Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

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. 


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking an Unusual Migration

Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking an Unusual Migration
by Sandra Markle
Millbrook Press, 2018
Grades 3-6

I recently read an interesting article in the local newspaper about how a high number of snowy owl sightings in Maine have caused problems at the Portland Jetport. Bird watchers aiming to catch a glimpse of the birds are blocking emergency entrances as well as scaring birds into the paths of airplanes.

Sandra Markle's latest high interest science picture book examines the topic of snowy owls and their changing migration patterns. Markle is a pro at using inquiry and questions to draw readers into the story. The first chapter focuses on the Arctic habitat of the snowy owl. In recent years snowy owls have been seen in Canada and the U.S. (as far south as Florida). What has caused them to migrate so far south? Markle interviewed scientists when she was researching the book, and the scientists pose several theories about why snowy owls have migrated south. Each two-page spread is made up of stunning photographs of snowy owls in the wild along with detailed captions. One of the most impressive photographs captures a bird in flight with mottled wings spread.

Readers will also learn about lemmings, the favorite food of the snowy owl, and how the lemming population has exploded over the past few years. Markle effectively introduces new science terms to children and explains the meanings of the words in the context of the story. Irruption is a  key word in the book, when animals are found in areas where they normally do not live. There is just the right amount of text on each page so that upper elementary readers will not be overwhelmed when reading independently. The length of the book and high interest subject make this an excellent read aloud for an upper elementary or middle school science class. The end of the book focuses on a bird banding project that is tracking a dozen snowy owls. Maps are used to convey information about the flight patterns of these birds.

Snowy Owl Invasion! is a strong addition to a school or public library and is a wonderful companion to Markle's other nonfiction mysteries:
The Search for Olinguito
The Case of the Vanishing Little Brown Bat
The Great Monkey Rescue
 The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs

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