Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Biographies of 2018

Today we are featuring the best biographies and memoirs of the 2018. Picture books and graphic novels dominate the list. This year's best biographies for children and teens feature artists, athletes, politicians, scientists and more!

by Sandra Neil Wallace
illustrated by Bryan Collier

by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Michele Wood

by Penelope Bagieu

by Monica Kulling
illustrated by Julianna Swaney

Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass
by Tonya Bolden

by John Hendrix

by Joyce Sidman

The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague
by Julia Finley Mosca
illustrated by Daniel Rieley

Hey, Kiddo
by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles
by Patricia Valdez
illustrated by Felicita Sala

by Laura Veirs
illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

by Sharlee Glenn

by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena

by Gary D. Schmidt 
illustrated by Daniel Minter

Unstoppable: How Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team Defeated Army
by Art Coulson
illustrated by Nick Hardcastle

by Chris Barton
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Monday, December 24, 2018

Best History Books of 2018

Today we're highlighting the best history and current events books of 2018. These books for children and teens span topics such as The Great Depression, the Syrian Refugee crisis, the Civil Rights Movement and the invention of Monopoly.

by Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand

by Karen Blumenthal

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

by Marc Favreau

by David Hockney and Martin Gayford
illustrated by Rosa Blake

by Alice Faye Duncan
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

by Tanya Lee Stone
illustrated by Steven Salerno

by Gail Jarrow

by Don Brown

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Monday, December 17, 2018

Best Science Books of 2018

We're kicking off a three-week blog series featuring the Best Nonfiction Books of 2018. 

Mars, tongues, coral reefs, and road kill! Today we turn our focus to the best science books for children and teens. 

by Nancy F. Castaldo

by Kate Messner
illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

by Markus Motum

by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Brian Floca

by Sy Montgomery
photographs by Nic Bishop

by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Katherine Roy

by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig

by Melissa Stewart

by Heather L. Montgomery
illustrated by Kevin O'Malley

Snowy Owl Invasion!: Tracking an Unusual Migration
by Sandra Markle

by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Jua Liu

The Triumphant Tale of the House Sparrow
by Jan Thornhill

by Christy Hale

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968
by Alice Faye Duncan
illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Calkins Creek, 2018
Grades 2-6

Through the eyes of nine year-old Lorraine Jackson, readers will learn about the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis. The main character is based on Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, whose father helped organize the strike.

This important picture book combines poetry and prose to describe the events and emotions related to the strike. Using the first person narrative, Alice Faye Duncan provides a child's point of view to the historic strike and tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Most young readers know about Dr. King's life and how he was shot while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, but few probably know why he was in Memphis that day.

Full-page gouache illustrations depict sanitation workers striking, people gathered at rallies and Dr. King speaking. Christie brilliantly adjusts the color palette to convey the mood and tone of the story. The story ends with a call to action in the form of a poem:

Dream big.
Walk tall.
Be strong.
March on.
Don't quit.
Never stop.
Climb up the MOUNTAINTOP!

Back matter includes a detailed timeline, lengthy bibliography and a list of museums to visit.
Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop fills a void in the history section; it is the first children's book I have seen about the 1968 Sanitation Strike. The book rises to the top of the nonfiction picture books from this year, and it's a recommended purchase for libraries, schools and homes. I expect to see this book pick up multiple awards during the ALA Youth Media Awards.

Listen to the author read Mountaintop from Memphis, Martin and the Mountaintop.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Coming Soon... The Best NF Books of 2018

Beginning next week, we will reveal the best nonfiction books for children and teens published in 2018. Be sure to visit the blog on Dec. 17, 24 and 31 to find out which books made the lists!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Carter Reads the Newspaper written by Deborah Hopkinson

Carter Reads the Newspaper
Written by Deborah Hopkinson; Illustrated by Don Tate
Peachtree. 2018
Grades 2 and up

“Carter G. Woodson didn’t help people escape from slavery, start a bus strike, or lead a movement of millions. Yet without him, we might not have Black History Month. This is his story.”

In this picture book biography, Hopkinson tells the inspiring story of Carter G. Woodson, the man who has been cited as “the father of Black History Month.” 

Carter G. Woodson was born in 1875 in Virginia. His parents had been born into slavery and they shared their stories with Carter. Growing up, he didn’t have much schooling, but he did learn to read. His father believed in being an informed citizen, so though he himself was unable to read and write, he had Carter read him the newspaper. “Reading the newspaper gave Carter his first glimpse of the wider world.”

The seed of wanting to learn more about the legacy of his people was deepened while working in the coal mines for three years. While attending Harvard, after a white professor claimed, “Black people had no history” that Carter took up the challenge to prove that professor wrong.

In 1926, Carter established Negro History Week. 

Hopkinson shows that one person can change history.

Tate’s mixed media illustrations complement the text.

Back matter includes an author and illustrator’s note, a list of Black leaders pictured throughout the book, a timeline of Carter G. Woodson’s life, and source notes for quotes.

A perfect book to share when kicking off Black History Month.

The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review

Monday, December 3, 2018

Two biographies on Maria Sibylla Merian

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science
Joyce Sidman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018


Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer 
By Sarah B. Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby
J. Paul Getty Museum. 2018

Grades 5 and up

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

I was first introduced to Maria Sibylla Merian in Margarita Engle's fabulous book, Summer Birds: the Butterflies of Maria Merian. Merian's curiosity was unusual at the time (1647-1717). Thankfully, and with lots of encouragement and a strong self-esteem, through art, Merian shared her discoveries: how caterpillars turned into butterflies, for one.
“Before John James Audubon drew birds from the wild, before Charles Darwin proposed his theory of evolution, before Carl Linnaeus began classifying organisms, there lived a thirteen-year-old girl named Maria Merian who loved to draw bugs.” (Sidman)

Now we have two new biographies of Merian Sibylla Merian for those wanting to learn more about this talented woman.

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Frankfurt, Germany on April 2, 1647. When she was four, her mother married the still-life painter Jacob Marrel. He will teach her how to paint. At age thirteen, Maria begins to raise and study silkworms. With an eye for detail, a talent for painting, and her keen scientific mind, Maria will go on to paint flowers and other insects and animals. In 1677, she published her first book, 'Neues Blumenbuch' (New book of flowers). In June of 1699, Maria and her daughter sailed from Holland to Surinam in South American. They were the first people to visit the South American jungles purely for scientific reasons.

These two biographies tell the story of a remarkable woman, far ahead of her time. Both books have engaging narratives with the text broken up with quotes from Merian’s books and journals, and sidebars sprinkled throughout on history, science, and art, which helps readers see Merian’s place in history and the bigger picture of the importance’s of her work. 

Both titles are highly recommended, especially for anyone interested in nature and art. As we learned from David Hockney and Martin Gayford, it’s one thing to snap a picture with our phones or a camera, but we learn far more when we use art to make sense of our surroundings. 

Born more than 350 years ago, Maria Merian paintings, drawings, and hand-colored books in museums all over the world.

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.