Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Otis and Will Discover the Deep

Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere
by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Katherine Roy
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018
Grades K-6

In Otis and Will Discover the Deep, Barb Rosenstock and Katherine Roy introduce readers to the creators of the Bathysphere submersible vessel in the 1930s. Gorgeous illustrations of marine life on the endpapers greet readers as they open this stunning nonfiction picture book. The writing is an example of nonfiction narrative at its finest. Rosenstock engages readers with the pacing of the story, word choice and use of repetition.

Otis Barton loved the ocean from an early age. As a boy, he even built his own diving helmet from wood. Will Beebe loved nature and exploring the world.When Otis came across an article about a diving tank written by Will, he knew he had to meet the inventor and explorer. Soon a partnership formed and the two collaborated on designing, building and testing the Bathysphere.

The strength of this book comes from the marriage between the text and the artwork. Full page ink, gouache and watercolor illustrations make readers feel as if they are exploring the depths of the ocean. In the Illustrator's Note, Katherine Roy describes the process she used to research and plan the illustrations. She spent a great deal of time looking at Will's scrapbooks and science drawings. Roy even used Google SketchUp to make a digital representation of the Bathysphere to aid her in planning the illustrations.

It's no surprise that Otis and Will Discover the Deep has garnered awards and critical acclaim. It was recently named a 2019 Orbis Pictus Recommended Book, a 2019 Kirkus Reviews Best Book, and a 2019 Outstanding Science Book for Students.

Monday, November 26, 2018

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?

What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Beach Lane Books, 2018
Grades K-6

It is fitting that What Do you Do With a Voice Like That? was published this year. News organizations are calling 2018 The Year of the Woman after a record number of female candidates won seats in the House of Representatives in the recent mid-term elections.

Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes team up to introduce Congresswoman, Barbara Jordan, to a new generation of readers and future voters. Barton effectively weaves in the phrase: What do you do with a voice like that? throughout the narrative to show how Jordan used her powerful voice to challenge, question, persuade and to represent people "who had less power." The author traces Jordan's life as she grew up in Texas then went on to study law in college before running for state legislature.

Holmes' gorgeous mixed media illustrations use texture, patterns, and bold colors to convey Jordan's power and influence. One illustration depicts a family sitting on a coach watching Jordan give a speech on a black and white television. The speech is to the House judiciary committee. Jordan's speech about how President Nixon violated the Constitution was influential as the committee decided to impeach the President. Back matter includes an author's note, time line, and a list of suggested books and videos.

In this age of partisan, negative politics, Barbara Jordan is a model of dignity, civility and justice. What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? is the perfect read aloud to inspire children to speak up and use their voices to help others and to make the world a better place.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Decomposers by Kelly Milner Halls

Death Eaters: Meet Nature’s Decomposers
by Kelly Milner Halls
Millbrook Press. 2018
For science lovers of all ages

Nature is the great recycler. In Death Eaters, we get a front row seat to watch those creatures whose role it is to eat the dead. Milner kicks off this fascinating narrative nonfiction with the “Five Stages of Decomposition: Step 1: Fresh; Step 2: Bloat; Step 3: Active Decay; Step 4: Advanced Decay; Step 5: Dry Remains.

Death Eaters are insects, mammals, birds, and, when life ends in the ocean, crustaceans, sharks, bone-eating worms to bacteria and fungi. “Bacteria and fungi break down the dead through biochemical reactions, and these reactions release nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen back into the ecosystem.”

Science is seamlessly woven into the narrative. Side bars further explain concepts and detailed color photographs, showing the animals in action, enhance the text. 

Back matter includes source notes, glossary, selected bibliography, further reading of books, websites and videos, and an index. In her conclusion, Milner Halls explains how she became fascinated with “those animals that live by eating the dead.” 

Hand this book to anyone interested in science, especially decomposition. And reassure them, like Milner’s father reassured her, “Never be ashamed of wondering.”

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

A History of Pictures for Children by David Hockney & Martin Gayford

A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings
by David Hockney & Martin Gayford; Illustrated by Rosa Blake
Abrams. 2018
Grades 6 and up

British artist, David Hockney (as I write this, one of his paintings just sold for $90.3M, a record-breaking sale for a living artist) and art critic, Martin Gayford have combined their knowledge of art in this sweeping journey through art history. From cave paintings to using computers, the pair highlights how artistic inventions throughout history created new ways of making images.

The book is unique in its approach to looking at art. The author’s contend that throughout history art is linked based on the skills and materials available for each period. “Every picture ever made has its rules. Someone has put it there, and arranged it so it would cover a certain area.” Readers are encouraged to look at the evolution of drawing and how each invention influenced the artist. For example, with the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1434), “No painter had ever included a mirror like the one in the center of the Arnolfini’s portrait. It would have been difficult for him to draw. But anyone who drew afterward would have his [Van Eyck} example to follow.” 

The book's design is inviting and intimate. As the two men converse on their perspectives and opinions on art concepts, the font changes based on who is talking. Well-captioned reproductions of paintings discussed in the text are placed throughout the book. Hockney’s art is used to further explain a technique or invention or illustrate how it influenced his own art. To fill up the white space, Blake’s comic style illustrations further enhance the narrative.

Back matter includes a timeline that highlights inventions of the art world that moves from stone tools and natural pigments used by cave painters to the use of smart phones and tablets, as well as, a glossary, endnotes, bibliography, list of illustrations, and index.

MARTIN: “Pictures have moved from the cave wall, to the temple, the church, the photograph album, the cinema, television, and the computer screen. Many ways of making pictures have been devised, beginning with applying pigment with a stick or finger, and ending, for now with computer drawings.” 

We have no idea what will be next.

The author’s encourage us to spend less time snapping the perfect photograph and look closely at each one. If creating art is all about making sense of what is around us, Gayford and Hockney show us how artistic concepts are all linked together, and why it still matters.”

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

Monday, November 12, 2018


Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army 
by Art Coulson
illustrated by Nick Hardcastle
Capstone, 2018
Grades 2-6

Unstoppable is an inspiring picture book biography about one of the best athletes of the 20th century. Young readers will be amazed by the talent of football and track & field legend, Jim Thorpe. Before describing Thorpe's athletic accomplishments, the author provides readers with background information about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and how Native children were taken from their families and forced to learn trades and give up their language and traditions. Coulson effectively writes about a serious topic in a manner that is appropriate for elementary readers.

While he was a student at Carlisle, Thorpe was introduced to the coach Pop Warner. With coaching from Warner, Thorpe went on to win a gold medal at the Olympics in Pentathlon, and he led the Carlisle football team to victory over West Point. Realistic-style watercolor illustrations with pen and ink lines work well with the story. Back matter includes additional information about Thorpe, Warner and the Carlisle School including some harsh truths. Warner was fired from Carlisle due to abusive treatment of his players, and hundreds of children at Carlisle died from malnourishment and mistreatment. Coulson effectively captures the excitement and significance of the football game between Carlisle and Army while also describing the government's cruel and inhumane treatment of Native children

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein by Linda Bailey

Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein
by Linda Bailey; Illustrated by Julia Sarda
tundra books. 2018
Grades 4 up

Mary Shelley was only eighteen when she wrote Frankenstein. First published anonymously in 1818, Shelley’s name would appear on the second edition published in 1823.

Bailey focuses this picture book biography on “the story-behind-the-story;” on Mary Shelley and how this horror & science fiction novel came to be written.

"How does a story begin? Sometimes it begins with a dream."

Complementing the engaging text are Sarda’s gothic-type illustrations rendered digitally and in watercolor. Using dark tones, her art creates a sense of brooding and mystery. 

A perfect book to use to highlight a remarkable woman whose perseverance created a classic piece of literature.

Back matter includes a lengthy, very interesting author’s note, and source notes.

May I also recommend those interested in Mary Shelley, read, “The Strange and Twisted Life of “Frankenstein”” by Jill Lepore in the February 12 & 19 issue of The New Yorker Magazine. (available at your local public library, either in print, or possibly, digitally)

P.S. There is no invented dialogue in this book! Yeah!

To pen this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Nonfiction News- November 2018

Educator and blogger, Michele Knott of Mrs. Knott's Book Nook, has released her lists for the Mock Orbis Pictus Award. 
List #1
List #2

Nonfiction author, Melissa Stewart, is gearing up for the Sibert Smackdown. On her blog, Celebrate Science, Melissa features a post by Melody Allen. Allen provides kid-friendly language for evaluating books for the Sibert Medal.

Nominations for the Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards or CYBILS have closed, and judges are now reading and discussing nominated titles in search of kid-friendly books. Check out the nominations for Junior/Senior High Nonfiction and the nominations for Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction.

The AAAS/Subaru S&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books released the list of finalists for the 2019 Children's Science Picture Book Award.