Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill

Saturday, October 13th, 2018

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

by Jan Thornhill

Groundwood Books, 2016. 42 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book, by focusing on one extinct species, is an accessible and understandable introduction to the need for conservation.

The book begins:

Behold the Great Auk! The Gejrfugl! The northern penguin!

Less than four centuries ago, hundreds of thousands of these magnificent birds lived in the frigid seas between Europe and North America.

Now there are none.

So what happened?

It’s a complicated story. Although humans – as you may suspect – did indeed have a heavy hand in the Great Auk’s extinction, there were other factors that contributed to its demise, not the least of which was the bird’s own anatomy and behavior.

The story is told beginning from when the Great Auk thrived. They couldn’t fly, and could barely walk, but could swim swiftly. They live mostly on and in the water, but they had to lay their eggs on land. So they protected their young by nesting in inaccessible places.

I thought this tidbit was fascinating:

During the last Ice Age, when much of northern Europe and most of Canada lay frozen beneath a half mile of ice, the oceans were colder, so the Great Auk was found further south. Five thousand years before the glaciers retreated, a group of Stone Age humans entered a cave not far from the Mediterranean. They mixed charcoal and red-ochre pigment into paint, then used crude brushes and their fingertips to make images of the animals they hunted.

They painted ibex and bison. They painted wild horses and big-antlered deer.

And they painted Great Auks.

Paleontologists have found other signs that early humans enjoyed eating fire-roasted Great Auk just as much as we enjoy eating barbecued chicken today. Numerous tool-marked remains of the bird’s big bones have been unearthed from ancient fire pits and trash heaps on both sides of the Atlantic, up and down the coasts. Some charred bones are almost ninety thousand years old.

As humans developed better and better seafaring abilities, the places where Great Auks could nest safely dwindled.

Though the final last straw, sadly, happened in 1830 when a volcanic eruption caused one of their last nesting grounds to disappear under the sea.

The book explains the whole story with colorful pictures, including the danger that came from collectors as well as those who wanted to eat the birds. In many of the pictures, the Great Auk is only present in a ghostly outline form, where they were once numerous, but now are nowhere to be found.

The book finishes with the birth of the conservation movement. Here’s hoping the tragic tale of the Great Auk will not be lived out by many other species.

groundwoodbooks.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 Balderdash! by Michelle Markel

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Balderdash!

John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books

by Michelle Markel
illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Chronicle Books, 2017. 44 pages.

Here’s a picture book biography of John Newbery (yes, that’s with ONE R), the publisher who began publishing books for children.

The book is written with simple text and entertaining illustrations, in the style of the books John Newbery published.

It talks about books for children before Newbery:

Children had to read
preachy poems and fables,
religious tests that made them fear that death was near,
and manuals that told them where to stand,
how to sit,
not to laugh,
and scores of other rules.

When John Newbery started publishing books for children, he began with A Little Pretty Pocket-Book and was the first bookseller to sell a book with an accompanying toy.

He went on to publish more books, a magazine, and even a novel for children – the first one being The History of Goody Two-Shoes. Now, readers today will notice a strong moral. “Goody went from rags to riches without a fairy godmother. She did it through study, hard work, and kindness.” But the whole idea that children could learn from a story, rather than a sermon – that was revolutionary. The idea that reading might be fun? Thank John Newbery!

Of course, John One-R Newbery is who the Newbery Medal was named after when the American Library Association decided to give an award “for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It’s because of John Newbery that the world got the idea there could be literature for children. This is mentioned in the note at the back. The main text is kept light and fun and geared for children.

michellemarkel.com
chroniclekids.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 Grover Cleveland, Again! by Ken Burns

Monday, September 24th, 2018

Grover Cleveland, Again!

A Treasury of American Presidents

by Ken Burns
illustrated by Gerald Kelley

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 94 pages.

This is a big, beautiful book packed with facts about all the presidents up to Obama (since it was published before the 2016 election). Here’s where Ken Burns explains the title:

I have four daughters – Sarah, Lilly, Olivia, and Willa. When they were little and had trouble falling asleep, I would recite the names of the presidents to them. (Yes, that’s a historian’s idea of a lullaby!) After a while, they knew the names so well, we turned it into a memory game. We’d start with our first president and work our way up. I’d say “George” and they’d say “Washington”; I’d say “John” and they’d say “Adams.” Their favorite part was when we got to Grover Cleveland, the only president who had two non-consecutive terms. I’d say “Grover” and they’d say “Cleveland”; I’d say “Benjamin” and they’d say “Harrison”; then I’d repeat “Grover” and they would giggle and say “Grover Cleveland, again!” I vowed to my oldest, now a mama of her own, that one day I’d do a children’s book on the presidents called Grover Cleveland, Again! It’s been almost thirty years, but I’ve kept my promise.

I read this book alongside Your Presidential Fantasy Dream Team, by Daniel O’Brien. I’d read about one president at a time, from both books. This one has much nicer, full-color pictures. It gives the basic facts and many insights into the times of each president. It would be great for reports, and draws you into browsing its oversize, inviting pages. It doesn’t compare the presidents to superheroes like that one does, but one book can’t have everything.

Ken Burns takes a more positive approach, leaving out things like Ulysses Grant’s drunkenness. He doesn’t draw decisive judgments about the presidents’ actions. But Ken Burns is trying to inspire kids by telling about our history. He also says in the introduction:

How could someone who had never voted in an election become president? How could someone who had hardly ever gone to school keep the country from being torn in two? How could a man with dyslexia lead the country through a world war, and one with a serious physical disability guide us through another? How could the son of a peanut farmer bring together two countries whose people had been ancient enemies? This is amazing stuff!

Learning about American history might not teach a child how to become a famous scientist or the CEO of a major corporation. But it can make a huge difference in their lives. It certainly has in mine.

kenburns.com
geraldkelley.com
randomhousekids.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 Strong Is the New Pretty, by Kate T. Parker

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Strong Is the New Pretty

A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves

by Kate T. Parker

Workman Publishing, 2017. 250 pages.
Starred Review

Strong Is the New Pretty is a book of photographs of girls being strong – and they are indeed beautiful.

My library has put this in the juvenile nonfiction section, but I think in many ways, this is a book for families. If you have girls in your family, stick this on your coffee table. Let the whole family browse the photos. It would also make a nice high school graduation gift for a girl, encouraging them to be themselves. (Though the girl isn’t likely to take such a large book off to college with them, so I suppose that’s a little problematic.)

The text accompanying the pictures isn’t exactly geared to children. There’s an introduction, and then nine chapters, with titles “Confident is Strong,” “Wild is Strong,” “Resilient is Strong,” “Creative is Strong,” “Determined is Strong,” “Kind is Strong,” “Fearless is Strong,” “Joyful is Strong,” and “Independent is Strong.” Each chapter has an inspiring explanation at the front of how these pictures fit with the theme. Every photo has a quotation from the featured girl.

For example:

Cancer stole part of my leg but not my joy. I choose happiness. Being happy is my superpower.

— Grace B. age 12

Leaf jumping is the best.

— Alice age 6

Through music I have the ability to make others smile and even cry when I perform in a way that moves someone.

— Nora age 11

She had a knot in her cleats. I’m really good at untying knots, so I helped.

— Lily S. age 5

Yeah, I am a little muddy. So what?

— Tayla age 6

The quotations aren’t usually profound, but the photographs are stunning! And I love that the photographer gave each subject a voice.

In the Introduction, the author explains how the project got started.

This photo series started as a personal project. I work as a professional photographer, but I’m also a mom (the mom with the giant camera and bag of lenses at most events). And it’s not uncommon for me to be photographing my girls and their friends – constantly – when they’re riding their bikes, at soccer practice, or exploring tide pools while on vacation. The more I shot, the more I began to notice that the strongest images, the ones that resonated most with me, were the ones in which the girls were being 100 percent themselves. When they were messy and funny and stubborn and joyful and in your face, I kept shooting. I didn’t ask them to smile or go put on a pretty dress. I wanted to capture these girls as they were, and how they were was amazing. I wanted to continue capturing them in just that way – not just for my sake, but for theirs, too.

As a body of work emerged, I kept at it with more intention. I wanted to show my girls that beauty isn’t about being a certain size, or having your hair done (or even brushed, in their cases), or wearing a fancy outfit. I wanted to combat the messages the media sends to women every day. I wanted my girls to know that being themselves is beautiful, and that being beautiful is about being strong.

I strongly recommend checking this book out and enjoying the beautiful images. And I even more strongly recommend sharing them with your daughters. Talk about them. I’m guessing they, too, will see how pretty these strong girls are.

https://katetparkerphotography.com/blog
workman.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 The Great Leopard Rescue, by Sandra Markle

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

The Great Leopard Rescue

Saving the Amur Leopards

by Sandra Markle

Millbrook Press, Minneapolis, 2017. 48 pages.
Starred Review

This is an ideal elementary-level science book for kids. Lots of beautiful photographs of the striking Amur leopards, the history of these big cats, and a look at how scientists are trying to save them from extinction.

The story covers decades – Amur leopards have been endangered for a long time – but it’s also very immediate. This year – 2017 – there is a plan to ensure new leopard cubs are born on the taiga.

The plan is elaborate – the parents will be Amur leopards chosen from zoos. Two pairs of leopards will give birth in two huge pens, where they will stay for two years until the cubs are ready to hunt on their own. This is to establish a second wild population, in case any disaster should befall the remaining wild population living on the recently established Leopard Reserve.

It’s all very interesting and lavishly illustrated with photographs. Perfect for animal lovers and science lovers both.

lernerbooks.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 The Quilts of Gee’s Bend, by Susan Goldman Rubin

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend

by Susan Goldman Rubin

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 56 pages.

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend tells about an African American community where for generations families taught their girls to quilt.

The book is filled with photos of quilts made by these women. There are common patterns, common themes, but every quilt is unique.

The book also tells of the history of the community and the way the quilts – when discovered as art – helped pull them through some hard times.

Here’s how the book begins, jumping right into the story of one of the quilters:

When Nettie Young was eleven years old, her mother gave her a pile of cloth strips and told her to make a quilt all by herself. Nettie had always sat with her mother and watched her quilting, picking up the scraps at her feet, but this time her mother walked away. She was testing her daughter to see if she was independent as well as talented. The cotton and corduroy scraps were in different colors and patterns: plaids, checks, dots, even a little yellow animal print. The odds and ends came from old work shirts, dress tails, and aprons. Looking back, at age eighty-nine, Nettie said, “When I was growing up, you threw nothing away. . . . You found every good spot for a quilt piece, and that’s how you made your quilts.”

Nettie arranged the strips to form squares in a brilliant geometric design. She called her finished quilt “Stacked Bricks.” From then on, she became known as one of the best quilters in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. “I always loved sewing,” she said. “Didn’t need a pattern . . . I just draw it out the way I want it.”

There’s a photo of that very quilt, which was created in 1928.

We get stories of many of the quilters, along with an abundance of color photos of the quilts. The women didn’t think of their quilts as art. Making them was a way to keep warm and work together.

Pieces of cloth that had been tucked away safely were brought out at night, when, at last, it was time for quilting. “We had no radio, no TV, no nothing,” recalled Mary Lee Randolph. “That’s the way we learned – sitting watching our mamas piecing the quilt. When the sun came down, you be in the house together, laughing and talking. We were more blessed then.

This book celebrates beautiful art created by a community of women in a practice passed down from mothers to daughters.

abramsyoungreaders.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 Which Is Round? Which Is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Which Is Round?
Which Is Bigger?

by Mineko Mamada

Kids Can Press, 2013. First published in Japan in 2010. 28 pages.
Starred Review

I thought this was going to be a ho-hum concept book. But it surprised me.

The first spread asks the question, “Which one is round?” We see an apple and an armadillo. The answer seems obvious.

But when we turn the page, the apple has been eaten down to the core, and the armadillo has curled into a circle. Now the page asks, “Which one is round? What do you think?”

We get similar questions – and shifts – with questions about which one is bigger, longer, faster, higher, and red (an apple versus a watermelon – outside and inside).

It’s a simple book, and very short. But I love the question after each shift, “What do you think?” What a wonderful opening for interesting conversations with your children! And what a lovely way to get them to think critically and look again.

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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 Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Can an Aardvark Bark?

by Melissa Stewart
illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster), 2017. 32 pages.
Starred Review

I don’t need to keep on raving about Steve Jenkins’ ultra-realistic cut paper illustrations. In this book they’re paired with a text that invites young readers to wonder and to learn.

This book is in question-and-answer format, and all the questions are about animal sounds. The title question answers, “No, but it can grunt.” There’s also a paragraph on that page about when an aardvark might grunt. When we turn the page, we find out “Lots of other animals grunt too.” There are pictures and short explanations of the grunting that comes from river otters, Hamadryas baboons, white-tailed deer, and oyster toadfish.

The same format is used with six more types of animal noises: barking, squealing, whining, growling, bellowing, and laughing. All the questions asked rhyme (“Can a giraffe laugh?”), and one animal can actually make the rhyming sound! (A porcupine can whine. Who knew?)

The animals are not your typical animals seen in every animal book – and the pictures of them are varied and attention grabbing. I like the picture of the ostrich growling, across the page from other growlers like a platypus, a king cobra, and a coastal giant salamander.

This book has too much detail for preschool storytime, but it has exactly enough detail for a bright precocious preschooler who eats up information. This will carry easily through early elementary school students who will be fascinated enough to learn to read even the longer words.

This engaging format with striking illustrations and surprising animal facts puts a whole new spin on animal sounds. A brilliant early science book.

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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 Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, by Raphaël Frier, illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Malala

Activist for Girls’ Education

by Raphaël Frier
illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

Charlesbridge, 2017. 45 pages.
Starred Review

This is a picture book biography of Malala. Her story is told simply, in a way that children can understand.

Malala was born in 1997 in Pakistan, the daughter of a teacher who had founded a school for girls. As the Taliban rose to power, Malala became an activist for girls’ education, even though she was still a child.

When she was eleven, she spoke against the Taliban trying to take away her education, in a speech covered by newspapers and television. After the Taliban did close down schools for girls, Malala was offered a chance to write a blog for the BBC about girls and education.

When she was still thirteen:

Malala is elected speaker of the child assembly associated with the Khpal Kor Foundation, which promotes the rights of children. In this leadership role, she begins as a children’s rights activist.

She wins the first-ever National Youth Peace Prize in Pakistan, and starts an educational foundation. But the Taliban does not like her work. Assassins come onto her school bus and shoot her three times. (This page is rendered symbolically with silhouetted figures in guns, but a bright light (like an explosion) coming off Malala. The faces of the girls are peaceful.)

Malala is flown to England, where she recovers. And then she begins a fresh wave of activism. Now she’s working for girls all over the world.

On Malala’s sixteenth birthday, July 12, 2013, hundreds of people from around the world hear her speak at the United Nations in New York City. Malala wears a shawl that belonged to Benazir Bhutto, a Pakistani prime minister who was assassinated.

The book includes quotations from that speech and tells us that the next year, at seventeen, Malala was the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

This book is packed with facts, but they are presented in a way children can understand. The illustrations are lovely, and tend toward symbolic depictions of ideas. There are 10 pages of back matter with photos and more information.

malala.org
charlesbridge.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 I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, pictures by Shelagh McNicolas

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

I Am Jazz

by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings

pictures by Shelagh McNicholas

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014. 32 pages.
Review written in 2017

I Am Jazz is a simple picture book about the experience of one transgender girl.

Her experience is presented simply, in child-friendly language. She talks about her best friends, Samantha and Casey, and the things all three of them love to do.

But I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey.

I have a girl brain but a boy body.
This is called transgender.

I was born this way!

She tells us that at first her family was confused, they’d call her a boy despite her insistence that she was a girl.

Then one amazing day, everything changed. Mom and Dad took me to meet a new doctor who asked me lots and lots of questions. Afterward, the doctor spoke to my parents and I heard the word “transgender” for the very first time.

That night at bedtime, my parents both hugged me and said, “We understand now. Be who you are. We love you no matter what.”

This made me smile and smile and smile.

This book was published in 2014, but our library has only recently purchased it. Better late than never! It’s in the nonfiction section – in juvenile biography under “Jennings” – so no child is going to accidentally stumble across it in the picture books. That’s a bit of a shame, because it’s a simple explanation of what it’s like to be transgender – but at least we won’t have parents complaining that they don’t want their child exposed to this. To find this book, you will have to look for it.

I do recommend looking for it! A lovely book to explain to children what life is like for the transgender classmates they may end up encountering. Or, for that matter, to understand what they themselves may be going through. Stories go a long way to counteract bullying. This book tells a true story in a positive way.

transkidspurplerainbow.org
penguin.com/youngreaders

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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?