Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of Magic Ramen, by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Monday, August 19th, 2019

Magic Ramen

The Story of Momofuku Ando

by Andrea Wang
illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Little Bee Books, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, the existence of inexpensive ramen noodles that cook in hot water in a couple of minutes is something I’ve always taken for granted. Cup of soup! No big deal, right?

This picture book tells the story of an invention that is so widely used, people don’t realize it had to be invented – instant ramen.

We learn that the motivation for the inventor was seeing people lined up for ramen soup in postwar Japan.

Ando went home, but he couldn’t forget the hungry people. The world is peaceful only when everyone has enough to eat, he realized. Ando decided that food would be his life’s work.

But it wasn’t easy to come up with noodles that could cook quickly in hot water. This book does a great job of showing the trial and error process of inventing. Even when he makes noodles that work, then he needs to work on the flavor. And production. And publicity.

At the end, it says:

Soon, everyone was eating Ando’s ramen. Poor people. Children. Busy workers. Even royalty!

My coworker and I agree that the author forgot to mention college students!

This is a well-presented story about something readers will not take for granted ever again. The note at the back tells about Ando’s continued inventions, even at the age of 91.

andreaywang.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of O Captain, My Captain! by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Sterling Hundley

Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

O Captain, My Captain

Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War

by Robert Burleigh
illustrations by Sterling Hundley

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 64 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

I was going to pass over this book. I thought it was a simple picture book biography. As much as I loved the first ones I saw, I’ve gotten somewhat jaded about their simple approach to a person’s life.

This goes into much more depth, and I was quickly pulled in. Although the format is the same size as a picture book, the book has twice as many pages, and there’s much more text on each spread. This would be appropriate for upper elementary school, though even as an adult, I learned much about Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and the beautiful paintings enhanced the text.

Walt Whitman lived and worked the same time as Abraham Lincoln, and he ended up writing two tribute poems to Lincoln (included in the book). Most interesting was that even though he was already a famous poet, he lived in Washington during the Civil War and visited soldiers in the hospital there every day, helping and encouraging them. So he regularly saw President Lincoln passing by.

Each section of this book (usually one or two spreads) has a heading that is a quotation from Walt Whitman. There are twelve pages of back matter – you can see the author has done his research.

Simply to see this president, to catch a glimpse of his face, increasingly etched with suffering – “so awful ugly it becomes beautiful” – yet with a wry smile on occasion, was uplifting. Just to watch as the stiff figure, sitting motionless in the shadow of the carriage, passed by, gave Walt new energy. He felt Lincoln was giving his all, and beyond. How could Walt do less?

This book pulled me into the emotions of living out the Civil War in Washington in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

robertburleigh.com
sterlinghundley.com
abramsyoungreaders.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Lost Words, by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019

The Lost Words

A Spell Book

by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

Anansi Press, 2018. First published in the United Kingdom in 2017. 132 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 6, 2019, from a library book

This gorgeous book focuses on twenty words from nature that had been removed from the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionaryacorn, adder, bluebell, bramble, conker, dandelion, fern, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, magpie, newt, otter, raven, starling, weasel, willow, and wren.

The book is large, oversized, and heavy, making it awe-inspiring. The only trouble I see with that is I can’t imagine children carrying it around to read it over and over. This is a coffee table book that’s physically heavy to pick up. Perhaps they could make a small version for everyday use? Though this one is stunning.

Each word first has a simple spread where the lost word is hidden among other letters, but highlighted in a different color. Then we have an acrostic poem featuring the word with a painting of the object on the facing page. Next there is a full-color glorious painting on the following spread.

I had gotten through almost the entire book before I realized that these poems absolutely must be read aloud. I went back and made up for my mistake of trying to read them silently. The poems are magnificent. I will highlight a few stanzas with wordplay I especially like.

From the Willow poem:

Willow, when the wind blows so your branches billow,
O will you whisper while we listen so we learn what
words your long leaves loosen?

From the Otter poem:

This swift swimmer’s a silver-miner – with
trout its ore it bores each black pool deep
and deeper, delves up-current steep and
steeper, turns the water inside-out, then
inside-outer.

From the Fern poem:

Reach, roll and unfold follows.
Fern flares.

Now fern is fully fanned.

From the heron poem, coming just after the marvelous line that the heron “magically . . . unstatues:

Out of the water creaks long-legs heron,
old-priest heron, from hereon in all sticks
and planks and rubber-bands, all clanks and
clicks and rusty squeaks.

Now heron hauls himself into flight – early
aviator, heavy freighter – and with steady
wingbeats boosts his way through evening
light to roost.

From the Ivy poem:

You call me ground-cover; I say sky-wire.

May this magnificent book open our eyes again to nature.

johnmuirtrust.org/initiatives/the-lost-words
houseofanansi.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019

Big Ideas That Changed the World

Rocket to the Moon!

by Don Brown

Amulet Books, 2019. 132 pages.
Review written July 22, 2019, from a library book

I’ve long said that comic format is the best possible way to make a book of nonfiction for children. Accompany all the facts with pictures, and it’s going to be much more memorable and easier to understand. Don Brown is particularly good at communicating information to children in this format.

This book about the history of space flight and particularly rockets to the moon was perfect reading for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

He covers the history of mankind’s use of rockets, the first visionaries who thought of going into space, and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Then he covers what it actually took to get men on the moon – including the big ideas behind the mission (Direct Ascent, Earth-Orbit Rendezvous, or Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous?).

This covers both the science and the history of flights to the moon in a compact graphic nonfiction form. A great way to communicate the big ideas!

booksbybrown.com
amuletbooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, art by Harmony Becker

Thursday, July 18th, 2019

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott
art by Harmony Becker

Top Shelf Productions, 2019. 208 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 17, 2019, from my own copy purchased via amazon.com

I got to hear George Takei speak at ALA Annual Conference and received an excerpt from this book which I got signed by all of the creators. All of that got me so excited about it, I went ahead and preordered my own copy and read it the day it came in.

I didn’t know much at all about the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, even though one of my best friends has parents who were imprisoned as children at that time. And I guess I thought I knew more than it turns out I did. George Takei presents his memories as a five-year-old sent to the camps, but he inserts the facts of what was going on to make it possible for American citizens to be imprisoned simply because of their ethnicity.

The whole timeline and explanation is laid out. After Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent were regarded with suspicion, and young men were turned away from army recruitment centers. Next came curfews, and then the families were rounded up and sent to camps. George talks about the irony of going to school and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance surrounded by barbed wire and guards. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old who doesn’t know that anything he’s experiencing isn’t normal.

George’s father emerges as the hero of this story. He did what he could to help his family at the time. As George grew up, his father talked with him about democracy.

Our democracy is a participatory democracy. Existentially, it’s dependent on people who cherish the shining, highest ideals of our democracy and actively engage in the political process.

His father said about FDR:

Roosevelt pulled us out of the depression, and he did great things, but he was also a fallible human being, and he made a disastrous mistake that affected us calamitously. But despite all that we’ve experienced, our democracy is still the best in the world.

The art in this book is wonderful. Young George is adorable and mischievous. His parents’ love for each other and firm resolution to take care of their children is communicated in the pictures. At times, a manga style is used to show George’s excitement, with stars coming out of his eyes. It’s used with a light touch, but effectively.

The book is framed with a modern-day George reflecting on his experiences and the book touches on where his life went from there. Taken all together, this book is powerful and moving. And it’s also shocking – what the government was able to do to United States citizens. Unfortunately, it’s also horribly timely.

This is a book everyone should read. Since it’s in comic format, it doesn’t take long. Invest an hour of your time reading this. You won’t forget it.

topshelfcomix.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

Nine Months

Before a Baby Is Born

by Miranda Paul
illustrated by Jason Chin

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 10, 2019, from a library book

This book tells us, with a simple rhyming text, the progress of a little girl becoming a big sister – but the stunning part of the book comes from the actual-size pictures of the growing fetus inside the mother.

For most of the book, the growing fetus is on the left side of the spread and the expectant family on the other side, with the soon-to-be big sister obviously anticipating her new status. By the end, the newborn infant takes up the entire spread.

I didn’t check until I’d finished reading who the illustrator is – and immediately thought, “Oh! No wonder those pictures are so amazing!” I find myself wanting to reach out and touch the newborn baby.

The text is very simple, with gentle rhymes. Here are a couple of examples. (On the left side, it tells which month we’re in. There’s a spread for each month.)

[Month Five]
Lips.
Flips.
Curve, dip, and groove.
She has a face.
She likes to move!

[Month Six]
Grasp.
Clasp.
Ears that can hear.
Sing as she listens.
Tell her you’re near.

The text is simple – based on the pictures, this is designed for a preschooler becoming a big sister – but there are five pages in the back with more information for the curious.

It does begin with the fertilized egg and doesn’t say one little bit about how the egg got that way. You’re on your own if your child has questions! But that does keep the book about the new baby.

This is my new go-to book for kids about to become older siblings. And it’s an immediate gift choice for my three-year-old niece and her big sister who are welcoming a new baby brother in a few months.

HolidayHouse.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Friday, July 5th, 2019

The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown

by Mac Barnett
illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Balzer + Bray, 2019. 42 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 29, 2019, from a library book

This is not your typical picture book biography. Since the author is Mac Barnett, I shouldn’t have expected typical. But the cover and art looked so lovely and sedate, I didn’t notice the author was Mac Barnett until the text started getting unusual.

Here’s the beginning of the book:

Margaret Wise Brown lived for 42 years.
This book is 42 pages long.
You can’t fit somebody’s life into 42 pages,
so I am just going to tell you some important things.

The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.

Mac Barnett begins giving facts about Margaret Wise Brown with this introduction:

It can be odd to imagine the lives of the people who write the books you read,
like running into your teacher at the supermarket.
But authors are people.
They are born and they die.
They make jokes and mistakes.
They fall in love and they fall in love again.
They go to the supermarket to buy tomatoes,
which they keep in the bottom drawers of their refrigerators,
even though tomatoes should stay out on the counter.
But which of these things is important? And to whom?

Then he gives facts about her life, including that she fell in love with a woman named Michael and a man named Pebble (no more details than that, though it certainly got me curious). Then he tells about her childhood and many pets.

I like the summaries of her most well-known books:

This is a story about a rabbit.
The rabbit must go to bed,
and he takes a long time
saying goodnight to everything.
Nobody knows why he says goodnight
to all this stuff –
his socks and some mush and even the air –
but I have an idea.
I think it is because he is afraid to go to sleep.
Have you read this book?
Do you know what I mean?

This is a story about a rabbit.
He is trying to escape from his mother.
But his mother just won’t let him get away.
(Maybe that is why he is trying
to escape from her.)

The author tells us about some strange things Margaret Wise Brown did. And about some strange things in her books:

Now it’s true that Margaret Wise Brown wrote strange books.
In her books, you would turn the page
and the story would suddenly change.
Sometimes a duck would appear for no reason.
And the narrator would often stop telling the story
and ask the reader a question.
Now isn’t that a strange thing to do?

Some people,
when they see something strange,
become bothered.
These people build worlds that make perfect sense,
even if that means ignoring many strange things
around them.

Now here is something I believe.
(I know there are only 23 pages left in this book,
but it’s important.)
No good book is loved by everyone,
and any good book is bound to bother somebody.
Because every good book is at least a little bit strange,
and there are some people who do not
like strange things in their worlds.

He goes from that discussion to telling about Anne Carroll Moore of the New York Public Library. He tells about some strange things she did, without commenting that they are strange. She stamped Margaret Wise Brown’s books with “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT.” This meant they were kept out of the New York Public Library and many other libraries. Then he goes on to tell what Margaret Wise Brown did when she herself was kept out of the New York Public Library.

This book is a strange book. And here’s what the author has to say about that:

Lives are strange.
And there are people who do not like strange stories,
especially in books for children.
But sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does.
These books feel true.
These books are important.
Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like this,
and she wrote them for children,
because she believed children deserve important books.

If you like strange but informative books for children, this is a good one.

macbarnett.com
thesarahjacoby.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of I Am Farmer, by Baptiste & Miranda Paul, illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

I Am Farmer

Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

by Baptiste & Miranda Paul
illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon

Millbrook Press, 2019. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 20, 2019, from a library book

This picture book biography tells about Farmer Tantoh of Cameroon, who ever since he was a small boy loved the soil and wanted to be a farmer. So much so that he took that as his name in high school and purposely flunked an exam that could have given him an office job.

Later he did go on to college, and to this day he works to bring clean water throughout his country and spreads good farming practices and cooperation.

The book follows Farmer Tantoh from childhood, through his college years when he caught typhoid from contaminated water, through his work today.

Here’s an example from one spread:

One project leads to another and another. Farmer Tantoh founds Save Your Future Association, a nonprofit organization to which people around the world can donate money and supplies. With local and international support, he finds a way to bring clean water to Njirong, a village suffering after a thirty-year conflict.

He begins a water delivery service for blind students. He hires engineers to design stairways, railings, or ramps for villagers with physical disabilities. In places with large populations, communities build reservoirs so that in times of drought, people can get the water they need.

The book is beautifully illustrated with Elizabeth Zunon’s wonderful collage artwork, and there are photographs on the endpapers which bring home that this is a real person. I like the Author’s Note, which tells us, “We traveled to northwest Cameroon in 2017, and we were overwhelmed by the number of villagers – from the very young to the elderly – who were beyond eager to tell or show us how Tantoh’s work had changed their lives.”

This is an inspiring story that I’m so glad to have read about.

baptistepaul.net
mirandapaul.com
lizzunon.com
lernerbooks.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Undefeated, by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Monday, May 27th, 2019

The Undefeated

by Kwame Alexander
illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Versify (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 16, 2019, from a library book

Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson pretty much form my dream team of picture book creators. Kadir Nelson creates lavish, lush paintings of people who are radiant with light. Kadir Nelson writes poetry that sings. In this book they use those powers together to celebrate black Americans through the ages.

Kwame Alexander wrote a poem beginning in 2008, the year his second daughter was born and the year Barack Obama was elected the first African American president of the United States. He explains in the back many reasons he wrote the poem, culminating in this one:

But mostly I wrote a poem to remind Samayah and her friends and her family and all of you, and to remind myself, to never, ever give up, because, as Maya Angelou wrote, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat, so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, oh, that happened, and I rose. I did get knocked down flat in front of the whole world, and I rose.”

Keep rising.

The poem references African American history, and the magnificent portraits that accompany the poem show people in action, some historical figures and some unnamed.

There are lines like this, accompanied by a portrait of Jesse Owens leaping:

This is for the unforgettable.
The swift and sweet ones
who hurdled history
and opened a world of possible.

There are lines like this, accompanied by a large portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.:

This is for the unlimited,
unstoppable ones.
The dreamers
and doers
who swim
across The Big Sea
of our imagination
and show us
the majestic shores
of the promised land:

There are lines like this, accompanied by a portrait of Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion:

This is for the unflappable.
The sophisticated ones
who box adversity
and tackle vision.

There are several pages with a whole group of people shown – and in the back you can check a list of historical figures with short bios to find out who they are.

The poem finishes:

This is for the
undefeated.
This is for you.
And you.
And you.
This
is
for
us.

And every portrait is of an African American person – but lifting the dignity of other humans raises us all. Celebrating triumph over obstacles elevates us all. So I believe this book is for me, too.

Magnificent.

kwamealexander.com
kadirnelson.com
hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Aim for the Skies, by Aimée Bissonette, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

Aim for the Skies

Jerrie Mock and Joan Merriam Smith’s Race to Complete Amelia Earhart’s Quest

by Aimée Bissonette
illustrated by Doris Ettlinger

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018. 32 pages.
Review written February 13, 2019, from a library book

This picture book tells about two women who both decided independently to complete Amelia Earhart’s around the world airplane trip. They both set out on their journey in March 1964. They traveled different routes, but the press reported it as a race. Yes, one of them became the first woman to fly solo around the world. But the other became the first person to fly the longest distance alone – using the same route as Amelia, around the equator.

The book gives the background of each woman, what got them interested in becoming a pilot and why they took on such a grand adventure. And then, of course, dramatizes the race around the world.

This is an interesting story of two women who accomplished amazing things – both in honor of Amelia Earhart before them.

aimeebissonette.com
dorisettlinger.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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