Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, September 30, 2019

Samuel Morse, That’s Who! by Tracy Nelson Maurer

Samuel Morse, That’s Who! : the Story of the Telegraph and Morse Code
Tracy Nelson Maurer; illustrated by el primo Ramón
Henry Hold and Company. 2019
Grades 3 up

Samuel Morse (1791-1872) was an American inventor who fancied himself a great artist. Not all of his inventions were successful, “success always seemed one step ahead of Samuel.” The idea for the telegraph came in 1829, while visiting Europe to study the Old World masters – da Vinci, Rembrandt, and others.

While in France, Morse saw the famous French optical telegraph system. “Created in 1794 to help military leaders during wartime, the towers relayed nearly ten thousand possible codes for messages depending on the signal arm positions.” The system had one flaw. It didn’t work when it was foggy or dark.

Morse was convinced he could come up with a better system.

Ramón’s illustrations are great. Created as pencil line drawings, shadowed with soft pencil and charcoal and digitally colored, they are done in blue and brown hues and are very expressive.

Back matter includes a timeline, more facts on Samuel Morse and telegraph history, bibliography, an author’s note.

A perfect read aloud for all ages. To peek interest, explain that Samuel Morse was the inventor of Instant Messaging and created a new language using dots and dashes.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Fever Year by Don Brown

Fever Year: the killer flu of 1918
Written and illustrated by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019
Grades 4 up

In Brown’s latest informational book told with pictures (a nonfiction graphic novel) tells the story of the flu epidemic of 1918.  By the time the flu was finished, hundreds of thousands of people died. “Graves couldn’t be dug quickly enough.”

It all began New Year’s Day, January 1918. America was hoping for a victory since it had been at war since 1914. (World War One). The first victim was an army cook. In March of 1918, Albert Gitchell, reported sick to Camp Funston. “Soon, more soldiers made their way to the camp hospital, all complaining of fever, sore throat, and headache. More than a thousand fell ill over the next month. Forty-eight died.”

Brown tells the story in three acts, like a three-act tragedy. Act I : January – July 1918; Act II : August-December 1918; Act III : 1919.

As per usual for Brown, the text and his comic style meld perfectly, making the horror of the tragedy more powerful.

Back matter includes an epilogue, source notes, and a bibliography of books, periodicals, and online sources.

A book not to be missed.

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins finds his groove by Barry Wittenstein

Sonny’s Bridge: Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins finds his groove
Barry Wittenstein; Illustrated by Keith Mallett
Charlesbridge. 2019
Grades 4 and up

Walter Theodore “Sonny” Rollins was born in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance, 1930. The music and musicians of that time had a profound influence on Rollins. Sweet sounds of swing jazz swirl in the air./Sir Duke’s satin melodies./(That’s Duke Ellington, for you younger cats.)

This picture book biography tells the story of Rollins (who celebrated his 88th birthday in 2018) and events in his life that culminated in recording the album, The Bridge in 1962, an album he recorded after a two-year sabbatical. During those two years Rollins played “sixteen hours every day,/plays to his heart’s de-light./Suits Sonny just fine till the neighbor complains.” And his wife tells him their having a baby and he must find another place to practice.

Where does Rollins play where he won’t disturb anyone?
“The bridge, named Williamsburg/ connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn,/where he’s gonna connect the old to the new-/from what was to what will be./Isn’t that what bridges do?”

The jazz influenced narrative is complemented by colorful illustrations. The double-page spreads, created digitally using Procreate software and Adobe Photoshop, brings the story to life.

Back matter includes an author’s note, more information about The Bridge album, a time line, source notes for Sonny’s quotes, and resources to learn more about Sonny Rollins.

This is a great introduction to one of Jazz greats. Be sure to have Rollins’ music quietly playing in the background as you share this book.

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

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fearless Females: the Fight for Freedom, Equality, and Sisterhood by Marta Breen

Fearless Females: the Fight for Freedom, Equality, and Sisterhood
by Marta Breen; Illustrated by Jenny Jordahl
Yellow Jacket. An imprint of Bonnier Publishing USA. 2019
Grades 5 and up

In the introduction to this collection of stories about courageous women, Norwegian writers, Breen and Jordahl  say, “Feminism is the opposite of misogyny. And what is misogyny? Well, it’s the notion that the opinions of women are less valid, that their work is less worthwhile, that they do no have the right to make decisions about their own lives and their own bodies, that they deserve less freedoms than men, and that they should obey men. This misogyny has long, historical roots and is still very widespread. And it means that millions of women are subjected to violence, sexual harassment, force marriage, and other forms of oppression every single day.” 

Told in graphic format, the book highlights not only the women who led the fight, but frames their work within historic moments. Topics include, “Women’s Struggle Against Slavery,” “Suffering Suffragists” to “the Struggle For Female Bodily Integrity.”

Illustrated in comic form, the combination of text and drawings is very powerful and inspiring. 

Though the book contains no back matter, I do recommend it for library collections. 

I love Breen and Jordahl’s positive outlook for the future of women and feminism. “There will always be those who seek to resist this and return things to the way they were. But these people rarely succeed in the long run. The world is slowly but surely making progress - with the help of feminists and their allies.” 

Let’s hope that’s true. 

As Hillary Clinton states, “In big ways and small, the unfinished business of the twenty-first century is the full equality of women.” 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island
Written and illustrated by Jennifer Thermes
Abrams Books for Young Readers. 2019
For all ages

Travel back in time to learn how the vibrant and cultural hub of our country, the island of Manhattan, came to be. Jennifer Thermes' artistic talent is on display here with her dramatic illustrations created using watercolor, colored pencil, and ink on Arches hot press paper. Each full page spread incorporates sidebars and detailed maps that all together creates a dramatic story. 

Millions of years ago when the glaciers melted, before anything had a name, the island lay sheltered in an estuary where freshwater river met saltwater sea, anchored on bedrock far below the surface of the earth.”

The first inhabitants of the island were the Lenape. They called it “Mannahatta, which means “island of many hills.” Once the colonists arrive, the Lenape were forced off the island forever.

Woven into the story of Manhattan are the many advancements that made the city unique. Elevated trains, the first subway (1904), bridges and tunnels that would connect the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island) “to become Greater New York.” Most importantly, readers will see how it is the people who arrived from all over the world to make Manhattan their home that has given the city its character.

Back matter includes an afterward, a timeline (I LOVE timelines), and selected sources.

I learned that located in Washington Square is an English elm tree known as the Hangman’s Elm that is said to be almost 350 years old. What stories that tree could tell.

A perfect book to share with anyone interested in New York City, but especially those visiting it for the first time. I would also pair it with New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast’s book, Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York. (Bloomsbury. 2017) 

"From the Battery downtown up to Inwood, every inch of the island has a story to tell," and Thermes has done an excellent job telling that story using words and pictures.

A highly recommended purchase for all libraries.  

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home Written by Barb Rosenstock

Prairie Boy: Frank Lloyd Wright Turns the Heartland Into a Home
Written by Barb Rosenstock; Art by Christopher Silas Neal
Calkins Creek. Imprint of Highlights. 2019
Grades 5 up

Barb Rosenstock, one of my favorite writers, has crafted a picture book biography of American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Born in Wisconsin, June 8, 1867, Wright’s father was restless and moved the family around a lot. When they ended up in Massachusetts, the grey skies, grey buildings, and grey people made the young Wright miss the Heartland, the prairie. “To cheer him up, Frank’s mother bought him a gift - a smooth maple box. He slid off the cover and found three plain wood blocks: a sphere, a cube, and a cylinder. Under the blocks lay a set of dowel rods and three lengths of ordinary string.” He loved the blocks. 

Frank Lloyd Wright thought the architecture of the times, the Victorian style homes were boxy, confining, and gaudy. He wanted to design homes that incorporated the wide-open feel of the prairie. He would called them “Prairie Homes.” His homes stand in thirty-six states, in Canada and Japan. Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. 

Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959.

Neal uses basic geometric shapes to convey how Wright saw his world. The full-page spreads are rendered in mixed media and digital color illustrations. 

Back matter includes an author’s note, selected sources, and source notes for quotes. Photos, both color and black & white, show seven of Wright’s most famous buildings, plus a reproduction of his plans for Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania. 

A great introduction to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Click here to watch the book trailer.

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

Monday, September 9, 2019

Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car Written by Peggy Thomas

Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car
Written by Peggy Thomas; Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
Calkins Creek. An imprint of Highlights. 2019
Grade 2 and up

In 1932, the United States was in the Great Depression. Farmers were losing their farms, crops were rotting in the fields with no one able to afford to buy them. To help the farmers, Henry Ford, the man who invented the car that changed how we travel, came up with the idea of experimenting with soybeans to see what exactly could be made from the oil of this ancient bean. One of his scientists, Robert Boyer, discovered many uses for the soybean. 
  • Soybean paint was used to paint Ford’s cars
  • Soybean resin made a hard plastic that was used for horn buttons, gearshift knobs, light switches, and distributor caps
  • Soy protein was spun into thread that Ford had made into a suit with a soybean-silk tie
Boyer also discovered that the soybean, dried and ground made flour. Mmmmm! Model T crackers were tasty, as was the soy ice cream served in the Ford Motor Company lunchroom.

But Henry wanted a car made entirely from soybeans. “Henry Ford saw this as the perfect symbol for how farms could fuel factories.”

“On August 13, 1941, everyone gathered for the Dearborn (Michigan) Day Festivities. Dressed in his soybean suit, Henry road to the fairgrounds in his sleek new automobile (made from soybean plastic) painted the color of a wax bean. Some folks joked that the car ran on salad dressing rather than gas.”

Some saw Henry’s invention as a revolutionary idea.

Unfortunately, four months later the United States entered World War 2, and Henry Ford’s dream of using soy-based products to build cars ended. 

This informational picture book biography, focuses on another side of Henry Ford: that of an innovative inventor. Fotheringham’s digitally created art is lively, colorful, and mirrors the text. 

Back matter includes author’s note, more information on soybeans, a recipe for Model T crackers, a timeline, source notes for quotations, books and articles, plus some fascinating information on how the Ford Motor Company still uses soybeans today in their cars.

A fun read.

I wrote this review using a copy of the book sent to be by the publisher.