Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, April 29, 2019

An Interview with Maria Gianferrari

Cathy and I thought it would be fun to take a break from reviewing nonfiction to interviewing author's whose books we regularly review.  Our first interview is with Maria Gianferrari. We love her ability to compose engaging informational books that explore our natural world. Maria's books are perfect to share in story time or in the classroom setting. The language is lively, engaging, and just fun to read. A bonus is that the lively language is always coupled with wonderful illustrations. We hope you like Maria's books as much as we do.

Why do you write the kinds of books you do?

I write about the things that I love, so for nonfiction, that would be about the natural world and its inhabitants. I grew up in New Hampshire near a farmhouse, and nature was my playground—I’m still a nature girl. You can tell I love animals—all of my books currently published, or under contract, feature an animal main character J.

Where do you get the information or ideas for your books?

My ideas come from all kinds of places—observations of things I see on my daily dog walks, or places that I travel, from books or articles or films I’ve seen, or things that I’m curious about. My book Coyote Moon, was inspired by a close encounter with an eastern coyote when I lived in the greater Boston area. Terrific Tongues actually began with my then toddler’s obsession with tongues. We were living in Berlin, Germany at the time, and she was speaking more German than English. Every time she’d see a tongue of any kind, one in a book, the tongue of a dog passing on the street, she’d excitedly scream, “Zunge,” (the German word for tongue). I became curious, and started researching tongues and found so much cool information, and Terrific Tongueswas born.   

How did you become a writer? What was the first book you got published?

Writing was something that I had always wanted to do, but I did not fully commit to it until after my daughter was born. Reading wonderful works of kidlit re-ignited my dream of being a writer, and I decided to go for it. My first book is Penny and Jelly The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder (HMH, 2015). It’s about a girl named Penny and her canine best friend, Jelly, based on my daughter’s relationship with our dog, Becca. 

How do you pack so much information and emotions while using a limited word count?

I think that poetry is key to writing picture books, whether fiction or nonfiction, because it is spare, economic and can distill both ideas and emotions. Science and poetry really go hand-in-hand. Scientific language can be poetic too in its specificity. For example, in my book, Hawk Rising, I use the verb “kiting” to describe how a hawk floats in the wind by folding its wings. It’s a beautiful and descriptive verb, so apt AND it’s scientifically accurate too. 

How do you select your subjects for your books?

The topics are usually something that I’m very passionate about, like urban ecology—
the wild neighbors who live among us, who may be common, yet they are extraordinary in their own ways. It was important to me to have Coyote Moon set in the suburbs—to show coyotes living among us, and how we can co-exist with them. The same with Hawk Rising: the birder-girl watches from her home, where the hawk family has nested nearby.

I also like to write about things that I’m curious and want to learn more about, or things that inspire me. As a bird nerd, I have another bird book releasing in March 2020: Whoo-Ku Haiku, a story about a great horned owl family written in a series of haiku poems (again, science and poetry), coming from Putnam. I also really believe in the power of importance of play, so I have a book called Play Like an Animal, releasing from Millbrook Press next April. 

Do you get a say in who illustrates your books?

I am very fortunate to have worked with editors who have shared their prospective illustrator lists with me since they want to make sure that our vision for the books align. My expectations have always been exceeded. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with many extremely talented artists for both my fiction and nonfiction books. Lucky me!

What do you like best about writing for children?

It’s fun and it’s challenging—I get to feel like a kid again—full of curiosity and wonder. And kids are the best audience: they’re energetic and inquisitive, and when they’re engaged, that is the best feeling!

Do you belong to a writer’s group?

I LOVE my online critique group, CP (Crumpled Paper)! They are my trusted friends, and we challenge and buoy and champion each other professionally and personally. Their thoughtful and incisive feedback has made me a better writer. I wouldn’t be a published writer today without them! Thanks, Lisa, Andrea, Lois, Abby and Sheri!

Your books really grab the attention of children. Were you ever a teacher?

I taught composition to college students during my graduate studies for a Ph.D., and one summer I participated in a STEM program for middle school students, and that was a blast! They were full of energy and great ideas. I’ve never taught at the elementary school level though. I feel like we’re teachers as writers of nonfiction—we want to share the cool things we’ve discovered with kids in a fun, engaging, non-didactic way. 

Thank you, Maria! We are looking forward to your new titles coming out in 2020!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Magic Ramen by Andrea Wang

Magic Ramen: the story of Momofuko Ando
Written by Andrea Wang: Illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz
Little bee books. 2019
All ages

Ramen noodles. Mmmm! Ever wonder who invented those yummy, inexpensive, easy to make noodles that have become a staple for college students? Wang and Urbanowicz have partnered on this engaging informational picture book on how the world’s most popular food came to be.

At the end of World War II, food was still scarce for people living in Japan. Those lucky enough to have money had to wait in long lines and pay outrages prices for a bowl of noodles that took forever to cook. The poor survived on grass and bark or scrounged through the garbage looking for something to eat. Taiwan-born Japanese inventor Momofuku Ando (1910-2007) saw the hunger and long lines for the expensive ramen and  was determined to create a new product that would be nutritious and be ready to eat instantly.

Ando was constantly testing this and that, but finally, after years of trying, he figured it out. First fry the noodles in oil, place them into a bowl, add hot water and “Yatta!” “That’s It!

“In 1958, twelve years after seeing hungry people at black market ramen stalls, Ando invented Chikin Ramen, the first instant ramen.” His company, Nissin Foods, sells the instant ramen all over the world. Still inventing, at age 91, Ando invented Space Ram. Instant noodles that could be eaten in zero gravity. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi became the first person to eat ramen in outer space, aboard the US space shuttle Discovery.

Back matter includes an author's note, pronunciation guide, and an afterword offering more details on Ando's life.

This book is sure to be popular with those who love reading about people being creative.   

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

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Superlative Birds- Blog Tour

Superlative Birds
by Leslie Bulion
illustrated by Robert Meganck
Peachtree, 2019
Grades K-6

We are pleased to take part in the Superlative Birds blog tour today!

What better way to introduce children to the special features of birds than through poetry? Superlative Birds incorporates facts about birds and their unique traits into poetic form. Each poem just begs to be read aloud.

Eighteen different birds with special traits are featured in the informational picture book including the peregrine falcon (fastest), barn owl (most accurate hearing), red-billed quells (most numerous), and northern jacana (longest toes). A science note written in expository form accompanies each poem and provides readers with more details about the bird and its features. Meganck's digital, cartoon-style illustrations add a sense of whimsy and humor to the subject. Don't skip the back matter; that's where Bulion includes information about the poetry styles used in the poems for each bird.

If you're looking for a new book to add to your Poetry Month read aloud repertoire, you should pick up a copy of Superlative Birds today!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Borrowing Bunnies

Borrowing Bunnies: A Surprising True Tale of Fostering Rabbits 
by Cynthia Lord
photographs by John Bald
illustrations by Hazel Mitchell
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019
Grades PreK-3

Cynthia Lord has made a name for herself as the award-winning author of middle grade fiction including Rules and Touch Blue. She also penned the popular picture book series, Hot Rod Hamster and the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series.

I was intrigued last year the I read that Lord was working on a nonfiction picture book with her husband, photographer John Bald. If you follow Lord on social media or have attended one of her author events, you know that she has a soft spot for animals. Borrowing Bunnies is the first person account of what it's like to foster rabbits placed with Lord's family from an animal shelter. The narrative focuses on Benjamin and Peggotty, a pair of Netherland Dwarf bunnies fostered by Lord's family. It wasn't long before Peggotty gave birth to four baby bunnies. Can you say cuteness overload?

Bald's adorable, close-up photographs show the bunnies sleeping, eating and exploring the house. After the baby bunnies were born, Lord invited local illustrators to visit her home to sketch and paint the bunnies. The illustrations painted by Hazel Mitchell during her visit are placed thoughtfully throughout the book.  After reading Lord's account of caring for a family of bunnies, many children will want to foster bunnies of their own. However, the final two-page spread  gives readers some advice and questions to answer and consider before bringing a new pet into the home.

Borrowing Bunnies is sure to fly off the shelves in libraries, and it's the perfect gift book for young pet levers. It would also make a wonderful read aloud, but be aware that one of the baby bunnies doesn't survive. Teachers could use Borrowing Bunnies as a mentor text for helping young students craft their own personal narrative stories.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution

Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution
Written by Bernie Sanders; Illustrations by Jude Buffum
GodwinBooks. an Imprint of Henry Holt. 2017
Grade 6 and up

I know this book is a couple of years old  (2017), but as we approach another presidential election cycle, it seems like the perfect book to include in any displays on voting. 

This book delves into the major issues facing our country today and gives a passionate argument that supports embracing change for each topic. From livable wage, tax reform, health care for all, making higher education affordable, combating climate change to reforming our criminal justice system and immigration reform. Buffum’s black and white illustrations give a visual explanation of what is Bernie is explaining in the text. 

I found the last chapter, What Is “Government,” Anyway? very interesting. I did not know that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in their World Factbook describes thirty-one different forms of government around the globe. “Most are variations of the eight major types (autocracy, communism, democracy, monarchy, oligarchy, socialism, theocracy, and totalitarianism.” Bernie gives a brief explanation of each of the above and ends with what it means to live in a democracy.

Politics is the hot topic with middle and high school students lately. Since we do spend a lot of time teaching students to check where they get their information when it comes from the Internet, offering Bernie’s Guide to Political Revolution will give them a leg up when it comes to understanding just what the progressive platform is all about. 

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

Click here to listen to why Bernie wrote this book.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Shout: a poetry memoir By Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout: a poetry memoir
By Laurie Halse Anderson
Viking. 2019
Grade 8 to adult

In this raw, powerful, and very personal memoir, Anderson shares for the first time her own story of rape at age thirteen and her path to recovery. Told in free verse, we learn of Anderson’s dysfunctional family life, her rape by someone she trusted, the emotional toll of keeping it secret, and how she created a life of fulfillment as an author.

The poem that resonated with me the most was, if It please the Court. It expresses how long buried secrets will eventually surface when we least expect it. 

Working as a reporter, Anderson fills in one day at the courthouse when a reporter calls out sick. The day is pivotal for her.

the courthouse reporter was out sick one day
so they sent me in his place, the defendant
a plain white guy, late thirties,
kinda small, cheap suit,
good haircut, charged with ugly counts
of sexual assault, plus kidnapping
he looked bored

Listening to the women recount her story, and how the defense lawyer attacks the victim, making her the bad person was too much for Anderson.

ever been in a fight?
fists like hammers, punches thrown
rose-red bloom filling the room
as your rage catches fire
an exploding can of spray paint
when you see that red
shit’s gonna get real…

Unable to write the story, having to confront emotions that she kept deep inside her, the editor assigns someone else.
And the rapist?
Sentenced to some easy time in county jail,
A mild slap on the wrist

Years later, when she sees the rapist walking the mall, he no longer looked bored,
he was hunting
This true story, a survival story of someone who refuses to remain silent, needs a space on every library shelf. Pair it with Anderson’s Speak, in all formats: novel, graphic novel, and movie. Fans of Anderson will come away with a new appreciation of her talents, but more important her encouragement to Speak Up! Tell your own story.

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

Thursday, April 4, 2019

We Are Here to Stay

We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults 
by Susan Kuklin
Candlewick Press, 2019
Grades 6-12

The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.

We Are Here to Stay blends interview transcripts, first person narratives and black & white photographs to offer readers a glimpse into the lives of undocumented teens. The book was originally scheduled to be released in 2017, but publication was halted due to the uncertainty of DACA. Two years later, We Are Here to Stay is on the shelves. Color photographs of the young people featured in the book have been removed along with their names. Kuklin identifies the nine young people by their first initials to protect their identities from the authorities.

The first two chapters of the book feature a young woman, Y. Y is a college student and immigration activist. She came to New York from Columbia with her twin siblings and parents. Y and her siblings are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but their parents are not eligible. Kuklin also spent time with Reverend John Fife in Tucson, Arizona where he offers humanitarian aid to migrants crossing the border.  The book features stories of young people from Mexico, Samoa and South Korea. Some families crossed the border illegally while others are in the U.S. on expired visas. The subjects recall violence and hardships in their homelands as well as difficulties they face in their daily lives in school and in their communities in the U.S.

The purpose of the nonfiction text isn't to politicize immigration. Instead, it offers a view of the human side and the complexities of illegal immigration. Readers will grapple with questions such as: What are basic human needs? Why do people leave their homelands? How can a government fairly and humanely deal with undocumented students and workers?

Visit the publisher's site to download a discussion guide.

Monday, April 1, 2019

New Nonfiction- April 2019

Here are the latest nonfiction titles to hit the shelves in April.

Little Monsters of the Ocean: Metamorphosis Under the Waves
by Heather L. Montgomery

Hair!: Animal Fur, Wool, and More 
by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Julie Colombet

How to Become an Accidental Genius
by Elizabeth MacLeod and Frieda Wishinsky
illustrated by Jenn Playford

Follow Your Stuff: Who Makes It, Where Does It Come From, How Does It Get to You?
by Kevin Sylvester and Michael Hlinka

by Kim Tomsic
illustrated Brett Helquist

by Cris Peterson
photographs by David R. Lundquist

Degas: Painter of Ballerinas 
by Susan Goldman Rubin

Beyond Words: What Elephants and Whales Think and Feel
by Carl Safina

Rescuing Rialto
by Lynda V. Vapes
illustrated Alan Berger

Bad Boys of Fashion: Style Rebels and Renegade Through the Ages
by Jennifer Croll
illustrated by Anita Pacholska

It’s Trevor Noah: Stories from a South African Childhood
(Adapted for Young Readers)
by Trevor Noah

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir
by Malaka Gharib

Secret Soldiers: How the U.S. Twenty-Third Special Troops Fooled the Nazis
by Paul B. Janeczko

Science Comics: Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate
by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill