Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, by Joyce Sidman

Friday, February 15th, 2019

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies

How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science

by Joyce Sidman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018. 144 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 7, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher.
2019 Sibert Medal Winner for best children’s nonfiction book of the year
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This book has a prologue, with the heading, “The Girl in the Garden.” Quoting from it will tell you the background of Maria Merian’s life.

A girl kneels in her garden. It is 1660, and she has just turned thirteen: too old for a proper German girl to be crouching in the dirt, according to her mother. She is searching for something she discovered days ago in the chilly spring air. As she combs the emerald bushes, she looks for other telltale signs – eggs no bigger than pinpricks, or leaf edges scalloped by the jaws of an inching worm. . . .

But for years she has gathered flowers for her stepfather’s studio, carried them in, and arranged them for his still-life paintings. She has studied the creatures that ride on their petals: the soft green bodies of caterpillars, the shiny armor of beetles, the delicate wings of moths. She has looked at them closely, sketched and painted them. In learning the skills of an artist, she has learned to look and watch and wonder.

Imagine this girl, forbidden from training as either a scholar or a master artist because she is female. Aware that in nearby villages women have been hanged as witches for something as simple as showing too much interest in “evil vermin.”

Yet she is drawn to these small, mysterious lives. She does not believe the local lore: that “summer birds,” or butterflies, creep out from under the earth. She thinks there is a connection between butterflies, moths, caterpillars, and the rumpled brown cocoon before her, and she is determined to find it.

This is her story.

The biography that follows tells of a woman far ahead of her times. She was both an artist and a scientist. She was an artist because she assisted her father and her husband and learned from them – she wouldn’t have been able to study on her own merits. She was a scientist by virtue of her own patient observations. She learned which caterpillars transformed into which moths or butterflies and which cocoon or chrysalis went with each.

She made her observations known by painting them. She would paint creatures on the same plant where she found them, and she would paint a butterfly with its egg, caterpillar, pupa, and chrysalis in the same picture.

This book is lavishly illustrated with Maria Merian’s own paintings as well as photographs of caterpillars, moths, and butterflies. Quotations from Maria’s writings are included, set off in a box and printed in script. Every spread has something colorful to catch the eye.

The structure of Maria’s biography follows the life cycle of a butterfly, with chapter titles: “Egg,” “Hatching,” “First Instar,” “Second Instar,” “Third Instar,” “Fourth Instar,” “Molting,” “Pupa,” “Eclosing,” “Expanding,” “Flight,” and “Egg” again. Joyce Sidman has written a poem for each chapter, placed next to a photo of a caterpillar or butterfly at that stage.

Maria’s unique combination of observation plus art left a mark that affected scientists after her. After her death, Carl Linnaeus used her book to classify and name more than one hundred insects – names we still use today.

The exquisite paintings and detailed photographs make this a beautiful book worth browsing – even if it weren’t packed with facts about an important scientist, a woman far ahead of her time.

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Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

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 Queen of the Track, by Heather Lang, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Saturday, January 19th, 2019

Queen of the Track

Alice Coachman, Olympic High-Jump Champion

by Heather Lang
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Boyds Mills Press, 2016. 40 pages.

This is another picture book biography about a person I never heard of but am very glad to know about.

Alice Coachman was the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She won in 1948, and had to miss the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, when she was at her peak, because of World War II.

Born in 1922 and very poor, Alice faced many obstacles to living her dreams. Being black and being female were both obstacles to being an athlete.

The print in this book is small and there are lots of words on the pages, so the intended audience is older than the usual picture book crowd. However, it’s in good company with other picture book biographies.

The excellent picture book biographies written today are why I was happy our library created a children’s nonfiction browsing collection. This book isn’t designed for someone writing a report, but for someone wanting to read the true story of an inspiring person.

And she is inspiring. I’m so glad this book exists so I could learn her story.

The note at the back tells us more.

Alice credits her success to the support she received from her family, teachers, coaches, and sometimes people she hardly knew. In an effort to give back and help others, she founded the Alice Coachman Track and Field Foundation, which supports young athletes and helps former Olympic athletes adjust to life after the games.

Many do not know Alice’s story, since her gold medal came in the early days of broadcast television. But it was Alice Coachman who paved the way for future Olympic track stars such as Wilma Rudolph, Evelyn Ashford, and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

heatherlangbooks.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 Antsy Ansel, by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Christy Hale

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Antsy Ansel

Ansel Adams, a Life in Nature

by Cindy Jenson-Elliott
illustrated by Christy Hale

Christy Ottiaviano Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2016. 32 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of Ansel Adams, famed photographer, especially of our national parks. The language is simple, appropriate for younger elementary school students. But a lot of information is packed into these pages, with more in the notes at the back.

The author relates Ansel Adams’ life to kids by telling us he was a child who could never sit still.

Indoors, Ansel felt trapped and sick. At school he got into trouble. Everyone thought they knew what he needed.

“Keep him calm,” the doctor said, “away from light and sound.” Ansel yearned for wind and waves.

“Give him discipline!” the principal said. Ansel felt like a fly buzzing inside a jar.

Ansel’s father had a different idea. “Give him open air,” he said. He took thirteen-year-old Ansel out of school and let him learn at home.

The first twenty-two of thirty-two pages are about Ansel’s growing up years. Here’s the entire text of a spread about the San Francisco world’s fair, which Ansel visited every day (as we learn in the notes):

A season ticket to the San Francisco
world’s fair filled Ansel’s mind with
mysteries and marvels,
impressionists and organists,
flavors and aromas,
and fun and games.
Ansel was on fire for learning.

When Ansel was fourteen was when his family first visited Yosemite — and they gave Ansel a camera. I like the pages showing Ansel in Yosemite. The picture of Half Dome turns the book on its side to capture its tall majesty, as does a spread with a Sequoia.

So this book is a nice introduction to the story of a boy who loved to be outside and learned to make his living by staying outside and sharing the beauty he saw with others.

cindyjensonelliott.com
christyhale.com
mackids.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.

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 No Fair! No Fair! poems by Calvin Trillin, pictures by Roz Chast

Monday, January 14th, 2019

No Fair! No Fair!

And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood

Poems by Calvin Trillin
Pictures by Roz Chast

Orchard Books (Scholastic), 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Oh this book made me laugh! It compelled me to read it aloud, first to people at work, then even when I was home alone.

This is a book of poetry in the tradition of Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein — rhyming poetry about the logic and illogic of children’s lives.

Here’s a stanza from one of my favorites, “The Grandpa Rule Is in Effect”:

Whenever Grandpa’s minding us,
There’s just one rule we must respect:
To do what we would like to do.
The Grandpa Rule is in effect.

Here’s the beginning of “Who Plays What?”

I like all our games of pretending,
But why is it always routine
That I am the queen’s loyal servant
And Claudia’s always the queen?

Here’s the refrain from “The Backseat”:

She’s over the line,
She’s over the line.
She occupies space
That’s rightfully mine.

And here’s a nice one full of kid logic, from “Could Jenny Get This Shot for Me? I’ve Done So Much for Her!”:

I know this shot will guard me from the measles and the mumps —
Diseases that could leave me with two different kinds of lumps.
I’m glad the stuff that’s in the shot will keep me safe from harm,
But can’t they put the needle into someone else’s arm?
If so, my older sister is the person I’d prefer.
Could Jenny get this shot for me? I’ve done so much for her.

I like all the small poems in “Evening Complaints.” This one’s called “Going to Bed”:

Though Nate stays up, to me you’ve said,
“Okay, my friend, it’s time for bed.”
I’ll bet when I’m as old as Nate,
You still won’t let me stay up late.
I’ll say, “I’m eight,” but you won’t care.
No fair, no fair, no fair, no fair.

I have to admit, a few of the poems didn’t quite work as well read aloud — but the majority are so well done, they compel reading aloud.

And Roz Chast’s pictures are the perfect companion! She gets a child’s eye view of the world just right — with that touch of cynicism and humor in every one of her pictures.

scholastic.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.

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 Let Your Voice Be Heard, by Anita Silvey

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Let Your Voice Be Heard

The Life and Times of Pete Seeger

by Anita Silvey

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2016. 101 pages.

This is a straightforward biography of Pete Seeger for upper elementary audiences. There are plenty of photographs and the print is large and lines are widely spaced, so it’s not an intimidating amount of reading.

I hadn’t known a lot about Pete Seeger’s life, and I was inspired. His approach to music — reviving folk songs, popularizing them, and collaborating with others — is partly what makes him such a likable character.

But he also stood up for causes. He provided a voice — and songs — for the Labor movement, for anti-war protesters, for the Civil Rights movement, and for cleaning up the environment.

But a big part of his life I hadn’t known much about was him being brought up before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and how much that impacted his life. I hadn’t realized how much was done against people suspected of Communist sympathies — in America.

It’s also impressive that Pete Seeger didn’t let those things make him bitter. He continued to sing and spread the belief that working together we can make the world a better place. “Pete would call up a radio station, get a spot on the air, and then be out of town before the American Legion could protest.”

Here’s how the author sums up Pete Seeger’s legacy:

Throughout his life Pete Seeger remained committed to the idea that people need to come together. “It’s been my life’s work, to get participation, whether it’s a union song, a peace song, civil rights, or women’s movement, or gay liberation. When you sing, you feel, I’m not alone.”

Support for workers. Peace. The right to speak and sing in freedom. Civil rights for all people. The preservation of the planet. The causes to which Pete Seeger dedicated his life remain relevant and evergreen. He lived with purpose and meaning. As he often said, “Nobody really knows what the world’s going to bring. . . . We always find solutions, we’re an intelligent race . . . As long as I’ve got breath, I’ll keep on doing what I can.”

His life stands as a testament for social and political change, reminding everyone to fight for what they believe in and to let their voices be heard.

childrensbookalmanac.com
www.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.

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 Wet Cement, by Bob Raczka

Friday, January 11th, 2019

Wet Cement

A Mix of Concrete Poems

by Bob Raczka

Roaring Brook Press, New York, 2016. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Bob Raczka explains what’s going on in this book in a note at the front:

I like to think of poems as word paintings. A poet uses words like colors to paint pictures inside your head.

In concrete poems, or shape poems, the words also paint pictures on the page. The poet arranges words in the shape of the thing the poem is about or in a way that emphasizes the poem’s meaning.

But here’s what’s really cool: by cleverly arranging individual letters, you can also paint a picture on the page with a single word. In this case, the letters become your colors.

In this book, I’ve done both. In the title of each poem, I’ve created pictures with letters. In the poems themselves, I’ve created pictures with words.

Besides showing kids what concrete poems are, this book gets the reader looking at things in new ways. I love the title example of calling the book of concrete poems Wet Cement and having the words pictured coming out of a cement mixer.

An example I can easily explain is his poem “Hopscotch.” In the title, the nine letters of “Hopscotch” go up the page in place as if in a hopscotch grid. On the next page, the twelve words of the poem go up the page in the same format.

The title of the poem “Clock” places the letter L inside the letter O looking like a clock. The poem has these words in a circle like the numbers of a clock: “The clock on the wall says it’s five ‘til three but”

Then the hands of the clock, appropriately placed, use the words: “the kids in my class say it’s five ‘til free.”

There’s lots of cleverness here. The poems are short and sweet and don’t look difficult. They’re at least not difficult to understand, but get you looking at the objects in new ways.

This book will definitely spur kids to try to create their own concrete poems. They may discover it’s harder than it looks!

But I like the way the ending poem, “poeTRY,” invites experimentation (and these lines are centered):

poetry is about taking away the words you don’t need
poetry is taking away words you don’t need
poetry is words you need
poetry is words
try

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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 Samurai Rising, by Pamela S. Turner

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Samurai Rising

The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune

by Pamela S. Turner
illustrated by Gareth Hinds

Charlesbridge, 2016. 236 pages.
Starred Review

This book of narrative nonfiction for children booktalks itself. Samurai warriors! Murder and betrayal and kidnapping! Epic battles and clever strategy! And it’s all true!

Pamela S. Turner has done in-depth research about an ancient Japanese Samurai warrior, around whom many legends have sprung up. She does a good job separating what is known from what is speculated about him, and the final 73 pages of the book are back matter, including notes about the history and about her research, a timeline, bibliography, and an index.

The story itself reads like a gory and dramatic novel. Now I personally am not a big fan of war stories, but for kids who don’t mind that (and there are many), this book is filled with excitement – all the more exciting because it really happened.

The Introduction is short and explains why Minamoto Yoshitsune’s story is important:

Few warriors are as famous as the Japanese samurai. We remember those beautiful swords and those fearsome helmets. We recall, with both horror and fascination, how some chose to end their own lives. But no one can understand the samurai without knowing Minamoto Yoshitsune.

Yoshitsune’s story unfolds in the late twelfth century, during the adolescence of the samurai. Yes, cultures have their youth, maturity, and old age, just as people do. During Yoshitsune’s lifetime the samurai awakened. Their culture was bold, rebellious, and eager to flex its muscle. The samurai would ultimately destroy Japan’s old way of life and forge a new one using fire and steel and pain.

Yoshitsune was at the very heart of this samurai rising. Exile, runaway, fugitive, rebel, and hero, he became the most famous warrior in Japanese history. The reason is simple: Yoshitsune was the kind of man other samurai longed to be.

The book begins with the uprising and death of Yoshitsune’s father in 1160. It ends with Yoshitsune’s suicide before his enemies came for him in 1189. In between we hear the story of the warrior’s glory that went unappreciated except in legend.

The author does an amazing job of making this all accessible and understandable to the reader, while inserting little reminders that this is history, and we don’t know everything. She mentions eyewitness accounts, where the information is sketchy, and uses language like “probably” and “Imagine…” where she’s drawing inferences.

No child who reads this book will think that history is boring!

pamelasturner.com
garethhinds.com
charlesbridge.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 Elizabeth Started All the Trouble, by Doreen Rappaport and Matt Faulkner

Sunday, January 6th, 2019

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble

written by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by Matt Faulkner

Disney Hyperion, Los Angeles, 2016. 40 pages.

This is an accessible overview for elementary school children about the struggle for women’s rights. Reading it, I discovered that I hadn’t realized myself just how long the battle had taken.

The Elizabeth of the title was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The book does begin earlier than Elizabeth Cady Stanton by mentioning Abigail Adams’ request to her husband when working on the Constitution to “Remember the ladies.”

Seventy-two years later, Elizabeth started the trouble when she and Lucretia Mott were forbidden to even be seen at a convention in London against slavery. They couldn’t be delegates, and had to sit behind a curtain to hear the men’s speeches.

After this, Lucretia and Elizabeth planned the first National Women’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York. Elizabeth modified the Declaration of Independence to be a Declaration of Sentiments, which was a rallying call for the women’s suffrage movement.

The book shows how long and slow and adamantly opposed that movement was. It also pictures many, many of the additional women who took part. One page shows many women who worked for the war effort during the Civil War on both sides.

Emancipation came for the slaves with the Thirteenth Amendment on January 31, 1865.

Then the lawmakers began debating giving the vote to black men.

Now, Elizabeth thought, now is our chance to get the vote, too.

But they didn’t

The next phase of working for women’s rights involved demonstrations, parades, and arrests. Some states individually gave votes to women. The people who started the struggle, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, grew old and died.

The book ends with a double-page spread showing women from many time periods (including the present) standing together.

On August 26, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women the right to vote, became law. The lawmakers had finally done what Abigail Adams wanted the Founding Fathers to do in that big room in Philadelphia so long ago.

The women had triumphed after battling for the vote for seventy-two years. But they knew their work was not over. There were still many unfair laws to change so that women could have true equality with men.

And we’re still working on it.

doreenrappaport.com
mattfaulkner.com
DisneyBooks.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 Jumping Off Library Shelves, selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Friday, January 4th, 2019

Jumping Off Library Shelves

A Book of Poems

selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins
illustrated by Jane Manning

Wordsong (Highlights), Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 2015. 32 pages.

A book of poems about libraries! Yes, please!

There are fifteen poems in this book, all by different authors except for Rebecca Kai Dotlich, who has the starting and ending poem. All the poems have something to do with libraries.

I’m going to simply quote some of my favorite lines.

From “Refuge,” by Nikki Grimes:

. . . smiling at the sweet kingdom of story
inviting me in
to rest, to explore –
to dream.

From “At the Library,” by Michele Krueger:

I’ve found a treasure,
a literal pleasure.

a book
I’ve not read
before.

From “Enchantment,” by Jane Yolen:

Stack by stack,
shelf by shelf,
I pick out books
all by myself.

Of course I like “Librarian,” by Joan Bransfield Graham

How do you
always find
the perfect
book?

You get that
look
in your eyes
and there
it is . . .

another
surprise
to savor.

From “The Poetry Section,” by Alice Schertle:

It reached out and grabbed me!
That poetry sound
set my heart singing,
spun me around

like a million bells ringing,
a hundred-piece band –
those poems made music
right there in my hand.

There’s even a poem about reading to dogs at the library, “Reading with Riley,” by Kristine O’Connell George:

all ears, all listen,
as we snuggle deeper
into story.

From “Book Pillows,” by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater:

With my head on a book
I dream of a place
where a pig loves a spider. . . .

Wild things on a rumpus!
Fat evil kings!
Boy wizards, girl witches!
Horses with wings!

And the beginning and ending poems imagine mice in the library at the start and end of the day. Of course at night they read the books! From “Midnight in a Library,” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich:

whiskers, tails twitch,
there’s magic in the air;

These poems are accessible for very young children as well as kids in school. And they celebrate libraries. What could be better?

leebennetthopkins.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 Emu, by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Emu

by Claire Saxby
illustrated by Graham Byrne

Candlewick Press, 2015. 30 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016

Wow! This is a science picture book — telling about emus and how they raise their young — and the artwork is simply stunning.

There are two threads to the text. The story part begins like this:

In the open forest, where eucalyptus trees fringe tufty grasslands, honey-pale sunshine seeps to where Emu sits on a nest. Beneath him are eight granite-green eggs. Yes, him. For in Emu’s world, it is the male’s job to raise the fledgling.

On each spread, we get about that much more of the father emu’s story, as well as a paragraph of straight facts about emus.

The emu we’re following sits on his nest for eight weeks, without eating. He defends the eggs and then the fledglings from various predators. We watch the chicks grow until they are almost as tall and striking as their father.

The facts are good and the Australian setting makes them all the more interesting. Having the story of one family of emus alongside the facts is helpful. But what makes this book truly exceptional are the strikingly beautiful paintings. This book is a joy to leaf through.

This is another book I plan to booktalk in some elementary schools for this summer. It’s always a treat to find nonfiction that will draw kids in. That emu staring out from the front cover beckons kids to find out more.

candlewick.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.

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.

What did you think of this book?