Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, July 31, 2023

The Other Pandemic: An AIDS Memoir by Lynn Curlee

The Other Pandemic: An AIDS Memoir
Lynn Curlee
Charlesbridge Teen. An Imprint of Charlesbridge Publishing. 2023

Award-winning author and illustrator, Lynn Curlee, (2002 Robert. F. Sibert Honor Book for Brooklyn Bridge), steps away from his usual topics that center on great historic structures and architectural icons to pen a very personal memoir reflecting on his experience of being a gay man during the AIDS epidemic. 

To place the memoir in some context that young people will understand, The Other Pandemic draws some comparisons to COVID-19 - how vast numbers of people were infected from a virus that spread like wildfire. Unlike COVID-19, people lived in "sheer terror" of contracted AIDS. Until after 1995, "a diagnosis of AIDS was an automatic death sentence." 

"Imagine that it is 1960, and you are twelve years old. Imagine life with social media. There is no Instagram or TikTok. Imagine life without smartphones or texting. Imagine what it's like growing up with one phone for you entire family, and it sits on a side table in your living room, with no privacy for personal calls. How about no computers at all? There is no gaming or any other fun or useful things you can do on a laptop or tablet. Televison has only three channels, most people still have black and white TV sets, and there are no remotes. You can listen to recorded music only on tinny-sounding radios or by playing vinyl discs on a turntable. There is no "online." If you want to find information about something, you consult an encyclopedia or go to the library. 

Woven into the text is how Curlee's life was shaped by the AIDS epidemic amist the rise of the LGBTQ+ movement. He also shares how he came to work as an artist, author, and illustrator of books for young people. 

Back matter starts with a moving tribute consisting of brief bio's of friends, and Lyn's partner, John Martin, who all died of AIDS (John Martin died at age 46).  Also included is an epilogue, a brief explanation on the origins of AIDS, an author's note, references of music mentioned in the text, source notes, a selected bibliography, and index. 

A powerful, moving, important book.

Friday, July 28, 2023

The Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng

 The Forest Keeper: The True Story of Jadav Payeng
by Rina Singh; Illustrated by Ishita Jain
North South Books. An Imprint of NordSüd Verlag AG. Switzerland. 2023.

"In the northeast of India flows a river so mighty that people who live on its many islands call it a moving ocean." 

The island of Majuli is located in a remote corner of northeast India in the Brahmaputra River. Over time, the river has gouged out much of the landmass. In, The Forest Keeper, we are introduced to a tradesman from Moduli, Jadav Molai Payeng. 

When Jadav was a boy of sixteen, he discovered hundreds of water snakes that had washed up on the sandbar and died under the burning hot sun. Devastated by the loss of the snakes, Jadav had the idea to plant trees on the sandbar. The elders said no trees would grow on a sandbar. The workers at the forest department were not interested in helping. But, they did give him a bag with bamboo seedlings and said, "Go plant them yourself."

And, he did. 

His forest stretches now over 1,359 acres. That is larger than Central Park in New York City. According to the afterward, in 2009, a wildlife photographer accidentally stumbled upon the forest. Jadav is no longer anonymous. There have been articles written about him, and even a film honored his ingenuity. Jadav is called The Forest Man.

The narrative of this simply told informational picture book is accented with the colorful watercolor illustration by Indian artist, Ishita Jain. 

Though the book lacks any listing of additional resources, it is one to inspire readers that one person can change the world.

Click here to watch a 14 minute trailer of The Forest Man documentary.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Breaking News : Why Media Matters by Raina Delisle

Breaking News: Why Media Matters

Book 10 in the Orca Think series

Raina Delisle; Illustrated by Julie McLaughlin

Orca Book Publishers. 2023

As we head into the next presidential election, making sure we can detect facts from fake news is a must. In, Breaking News, Canadian journalist, Raina Delisle, an award-winning writer whose work as been featured in magazines, newspapers, and on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), offers a very balanced look at the media industry, its history, its role of keeping the public informed, and the challenges news outlets face with the rise of disinformation (fake news) on social media sites.

The six chapters are: News You Can Use; Media Matters; Making the News; Press Under Pressure; Saving Journalism; Become a News House. 

The narrative is engaging and takes into account the many challenges news outlets face today, and throughout history. In Chapter Four, Press Under Pressure, Delisle states: “News organizations and journalists face lots of challenges today, many of which have been brought on or intensified by the internet and social media.” Delisle explores how, in the early days of the internet, media outlets offered their stories for free. As people became dependent on the free news sites, to save money, they canceled their print subscriptions. Thus, advertisers moved their ads online, to Google and Facebook, making it challenging, or impossible, for many newspapers and magazines to stay in business. 

Competing for readers attention has brought about journalists writing more sensational stories. “If it bleeds, it leads.” 

Delisle does an excellent job of balancing the negative with the positive. For example, though many newspapers and magazines have shuttered newsrooms, leaving many small towns with no local news, there is a growing movement of non-profit news outlets that are fighting fake news by reporting the facts. 

Side bars are throughout giving more details of what is explained in the text.

Included is a glossary, a list of resources, and index.

I personally found the book insightful and gave me tools to better help me tell fact from fake news as I look for news I can believe. 

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Forest in the Sea

The Forest in the Sea: Seaweed Solutions to Planetary Problems
by Anita Sanchez
Holiday House, 2023
Grades 3 and up

If you have ever taken a trip to the beach, you have probably stepped on seaweed in the sand, brushed dried seaweed off your blanket, and encountered seaweed floating in the water. Chances are didn't pay much attention to the seaweed or think much about the role seaweed plays in our environment. 

The Forest in the Sea is full of information about the importance of seaweed in providing food and shelter to aquatic life. As our climate changes and ocean temperatures rise, seaweed is critical to the health of the ocean ecosystem.

The expository text is organized into chapters that include the scientific classification of seaweed, the Sargasso Sea, seaweed harvesting, seaweed's impact on air quality, future uses for seaweed, and more. Readers will learn about organizations that are working on ways to use seaweed to clean pollution from the water. There is even the possibility seaweed could be used as fuel in the future.

Sanchez clearly explains scientific concepts to middle grade readers in an engaging and interesting manner. Colorful photographs are placed throughout the chapters and include close-up photos of varieties of seaweed as well as animals that benefit from seaweed: whales, seabirds, sharks, and even cows!

Back matter includes a glossary of scientific terms, a recipe for baking seaweed snacks, tips for foraging seaweed, a timeline, and environmental tips for protecting seaweed. This book should be given to readers who have an interest in marine biology, kids who are interested in the environment, and students who are researching ocean life or climate change. Upper elementary and middle school science teachers could build a unit of study around The Forest in the Sea.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Book Bonding: Building Connections Through Family Reading by Megan Dowd Lambert

Book Bonding: Building Connections Through Family Reading

Megan Dowd Lambert; Illustrated by Mia Saine

Imagine! Published by Charlesbridge. 2023

You might know Megan Dowd Lambert from reading her essays in The Horn Book Magazine or from her work at the Eric Carle Museum where she developed The Whole Book Approach storytime with her book, Reading Picture Books With to Children.

In Book Bonding, a collection of twenty-one essays, Lamber, a white mother of seven children in a blended, multiracial, queer, adoptive family, shares how she used books to bond with your children. 

The essays are personal, and engaging. Lambert fills each essay with book titles that, from her descriptions, readers cannot wait to read or re-read.

The colorful illustrations by Saine add a playfulness to the book.

Forward by Roger Sutton, an afterword by one of Megan’s children, and a list of the titles mentioned in the essays. 

There really is something for everyone. 

Friday, July 14, 2023

The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle Over Teaching Evolution by Anita Sanchez

The Monkey Trial: John Scopes and the Battle Over Teaching Evolution

Anita Sanchez

Clarion Books. An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 2023

In May of 1925, John Scopes was twenty-four years old and worked as a substitute teacher at Rhea Central High School, Dayton, Tennessee. On one particular day, because none of the students were paying attention to the review for an upcoming test, John Scopes decided to read from their textbook, Civil Biology. No one remembered what John Scopes read that day from the textbook. Yet, little did Scopes know that soon he would make a major decision that would forever change his life. You see, the textbook contained a chapter on evolution.

In January of 1925, John Butler was a member of the Tennessee state legislature. Butler, a devout Christian, proposed a bill that would make it illegal to “teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught by the Bible.” In this riveting account, Monkey Trial follows the court room battle, the trial of the century, that caused a bitter division across the United States, but at its heart was the quiet dignity of a young teacher who stood up for a students’ right to learn.

In her author’s note, Sanchez states, “For some writers of history, the problem is finding information. But when I began to research the Scopes trial, I soon discovered that there was no lack of information - I was buried in it. The trial was covered by more than two hundred reporters, who collectively wrote more than two million words about the trial, the town, and the people in it.” One of those sources was John Scopes autobiography. “He preserved the flavor of the times, right down to the delicious sodas in Doc Robinson’s drugstore.”

Award-winning author, Sanchez (Rotten!: Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers) does a remarkable job of presenting the facts without taking sides. In this time of book banning and pressure to re-write history, The Monkey Trial is a good jumping off point for discussions.

Black & white photos, along with text blocks placed throughout that offer more information on what is being mentioned in the text makes this narrative nonfiction titles a page-turner.

Includes author’s note, glossary of legal terms, source notes, image credits, bibliography,resources for young readers, and index. Readers will appreciate the evolutionary timeline that begins with the publication of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of the Species and ends with 2019…and then…? 

Monday, July 10, 2023

New Nonfiction- July 2023


Yukie's Island: My Family's World War II Story
by Yukie Kimura and Steve Sheinkin
illustrated by Kodo Kimura
Roaring Brook Press

The Big Book of Mysteries
by Tom Adams and Yas Imamura
Nosy Crow

Great Carrier Reef
by Jessica Stremer and Gordy Wright
Holiday House

Stand as Tall as the Trees
by Patricia Gualinga, Laura Resau, and Vanessa Jaramillo

Hands on Science: Matter
by Lola M. Schaefer and Druscilla Santiago

Spacecare: A Kid's Guide to Surviving Space
by Jennifer Swanson
Mayo Clinic Press Kids

We Also Served
by Erin McGill

Out of the Fires: A Journal of Resilience and Recovery After Disaster
by Carrie Lara and Colleen Lamour
Magination Press

There's No Cream in Cream Soda 
by Kim Zachman and Peter Donnelly
Running Press Kids

Butt or Face?
by Kari Lavelle

Friday, July 7, 2023

Men of the 65th: The Borinqueneers of the Korean War

Men of the 65th: The Borinqueneers of the Korean War
by Talia Aikens-Nuńez
Zest Books, 2023
Grades 5 and up

Men of the 65th is a fast-paced expository story about a loyal and decorated Puerto Rican regiment in the US Army. The 65th Infantry Regiment, also know as the Borinqueneers, was formed in 1899 as a segregated unit relegated to non-combat duties. However, the 65th Regiment was approved for combat in 1950 and played an instrumental role in combat missions in the Korean War.

Aikens-Nuñez has done extensive research to bring the story of the 65th Regiment to life. Following a chronological structure, the story is fast-paced and builds in excitement as the soldiers train and are sent to Korea where they bravely fought. Readers will feel like they are on the battlefield along side the Borinqueneers. Near the end of the Korean War, 91 soldiers from the 65th Regiment were court-martialed and found guilty of disobeying orders and desertion. It was the largest court martial of US Soldiers. The book sheds light onto the factors the led to the court-martial and the fall-out in the media and with military and political leaders.

Visual are placed thoughtfully throughout the book to support the story including maps, black & white photographs, and newspaper clippings. Sources notes and a selected bibliography are evidence of the intense research that went into the book. Put this book in the hands of fans of military history stories. I guarantee they have not read a story like this before!