongation and movement, his work has influenced a generation of illustrators and painters. 

The book is beautifully illustrated by Bryan Collier, four-time Caldecott Honor recipient, six-time Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award recipient, and three-time Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award recipient. The book’s art is rendered in watercolor and collage. In his illustrator’s note, Collier states, “There are areas where I show you the actual art of Ernie Barnes with his signature exaggerated figures in expressive motion.” 

This informational picture book biography will be of interest to sports fans, and those who someday dream of being a professional artist. Back matter includes an author and illustrator’s note, source notes for quotes, and a bibliography to learn more about Ernie Barnes. Wallace also includes places where you can see Ernie Barnes’s paintings.