Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Friday, September 29, 2023

Bristlecone: The Secret Life of the World’s Oldest Tree by Alexandra Siy

Bristlecone: The Secret Life of the World’s Oldest Tree
Alexandra Siy: Illustrated by Marlo Garnsworthy

Web of Life Children’s Books. 2022.

In the White Mountains of California, behind White Mountain Peak, there lives ancient, twisty trees. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees.

In this informational picture book, Siy (author of, Mosquito Bite, Voyager’s Greatest Hits, and Cars On Mars), explains the life cycle of these ancient trees, one that is thought to be more than 5,000 years old.

By examining their growth rings, these remarkable trees record different environmental conditions. “More moisture makes a wider ring. Drought slows growth so much that a ring may not form at all. Extreme cold damages woods as it grows, making a frost ring. Fire scars form when scorched wood is flooded with a sticky resin.”

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree grows slowly. Fifty years, the tree is almost as tall as a crow. In three hundred years, it will be just three feet tall. 

The text draws readers in and clearly explains how the tree grows, repopulates, and how it survives in one of the harshest environments. 

Paired with the engaging narrative are Garnsworthy’s meticulously researched illustrations. The pictures were created using watercolor, sand textures, and digital oil paint. They definitely bring the text to life. 

Throughout the book some words that will appear in the glossary are in bold type. Im addition to the glossary, there is a note with information about the Bristlecone Pine Trees. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

We Are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration written by Robert Furrow & Donna Jo Napoli; Illustrations by Marc Martin

We Are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration
written by Robert Furrow & Donna Jo Napoli; Illustrations by Marc Martin
Random House Studio. 2023

We Are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration
written by Robert Furrow & Donna Jo Napoli; Illustrations by Marc Martin
Random House Studio, a division of Penguin Random House. 2023

A murmuration is a flock of birds flying all together in one large mass.

A few years ago, before some major housing developments in my community that had a negative impact on wildlife by removing some wide-open spaces, you could watch, in the early mornings, flocks of starlings as they flew in a large mass around the open fields. Called a murmuration of starlings, watching them added a boost to a day that might have been routine. 

In We Are Starlings, authors' Robert Furrow & Donna Jo Napoli give readers an inside look at how Sturnus vulgaris (European Starling) account of what inspires these visitors from Europe to suddenly rise up and swoop and twirl through the sky.

Told from the starlings point of view, the narrative begins with the early morning as each bird is eager to begin their day. They take to the air, meeting up with other starlings. The text, pared with Martin's beautiful artwork, rendered in watercolor, pencil and digital collage, readers see the thousand of starlings coming together.

"We twist through the sky like giant snakes/Or fan out like humongous wings/We loop back over ourselves in figure eights/We dance, and dance, and dance."

The lyrical narrative and beautiful illustrations, together, make this a magnificent informational picture book. An uplifting read before starting the day or at bedtime, to inspire some magical dreams.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Dare to Question: Carrie Chapman Catt’s Voice for the Vote By Jasmine A. Stirling

Dare to Question: Carrie Chapman Catt’s Voice for the Vote

By Jasmine A. Stirling; Illustrated by Udayana Lugo

Union Square Kids, a subsidiary of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.


"There will never be a true democracy until every adult, without regard to race, sex, color or creed has his or her own voice in the government."     Carrie Chapman Catt: November 1, 1917

Dare to Question is not just a story of how one woman, Carrie Chapman Catt, dedicated over 40-plus years to seeing that women were granted the right to vote. This is also a gripping tale of perseverance and a story of democracy.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) was born in Ripon, Wisconsin. From a young age she asked questions. 

Young Carrie asked too many questions.

She wanted to know how many stars were in the sky, if germs had personalities, and how long it would take a snake egg to hatch behind her mama’s oven.”

Young Carrie also wanted to know why only her father left to vote and not her mama.

After putting herself through college (her father didn’t believe girls needed higher education), Carrie went to join the fight for suffrage.  In 1900, Susan B. Anthony, who admired Carrie for asking questions, declared her leader of the Women’s Suffrage Movement.

This informational picture book recounts how Catt’s reinvigorated the suffrage after many defeats. Catt’s felt that to attract more women to the movement, the right to vote should be celebratory, creative, and fun!

“Instead of attracting rebels on the fringe, why couldn’t The Cause appeal to mothers and shopgirls and teachers and ladies who lunch?”

On June 4, 1919, after seventy years of struggle, the United States Congress finally passed the Nineteenth Amendment that granted ALL women the right to vote! Yet, for the amendment to become law, thirty-six states had to agree. The tension builds as readers wonder if Mr. Harry T. Burn, a representative from Mouse Creek, TN, will vote "Nay" or "Aye." The Nineteenth Amendment was adopted in 1920.

Stirling’s narrative, the phrasing that captures the ups and downs of the suffragette movement, is engaging and invigorating. Paired with Lugo’s colorful, historically accurate illustrations that highlight the text, Dare to Question is an important addition to the list of books on the history of women's right to vote. 

The book does include an author’s note and a brief bio of Carrie Chapman Catt, unfortunately, there are no source notes or bibliography for further reading.

Click here to watch a 56 minute video by Iowa PBS on the life of Carrie Chapman Catt.

See some pages of the book by clicking here.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe by Steve Sheinkin

 Impossible Escape: a True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe
Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press. 2023

Sheinkin continues to pen dramatic nonfiction narratives of little known chapters in history. In 2013, Sheinkin won the Robert F. Sibert award and a Newbery Honor for his book, Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon. 

In Impossible Escape, Sheinkin tells the story of Rudolf (Rudi) Vrba, a Jewish teen who, after being imprisoned in Auschwitz, does the impossible and escapes.  Rudi's decision to do the impossible was to tell the world the truth of what was happening to millions of Jews during World War II. 

Rudolf (Rudi) Vrba grew up in Czechoslovakia. He was Jewish. Used to the occasional antisemitic comments, but as Hitler rose to power and his assault on Jews grew more violent, Rudi was determined to find a way to Britain so he could join up and fight against Adolf Hitler. In March, 1942, while attempting his plan, Rudi was capture and eventually was sent to Auschwitz. He was seventeen. 

After surviving in Auschwitz for almost two years, Rudi, along with another prisoner, Alfred (Fred) Wetzler, successfully escaped. Two weeks after their escape, Rudi and Fred made it to Slovakia. Once in Žilina, Rudi and Fred "gave the first detailed, eyewitness accounts of the Auschwitz death factory to reach the outside world."

The narrative shifts between Rudi’s experience in the camp and his commitment to finding a way to escape and sharing the historical backstory on events that led to World War II and the Holocaust. Alternating throughout the book is the story of Gerta Sidonovà. Also from Czechoslovakia, Gerta and Rudi knew each other briefly before Rudi's attempt at escaping to Britain. Also Jewish, but with blonde hair, Gerta's wartime experience was relatively safe until later in the war when Hitler forced other countries to transport their Jewish population to the concentration camps. The book concludes with Rudi and Gerta meeting up again after the war and started a new life. 

Included is an epilogue, source notes, a very detailed bibliography and index. It would have been interesting in an author's note to read what led Sheinkin to share Rudi's story. 

This is a difficult book to read as Sheinkin does not skimp on sharing the details of the hatred and cruelty inflicted on prisoners as seen through Rudi’s eyes. A perfect book for school and public libraries. This would work well to augment a class about World War II or to spark a conversation on why people chose hate over love. A must read for Holocaust deniers!

You can go here to watch an episode of PBS's Secrets of the Dead that covered Rudi and Fred's escape. 

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Upside-Down Book of Sloths by Elizabeth Shreeve

The Upside-Down Book of Sloths
By Elizabeth Shreeve; Illustrated by Isabella Grott
Norton Young Readers. 2023

Science writer, Shreeve, explores the origins and diversity of life on Planet Earth in her latest book on Sloths. 

Sloths are fascinating creatures. They are small, lightweight and only inhabit the trees of Central and South America. Being small and lightweight, (the largest sloth is about 32 inches long and weights a maximum of 24 pounds), "enables them to climb, feed, and hang among the upper branches of tropical forests." 

Shreeve does an excellent job comparing our modern tree sloths to their ancient ancestors by highlighting their unique characteristics:
        • Small
        • Huge
        • Tree Huggers
        • Explorers
        • Shy Loners
        • tough herds
        • Leaf-Munchers
        • Ocean Foragers
        • Adorable
        • Weird
        • Slackers?

The easy to understand explanations are paired with more detailed specifics of the different species. Small fact blocks give the range, maximum size, and environmental status. For example, under the heading "Explorers", we learn that "ground sloths once travelled all over the Americas!" It was during a period of warmer weather that a sloth traveled as far north as Alaska! In a text block we learn about Eremotherium, the tallest of all prehistoric ground sloths. Its maximum size was 20 feet tall; 7,000 pounds. More facts explain the Eremotherium lived 4.9million years ago to 11,000 years ago. 

Complementing the text are Grott's illustrations.

Included is a timeline of sloth history and books and websites to learn more a out these shy loners.

Check out another book by Shreeve, Out of the Blue: How Animals Evolved from Prehistoric Seas

Click here to watch Elizabeth Shreeve give a brief talk about this book. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Story of the Saxophone

The Story of the Saxophone  
by Lesa Cline-Ransome
illustrated by James E. Ransome
Holiday House, 2023

Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome are known for their award winning picture books. Many of their titles are biographies featuring well-known figures such as Harriet Tubman, Venus & Serena Williams, and Louis Armstrong. The Story of the Saxophone is a captivating picture book biography about Adolphe Sax, and a figure not known to most readers. 

As a young boy growing up in Belgium, Sax liked to tinker and build. He also played multiple instruments and made his own instruments. Sax created an instrument that had the high notes of a clarinet and the low notes of a trumpet: le saxophon. The story spans decades and continents as Sax brings his saxophone to Paris where it became a military instrument for the French Army before making its way to Mexico and eventually New Orleans as jazz music was beginning to spread.
 The narrative is inviting and lyrical, making it the perfect book to read aloud. James E. Ransome's illustrations use watercolor and and collage to portray life in the late 1800s in a realistic style with some humor mixed in at times. 

The Story of the Saxophone is a recommended purchase for school libraries, public libraries, and as a gift for children who like to tinker, create, or play music. Readers will admire Adolphe Sax's determination and ingenuity throughout the story. The Ransomes conclude the book by showing how Sax's invention had a profound impact on the world of music, specifically jazz music in the U.S. Don't miss the gorgeous illustrations of sax players on the end papers.