Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 29, 2022

Cher Ami Written by Melisande Potter; illustrated by Giselle Potter


Cher Ami: Based on the World War I Legend of the Fearless Pigeon
Written by Melisande Potter;
Illustrated by Giselle Potter.
Christy Ottaviano Books.
An imprint of Little, Brown and Company. 2022

In October 1918, A “Lost Battalion” of 694 American soldiers were isolated by German Troops. Would they survive and be rescued? Cher Ami is the story of the messenger pigeon who saved 194 of those soldiers.

During World War 1, over six hundred homing pigeons were trained to carry messages between US and French troops. With a little tiny metal canister fastened to her left foot, Cher Ami completed twelve dangerous missions. Then, one day, Cher Ami is the soldiers only hope to be saved from capture. Even with a gunshot wound to her chest, Cher Ami flies for twenty-five miles until, exhausted, she reaches her home loft. 

The full-page illustrations, done in watercolor and ink on paper, place Cher Ami center stage. 

Cher Ami is listed as nonfiction, but, truly, based on K.T. Horning’s book, From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books, it definitely leans towards fiction. Potter explains in the author's note that she used a blend of truth and legend to relay this exciting tale. Even the illustrator admits that she made some adjustments to the accuracy of the pictures to make Cher Ami’s story seem more accessible visually. Still, this engaging picture book, done by mother and daughter, will certainly spark curiosity in readers of all ages.

Author and illustrator note, and source notes included. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Choosing Brave


Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmett Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
by Angela Joy
illustrated by Janelle Washington
Roaring Brook Press, 2022
Grades 3 and up

This powerful picture book biography highlights the life of Mamie Till-Mobley and her role in the civil rights movement after the death of her son, Emmett. Don't be fooled by the length or picture book format of this book. The book does not shy away from the horrific murder of Emmett Till and the racism of the Jim Crow era.

On the first page, Emmett's body has been discovered in a river Mississippi, and Mamie requests he be sent home. As the narrative shifts back to Mamie's childhood, education and marriage to Louis Till, readers learn about the source of Mamie's strength and love for her son. Joy's writing is lyrical and poetic as she paints a vivid portrait of a strong mother who "did the braver thing" and opened her son's casket for the world to see what happened to her son. 

Washington's cut paper illustrations and use of negative space are captivating. The black, tan and light blue backgrounds contrasted against the intricate cut paper images set a serious and historic tone. After attending the murder trial where the accused were found not guilty of Emmett's murder, Mamie became active with the NAACP and traveled the country sharing her story.

Extensive back matter includes an author's note, illustrator's note, sources, list of songs from the soundtrack, glossary, and timeline. Sample artwork from the book can be viewed on Janelle Washington's site.

Younger readers (ages 8-10) would benefit from reading this book with an adult, which may lead to powerful and important conversations. Highly recommended for public libraries, school libraries and middle school social studies classrooms.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything by Laura Alary


The Astronomer Who Questioned Everything: The Story of Maria Mitchell.
Written by Laura Alary;
Illustrated by Ellen Rooney.
Kids Can Press. 2022

Maria Mitchell was a trailblazer. Born in 1818 on Nantucket Island, Maria was blessed to have parents, especially her father, an astronomer and mathematician, who encouraged her desire to learn. At night, he would spend hours on the roof showing Maria how to use a telescope, sextant, metronome, and chronometer. Because Maria could read and write, she kept all her learnings in her notebook.          

Once she was an adult needing a job, Maria started her own school, became a librarian, and spent loads of time reading (Books carried her to new places) and studied the stars. It was when the King of Denmark offered a prize to the first person to find a new comet, Maria watched, too. 

Finding the comet opened many doors for this curious young woman. The best, was being invited to be a professor at Vassar College for women in New York. Throughout her life, Maria encouraged girls/women to Question Everything!        

A notable scientist who was the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, this exciting biography of a woman of firsts will encourage readers to also follow their dreams. The message of Patience, Practice, and Persistence something we all can embrace on our lifelong journey of learning.

Included is an author’s note, and bibliography.         

The illustrations, rendered in collage, perfectly complement the text.           

When Maria attended the weekly Quaker Meetings, “she sat still, her swirling thoughts settled like tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. Then she could see clearly. She knew herself. She was a dreamer. A wonderer. A collector.”

If you haven’t already guessed when reading my other reviews,  I am a huge advocate of not confining informational picture books to a specific age range. I believe that all ages, particularly middle and high school students, will enjoy and benefit from being exposed to these books. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

Jack Knight’s Brave Flight by Jill Esbaum

Jack Knight’s Brave Flight: How One Gutsy Pilot Saved the U.S. Air Mail Service
by Jill Esbaum; Illustrated by Stacy Innerst
Calkins Creek. An imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers. 2022

At 10:44 p.m., on February 22, 1921, in North Platte, Nebraska Jack Knight adjusted his goggles and took off in his open cockpit airplane with six sacks of the U.S. Mail. He thought he’d just have to fly as far as Omaha, but, when he reached Omaha at 1:10 a.m., Jack learned that his replacement couldn’t reach the airport. To save the U.S. Air Mail service, Jack Knight is their only hope. Will he be able to stay awake and fly 830 miles to Chicago? 

In 1921, lawmakers decided to cut funding for the U.S. Air Mail Service as a reaction to the numerous plane crashes. Officials and pilots, outrages by this decision, hatched a plan to save the service. They would prove flying was the fastest way to move mail from coast to coast. What they didn’t expect was a blizzard, sub-zero temperatures. Lucky for them, and us, there was Jack Knight!

Each page is filled with Innerst’s historically accurate illustrations done in watercolor, ink, pencil, rubber stamps, and some digital (Photoshop). They certainly add much excitement to this already thrilling informational picture book. A real page-turner. 

Included is an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and illustrator’s note.

Even high school students would appreciate hearing this true story of grit and determination.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Fashionopolis: the secrets behind the clothes we wear by Dana Thomas - Young Readers Edition

Fashionopolis: The Secrets Behind the Clothes We Wear
Young Readers Edition
By Dana Thomas
Dial Books for Young Readers. 2022

Writer, Dana Thomas began her career as a culture and fashion correspondent for the Style section of the Washington Post. Currently, she is a contributing editor for British Vogue, and a regular contributor to The New York Times Style section. 

Based on the adult version, Thomas looks at fast-fashion and its overall impact each item of clothing has on our culture and the environment. Readers are encouraged to think about where their clothing comes from. What type of fabric is the item made from? Is it natural or synthetic? Where is that T-shirt made? What are the working conditions of the factory where that dress is made? Do the workers make a living wage or is it slave labor? In a study done in the UK, the average garment is worn only seven times before being thrown away. Clothing not sold are boxed up, shipped back to the company and shredded and burned.

The book is not all bad news. After a history about the fashion industry, starting with the Industrial Revolution, Thomas shares new trends from some well-known fashion designers (Patagonia. Stella McCartney) and how they are working to choose materials that have a smaller carbon footprint. 

The book is advertised for Grades 4-6. However, the lack of any color photos or visual aids to break up the text makes this something to hand to older readers (Grade 7-12) with a particular interested in social justice. 

I’ll end this review with a quote from Dana Thomas in the epilogue: “Today, the fashion industry is a complex and epic-sized mess, and it’s going to take all of their approaches, and many others, to tackle it and build a better, fairer fashion ecosystem. Everyone spotlighted in this book is, in their way, fighting a model that is completely unsustainable. One that celebrates endless consumption, even lower prices (whether achieved by stealing someone’s art or their human rights), and even larger profits. That purposely produces leftovers. That gives no thought at all to the destruction it cases the enviornment.” 

Suggestions for ways to change our shopping patterns is included.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Life in Hot Water


Life in Hot Water: Wildlife at the Bottom of the Ocean
written by Mary Batten
illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
Peachtree Publishing
Grades 3-7

This has been the summer for outstanding science books for children, and Life in Hot Water is a prime example. Batten and Gonzalez take readers on a journey to the depths of the ocean as scientists used a deep-diving human occupied vehicle to discover hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor. 

This expository picture book is a page turner at times as readers get a close-up look at the murky and mysterious ocean floor in Gonzalez's stunning, realistic illustrations. The book incorporates quotes from scientists, providing readers with a first hand account of the discovery of the vents and impact on the scientific world. With each page turn, a new species is introduced including the scaly foot snail, the Pompei worm, tube worms, blind shrimp, and the vent octopus. Readers will also learn about chemosynthesis: chemicals from the vents serves as energy for microbes at the base of the food chain in the absence of sunlight. 

Batten has a gift for writing scientific information in a clear and interesting style while also defining new terms for young readers. Extensive back matter will satisfy those who want to learn more. Visit the publisher's site to view sample pages. If you're looking for more nonfiction picture books by Batten and Gonzalez, don't miss Life in a Frozen World: Wildlife of Antarctica.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Footprints Across the Planet text by Jennifer Swanson

Footprints Across the Planet
Text by Jennifer Swanson
Reycraft Books. An imprint of Newmark Learning. 2022

Swanson’s engaging informational picture book explores the many shapes and sizes of footprints. Large and small, from elephants to those who barely leave any imprint at all (flies), “every footprint leaves a mark on the Earth telling a story of the past, the present, or the future.” 

The mix of color and black&white photos offer a visual clue as to what the text is saying. 
Footprints reveal our past” has a double-page photo of a T Rex.
“And give us a glimpse of the future.” is the Mars Rover.

Footprints represent people who stood up for change” Rosa Parks, RBG, @ellestreetart, and Martin Luther King, Jr. 
“And those who strive to follow them” : Young climate change activities, including Greta Thunberg. 

A visual glossary is included. 

Footprints Across the Planet is powerful and remind us that all our actions have a reaction. 
Swanson, an award-winning author and STEM/STEAM advocate, leaves us with this final question: 
                                                    “What type of mark will you leave behind?”

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

New Nonfiction- August 2022


There are many excellent nonfiction titles scheduled to be released during the month of August, so I organized the list into two categories: STEM and Bio/Memoir/History.

STEM Titles

Infinity: Figuring Out Forever
by Sarah C. Campbell
photographs by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Astra Books for Young Readers

The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale: Restoring an Island Ecosystem
Text by Nancy F. Castaldo
Photographs by Morgan Heim
Clarion Books

How Science Saved the Eiffel Tower
by Emma Bland Smith
Illustrated by Lia Visirin

The Science Spell Book
by Cara Florance

How Was That Built?
by Roma Agrawal
illustrated by Katie Hickey
Bloomsbury Children's Books

Rosalind Looked Closer: An Unsung Hero of Molecular Science
by Lisa Gerin
illustrated by Chiara Fedele
Beaming Books

Hello, World! Kids' Guides: Exploring Sharks
by Jill McDonald
Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Biographies, Memoirs and History Titles

Choosing Brave: How Mamie Till-Mobley and Emmitt Till Sparked the Civil Rights Movement
by Angela Joy
illustrated by Janelle Washington
Roaring Brook Press

Splash!: Ethelda Bleibtrey Makes Waves of Change
by Elisa Boxer
illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Sleeping Bear Press

The Courageous Six Triple Eight: The All-Black Female Battalions of World War II
by Artika R. Tyner
illustrated by Cynthia Paul

Kid Trailblazers: True Tales of Childhood from Changemakers and Leaders
by Robin Stevenson
illustrated by Allison Steinfeld
Quirk Books

Stacey Abrams and the Fight to Vote
by Traci N. Todd
illustrated by Laura Freeman

Road Trip!: Camping with the Four Vagabonds: Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and John Burroughs
by Claudia Friddell
illustrated by Jeremy Holmes
Calkins Creek

Fighting for Yes!: The Story of Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann
by Marann Cocca-Leffler
illustrated by Vivien Mildenberger
Abrams Books for Young Readers

Pizza!: A Slice of History
by Greg Pizzoli
Viking Books for Young Readers

Once I Was You: Finding My Voice and Passing the Mic
adapted for young readers
by Maria Hinojosa
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Resistance: My Story of Activism
by Frantzy Luzincourt
Norton Young Readers

It's My Whole Life: Charlotte Salomon: An Artist in Hiding During World War II
by Susan Wider
Norton Young Readers