Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Bones of Birka: Unraveling the Mystery of a Female Viking Warrior by C. M. Surrisi

The Bones of Birka: Unraveling the Mystery of a Female Viking Warrior
by C. M. Surrisi
Chicago Review Press. 2023

In 1871, Hjalmar Stolpe, visited the island of Björkö, in Lake Mälaren, Sweden. A bug scientist, Stolpe intended to look for insects that were incased in ancient amber. You can imagine Stolpe’s surprise and delight, when he discovered the one thousand years old Viking town of Birka. There, Stolpe unearths several ancient graves, one of which he meticulously numbered Bj 581. 

Grave number Bj 581 revealed the body of what Stolpe interpreted as a high-ranking, male Viking warrior and his impressive weapons and other grave goods.” 

Then, over one hundred years later, Anna Kjellström, an osteologist, someone trained to study the human skeleton and other human & animal anatomy to understand the origin, development and evolution of creatures, made a startling discovery. While examining the bones from grave Bj 581, she would conclude the bone were not male, but…female! A female warrior in the times of the Vikings? 

Surrisi, author of middle-grade novels (The Unofficial Lola Bay Fan Club), takes readers on a fascinating journey explaining what led up to Stolpe’s discovery of Grave Bj 581. Surrisi explores Viking culture, and how, with newer scientific methods to examine historical sites, sparked the furious debate regarding the role of gender identity in ancient and modern times.

Chapter Ten, Face-to-face with a Birka Warrior, offers a balanced discussion on gender politics in archeology and how understanding a society or events of the past can become distorted when we examine them using long held beliefs about sex and gender. 

Included is a glossary, questions for discussion, resources, source notes, and index.

Only 148 pages, this well-researched nonfiction title may not be the type of book you read in one sitting. With so many details about Viking culture and the science of archeology, there is a lot to absorb. Those curious about ancient life, particularly that of Vikings will appreciate it. Text blocks throughout give more detailed explanations of what is mentioned in the text. Black & white photos enhance this fascinating story. 

Click here and visit the author's web page for more resources. 

Friday, August 25, 2023

The Gentle Genius of Trees by Philip Bunting

The Gentle Genius of Trees
Written and illustrated by Philip Bunting
Crown Books for Young Readers. 2023.

For tree lovers everywhere, The Gentle Genius of Trees, is an enlightening romp as to why, "we hairy humans have a pretty special relationship with trees."

As we take a stroll through the pages of this informational picture book, readers are introduced to the life of a tree. We all know that trees provide us with some pretty cool things. (Find out in the book). And, that trees turn carbon dioxide into fresh oxygen. But, there is a whole lot more about trees we don't know. 

The book also contains a powerful life lesson. As forests need harmony so that all creatures and plant live life in harmony, so too must hairy humans. Find people who will support and look out for you, just as trees support birds, insects, and other life in the forest. 

"When things get a bit rough, find the strength and flexibility to stay centered, and hold on." The accompanying illustration show a child holding on to a tree that is being blown sideways by a rough wind.

Australian author and artist, Buntings clever illustrations, done using collage, gouache, and digital painting, have some added humor with very funny speech bubbles, (How do you make an oak tree laugh?  Tell it acorn-y joke) will keep young readers pouring over the pictures to be sure they don't miss a thing. 

A word on the importance of tree conservation is also included. 

Monday, August 21, 2023

New Nonfiction- August 2023


More Than a Dream: The Radical March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
by Yohuru Williams and Michael G. Long
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Germany
by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press

Accountable: The True Story of a Racist Social Media Account and the Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed
by Dashka Slater
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Learning to Be Wild: How Animals Achieve Peace, Create Beauty, and Raise Families
Young Reader's Edition
by Carl Safina
Roaring Brook Press

The Twenty-One: The True Story of the Youth Who Sued the US Government Over Climate Change
by Elizabeth Rusch
Greenwillow Books

This Boy: The Early Lives of John Lennon & Paul McCartney
by Ilene Cooper
Viking Books for Young Readers

Writing in Color: Fourteen Authors On the Lessons We've Learned
Edited by Nafiza Azad and Melody Simpson
Margaret K. McElderry Books

Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas
Adapted for Young Readers
by Alexi Pappas
Delacorte Press

Jerry Changed the Game: How Engineer Jerry Lawson Revolutionized Videos Games Forever
by Don Tate
illustrated by Cherise Harris
Simon & Schuster

Rooting for Plants: The Unstoppable Charles S. Parker, Black Botanist and Collector
by Janice Harrington
illustrated by Theodore Taylor III
Calkins Creek

A Place Called America: A Story of the Land and People
by Jennifer Thermes
Abrams Books

Friday, August 18, 2023

Not A Monster by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez

Not A Monster
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez; illustrated by Laura González
Charlesbridge. 2023

"What is this monstrous creature with feathery gills, long fins, an an intriguing smile?"
It's not a monster! It is the axolotl, a salamander whose only habitat are the canals around Mexico City. The ancient Aztec people called them water monsters.

In this charming informational picture book, readers are introduced to this ancient amphibian that never looses its gills and fins like other salamanders. Though abundant during ancient times, the axolotl began to disappear as the waters of the canal became polluted by people. The abuelos say if the axolotls disappear, "it will be the end of paradise." And, sure enough, after working to clean out all the garbage and plastic bottles, "One day, one of the amigos points. "Huevos de ajolote!" There is a burst of life as the eggs begin to hatch. The axolotls have not disappeared yet." 

The language is playful, integrating Spanish words throughout. The scientific information never overwhelms and is well balanced with the colorful, cartoon-like illustrations, created in traditional media and Photoshop. 

An author's note is included with more details about the axolotl. Did you know they are commonly bred in captivity? That people keep them as pets? They are pretty cute, don't you think?


Monday, August 14, 2023

Glitter Everywhere! : Where It Came From, Where It's Found & Where It's Going by Chris Barton

 Glitter Everywhere! : Where It Came From, Where It's Found & Where It's Going
Chris Barton; Illustrated by Chaya Prabhat
Charlesbridge. 2023

Who doesn't love glitter? When I worked at the public library, it seemed that every child who came into the Youth Services Department, regardless of their age (even those in middle and high school), were wearing the glittery stuff. On the other hand, the library director was not a fan of glitter. She didn't appreciate how those tiny, colorful pieces got everywhere and were impossible to clean up. 

But, come on! That's what glitter is all about, right?

In, Glitter Everywhere, award-winning author, Chris Barton, takes readers on a scientific journey that answers many of our questions about glitter: 
        • How it was invented?     
        • How it is made? 
        • Why does it stick to everything? 
        • Is it bad for the environment?
Accentuating the playful narrative are the cartoon-like illustrations, done digitally, full of happy individuals often covered in glitter, mirror what is being described in the text.

Text blocks that offer more details on what is being discussed are set apart with a slightly smaller font located in the upper right hand area of the page. 

What makes this title stand out is its inclusion of all the features that make a quality nonfiction title. I'm talking about an author's note, source notes and a listing of titles for further reading. Barton claims he studied over 100+ sources on glitter, and it shows in how he does not shy away from addressing what is true and not true surrounding everything relating to glitter.

My director would have loved knowing that there is a global conversation to ban glitter because of its negative effects on the environment. (Think, microplastics!) 
 "Should the solution be NO MORE GLITTER?"
Even new biodegradable glitter, according to scientists, still harm aquatic life. 

What's the solution? You'll have to read, Everywhere Glitter, to form your own opinion.

Highly recommended.

Visit Chris Barton's website for a list of other books he has written. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Doomed: Sacco, Vanzetti & the End of the American Dream by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro

Doomed: Sacco, Vanzetti & the End of the American Dream
By John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
Roaring Brook Press. 2023

The story of Sacco & Vanzetti has been something I've known about since childhood. My maternal grandparents were Italian. They both immigrated to the United States around 1906, around the same time as Sacco & Vanzetti. Though my grandparents never met Sacco & Vanzetti, they knew discrimination first-hand and strongly believed the two men were wrongly accused just because they were Italian.

Nicola Sacco arrived in the United States, the land of dreams, on April 12, 1908. He was sixteen-years-old. On June 19, 1908, twenty-year-old Bartolomero Vanzetti, landed in New York Harbor, also eager to pursue the American dream. 

This fast-paced, action-packed nonfiction narrative gives readers a front row seat in this controversial trial that made headlines around the world. 

The book is engaging, with black & white well-captioned historic photos completing the text. The inclusion of what was happening throughout the world offers a broad perspective on what led up to the negative attitude Americans felt towards Italian immigrants. The authors, Florio and Shapiro, do not shy away from the cruel nature of the death sentence and the horrific practice of death by the electric chair.

In the epilogue, the authors explore why Sacco & Vanzetti did not have fair trial and how, in 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued an apology and declared, "that the trial "was permeated by prejudice against foreigners and hostility toward unorthodox political views.""

Included are source notes, bibliography, and index.

If you do not know the story of Sacco & Vanzetti, then make time to read Doomed. Booktalk it to students who have an interest in history. 

Monday, August 7, 2023

The Queen of Chess : How Judit Polgár Changed the Game by Laurie Wallmark

The Queen of Chess: How Judit Polgár Changed the Game
by Laurie Wallmark; Art by Steve Lewis
Little Bee Books. 2023

Judit Polgár was born on July 23, 1976 in Hungary. From a very young age, she was fascinated by the game of chess. Her parents trained Judit, and her older sisters, Susan and Sofia, to play genius-level chess. Judit excelled. She'd memorize the patterns of pieces in thousands of difficult chess puzzles. 

Can you tell that Judit loved chess. She was a natural, and, a ferocious competitor. 

"By age eight, Judit had won junior tournaments and was beating strong adult players. At age nine, she was ready for a bigger challenge, so the whole family flew to the United States for the girls to compete in the New York Open."

To hone her skills, Judit and her sister, Sofia, played blindfold chess. Blindfold chess is when you don't use a chessboard. You announce your moves aloud and just imagine the position of each piece and calculate its possible moves. 

In this picture book biography, prolific nonfiction writer, Laurie Wallmark brings readers along as she traces this child prodigy who broke barriers and, at age fourteen, became the youngest grandmaster in history. 

The exciting, fast-paced narrative is supported by the artwork of Steve Lewis. The illustrations show a very determined young girl who found such joy in playing chess. Where the adult players are frowning and looking worried, young Judit always has a hidden smile. 

Judit retired from competitive chess in 2014. 

Backmatter includes a timeline and an explanation on the mathematics of chess. The book does not include any source notes or a bibliography for further reading. 

For chess fans everywhere, regardless of their age.

Friday, August 4, 2023

Polar: Wildlife at the Ends of the Earth by L. E. Carmichael

Polar: Wildlife At The Ends of the Earth
Written by L. E. Carmichael; Illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler
Kids Can Press. 2023

In this large format, informational picture book, nonfiction writer, Carmichael, investigates how animals survive throughout the year in the harsh environments of The Arctic Circle (The North Pole) and Antarctica (The South Pole). Carmichael states, "These two areas contain some of the harshest habitats on this planet." 

Yet, despite being at opposite ends of Earth, these two regions have a lot in common weather-wise. "They are bitterly cold, freeze-dried wildernesses, where the wind can blow harder than hurricanes. They are also the only places on Earth were daylight - and darkness - lasts up to six months."

Using double-page spreads with digitally created illustrations by Eggenschwiler, the author compares the two regions, month-by-month, by looking at a different aspect of how animals survive in these regions. "A Warm Blanket," starts off in March were we learn of the challenge of staying warm for polar animals in both the Arctic and Antarctica. For the Arctic where daylight returns, the arctic fox, to stay warm, has thick fur covering their toe pads. While March in Antartica, the sun sets and for six months there is no sun, only darkness. We see how a seabird, off course and exhausted, must struggle to stay warm while it waits out a storm before "winging back home to the open sea."

Included is comments on climate change and its impact on the polar regions, why polar regions are important to the rest of the world, how to take action to stop climate change. In addition is a list of online resources, a glossary, resources for further reading, and an index.

The book does a good job of comparing and contrasting these fascinating regions.  There is just enough information to peek a child's curiosity.