Review of Before Music, by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Madison Safer

Before Music

Where Instruments Come From

by Annette Bay Pimentel
illustrated by Madison Safer

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2022. 88 pages.
Review written September 7, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I was not at all prepared for how charmed I would be by this book. Before the title page, pictures filling up oversize pages show you a boy with a drum and a woman with a stringed instrument making music. There’s a bit of text:

Music doesn’t come out of nothing.
It always starts somewhere. . .
with something. . .
with someone.

I expected to learn about the instruments of the western orchestra. But instead, the first instrument presented is a rock gong, and the next one a pututu, made from a seashell. Yes, instruments from western orchestras are included, but they’re a relatively small part of the many, many ways that humans make music.

At the back of the book, the author explains that different cultures classify musical instruments in different ways. “In writing this book, I was inspired by the ancient Chinese system, which focused on the materials instruments are made of.” Each group of instruments is presented first with a large painting and pictures of someone making an instrument of that type. Next, the book explains how that material makes music, then we see many more instruments made with that material, subdivided using the Indian and Javanese focus on how they are played.

And there are so many kinds of instruments! Leafing through the 88 pages, I see instruments made from rock, found objects, clay, gourds, strings, metal, wood, reeds, flexible sheets, and human voices. Mixed between the descriptions of instruments and how they are made are features of musical innovators, people who figured out how to make new sounds from materials already used for instruments or how to improve what was being used.

As an example of the amazing variety found here, on the gourd instruments page, I see thirteen instruments from countries all over the world, only two of which I’d ever heard of before.

This book is fascinating and beautiful. There are suggestions at the back for kids to make their own musical instruments.

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Review of Marie’s Ocean, by Josie James

Marie’s Ocean

Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea

by Josie James

Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt). 48 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Dramatized in graphic novel format with speech bubbles, this book tells of the life of Marie Tharp and how she overcame prejudice against women and became the first person to map the ocean floor.

First it shows her childhood interest in science and beginning jobs, which were never as challenging as she could handle. But then everything came together when Bruce Hazeen, a graduate student at Columbia asked her to plot sounding data of the ocean floor from many ships going across the Atlantic Ocean, using sonar.

It goes on to show how Marie discovered something in common in the plots from the ships’ data.

And then I noticed something curious. A V shaped cleft ran through each of the profiles I had drawn.

Could there be a crack in the center of the mountains of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon?

It shows how this discovery supported the continental drift theory, which was considered scientific heresy at the time.

Then Bruce was asked to map the locations where transatlantic phone cables had broken due to earthquakes. When Marie plotted the earthquakes – they were all happening along the rift valley she had discovered in the middle of the ocean.

The scientific community was still skeptical of her work. Then Jacques Cousteau towed an underwater camera across the Mid-Atlantic Ocean floor and showed the world that Marie’s rift valley indeed existed.

Thereafter, scientists’ and the public’s opinion of the rift valley and Wegener’s theory of continental drift slowly began to shift. Opinion also began to change regarding women at sea. In 1965, after fifteen years working at my desk, Bruce offered me my first spot as a woman aboard a research vessel.

Marie Tharp continued working, mapping all the world’s oceans.

Heinrich, Bruce, and I continued to collaborate and produced an elaborate painting called the World Ocean Floor panorama in 1977. This glorious map depicts a one-world ocean whose hidden mountains and valleys, created by the immense forces of Earth, erupted off the canvas and dispersed the idea of a flat and featureless seafloor.

By dramatizing her story, this book brings you into the challenges Marie faced as a scientist and how completely she triumphed over them.

mackids.com

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Review of Make Way for Animals! by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Bao Luu

Make Way for Animals!

A World of Wildlife Crossings

by Meeg Pincus
illustrated by Bao Luu

Millbrook Press, 2022. 32 pages.
Review written July 4, 2022, from a library book.
Starred Review

This is a simple nonfiction picture book about many different things people have constructed to help animals get across busy roadways that cut across their habitats.

I have been fascinated by animal crossings ever since seeing wooded bridges above the highways in Europe.

This book shows bridges like that in the Netherlands, but also a pipeline for penguins in New Zealand, a crossing for crabs on Christmas Island, an underpass for elephants in Kenya, a rope bridge for ringtail possums in Australia, and much more.

The book also gives details about the specific animals helped by the crossings. Notes at the back give details about specific places.

The main text is simple but fascinating. I like the variety in the different kinds of crossings featured. All of them save animals lives and help them have a wider habitat.

MeegPincus.com
lernerbooks.com

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Review of Escape at 10,000 Feet, by Tom Sullivan

Unsolved Case Files

Escape at 10,000 Feet

D. B. Cooper and the Missing Money

by Tom Sullivan

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 98 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book clearly lays out for kids all the facts about the only unsolved airplane hijacking case in the United States.

It happened in 1971. A man who called himself Dan Cooper hijacked an airplane and asked for $200,000 in cash and two front and two back parachutes. He later jumped off the plane and was never heard from again – but neither was his body found.

The money he was given was marked – and it was never used. But in 1980, a child found three bundles of twenty dollar bills from the hijacking – buried in a riverbank in the general area where the man had jumped off the plane.

It’s all presented in a matter-of-fact, precise way, with eye-catching pictures on every page. Some theories are presented at the end, along with why they are probably wrong.

Metal detector screenings at airports began shortly after this episode. Kids will be amazed at how lax security was back in 1971, though still amazed at what D. B. Cooper was able to do – though they might argue whether or not he lived through it.

I don’t think of myself as interested in true crime, but I couldn’t stop reading this one. It’s especially intriguing to realize it really happened.

thomasgsullivan.com
harperalley.com

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Review of Nicky and Vera, by Peter Sis

Nicky & Vera

A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

by Peter Sis

Norton Young Readers, 2021. 64 pages.
Review written March 1, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Nicky & Vera tells about Nicky, a young Englishman who cancelled a ski vacation and followed his friend to Prague in 1938, and ended up working to get Jewish children out of Prague while there was still time. It also tells about Vera, who was one of those children.

The story is a little sad, because although Vera survived the war, no one else in her family did.

But it does tell about the six hundred sixty-nine children that Nicky was able to save.

Nicky was a quiet hero. He didn’t tell anyone about his heroic work after the war until his wife found his records in their attic about fifty years later. Then a television show arranged for many of those children to get to thank Nicky in person.

The stories are told with illustrations in Peter Sis’s distinctive almost surreal style, full of symbolism, which adds emotional impact to the words.

After Nicky was thanked by the grown children he saved, the book ends (except the extended Author’s Note) with these words:

669 children would not have survived
if not for Nicky, who went to Prague and saved their lives.

I was not a hero, Nicky said.
I did not face any danger, as real heroes do.
I only saw what needed to be done.

A lovely and inspirational story.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Review of Cubs in the Tub, by Candace Fleming

Cubs in the Tub

The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper

by Candace Fleming
illustrations by Julie Downing

Neal Porter Books, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written August 19, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a completely charming picture book biography, packed full of pictures of baby animals. I dare you to read it without smiling!

Besides the pictures of baby animals, we get the story of Helen Martini, whose husband was a zookeeper for the Bronx Zoo. Helen very much wanted a baby, but they were childless – and then her husband brought home a baby lion whose mother had rejected it. Helen took tender loving and motherly care of the baby, whom she named MacArthur.

After MacArthur was sent to a zoo in another part of the country, there were three tiger cubs that needed care. When they got so big their home couldn’t hold them, Helen had to bring them back to the zoo. But they didn’t like being apart from her, and she didn’t like being apart from them. So she made a nursery at the zoo out of an old storeroom and spent the night with her tiger babies.

When the tigers outgrew even the zoo nursery, it wasn’t long before other animal babies needed care. And Helen got offered a job at a time when all zookeepers had been men.

This inspiring story is told in an entertaining way, with plenty of pictures of baby animals to warm your heart.

HolidayHouse.com

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

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Review of Alias Anna, by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson

Alias Anna

A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

by Susan Hood
with Greg Dawson

Harper, 2022. 339 pages.
Review written August 19, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

The only sad thing about this book telling a true story is that I’m afraid kids looking for a gripping historical novel in verse may not find it in the nonfiction section, but it would give them that reading experience.

This is the true story of Greg Dawson’s mother Zhanna and how she survived the Holocaust. He’s written the story for adults in his book Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy’s Story of Survival, 1941-1946. Susan Hood took the story and put it into poetry and language for children the same age as Zhanna was when World War II began to impact her life.

Zhanna and her younger sister Frina were child prodigy piano performers in Ukraine, already having performed on the radio and concert halls throughout their country before World War II hit.

First Stalin came, causing their family trouble, and then the Germans, causing even more trouble. Zhanna was 13 years old when her family was part of a death march — marched into the countryside, where thousands of Jews were gunned down. But on the march, her father bribed a guard, and Zhanna escaped.

However, her old town wasn’t safe, because she was famous for her performing, and her neighbors knew she was Jewish. She changed her name to Anna and got a new passport with the help of kind strangers. This book tells the saga as Anna and her sister ended up in a troupe performing for the Germans during the war, winding up in Berlin and traveling through the German countryside. They were used to build up the spirits of the German people, but this way of “hiding in the spotlight” saved their lives.

This is a story I might not have believed if it were fiction, as there were definitely coincidences along the way that saved her life.

Because of being poetry, this book reads quickly — but that’s also partly because it’s hard to stop turning pages as Zhanna is surrounded by danger all along the way.

This is one where you’re happy to be told at the beginning that this story is someone’s memories — you’re so glad to know right up front that she survived.

I hope kids who enjoy historical fiction will find this book, because it fits right in with other World War II novels, with maybe a few more coincidences and narrow escapes!

susanhoodbooks.com

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Review of Shaped by Her Hands, by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales

Shaped by Her Hands

Potter Maria Martinez

by Anna Harber Freeman and Barbara Gonzales
illustrated by Aphelandra

Albert Whitman and Company, 2021. 32 pages.
Review written April 14, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Shaped by Her Hands is a picture book biography of Maria Povika Martinez, a woman who carried on the tradition of Native American pottery and became famous for perfecting new techniques.

It begins her story as a girl in a pueblo among the Tewa people of San Ildefonso. She learned to make pottery from her aunt.

Aunt Nicolasa was happy to show Maria the centuries-old tradition of san-away. Together, they gathered clay and thanked Mother Earth for sharing with them.

Nicolasa showed Maria how to mix the clay with water and volcanic ash, and how to roll coils between her hands to build the pot’s walls.

As the two of them worked, Nicolasa told Maria about the importance of sharing clay knowledge. She wanted Maria to know how to make pots to store seeds and grains in, so their Tewa traditions would live on.

The book shows Maria growing up and marrying and coming back to the clay. She developed a new technique from an ancient sherd of black pottery an archaeologist showed her. She and her husband, who added decorations, created beautiful black-on-black pottery that was extremely popular.

And throughout her life, she always found it important to share what she knew.

When Julian died in 1943, Maria’s heart and pots felt empty without her husband and partner. But she had spent her whole life sharing clay with her family.

First, her children came to paint the designs.

Later, her grandchildren came to help with the painting and polishing.

They made pots as a family, remembering to thank Mother Earth, and teaching new hands to form, polish, and design.

A lovely and simple book about someone who made beautiful art and passed on the knowledge.

albertwhitman.com

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Review of Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens, by Hannah Shaw

Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens

by Hannah Shaw

Aladdin (Simon & Schuster), 2019. 56 pages.
Review written July 11, 2020, from a library book

A big thank-you for my co-worker Pam Coughlan for alerting me to this book. Reading it makes me sad we didn’t get to booktalk in the schools this year – because the many, many adorable photographs of little kittens that fill this book would make it an absolutely certain hit.

The book is written by the “Kitten Lady,” who fosters hundreds of kittens every year, getting them to a point where they can be adopted into a forever family.

Fostering is when you give temporary care to a homeless animal. Once the kittens are healthy and old enough, they go to a permanent home with a loving adopter, and then my house is empty so I can save even more kittens.

It’s like a revolving door of tiny tigers!

She goes on to talk about the care the kittens need and steps in their growth. It’s all loaded with photographs. I think my favorites are the ones of kittens learning to eat solid food. I had no idea that kittens could be just as messy as babies – more so, because instead of putting their hands in the food like babies, kittens put their feet in the food.

Of course, that was also the page that kept me from rushing out to foster a kitten myself. Be warned that if you expose your kids to this book, you should probably be prepared for them to want to start a new family activity of fostering kittens.

But if you just want an overload of cuteness, this book will do the trick.

KittenLady.org
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of Bake Infinite Pie with X + Y, by Eugenia Cheng, illustrated by Amber Ren

Bake Infinite Pie with X + Y

by Eugenia Cheng
illustrated by Amber Ren

Little, Brown and Company, 2022. 32 pages.
Review written July 13, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

My readers won’t be surprised that every time mathematician Eugenia Cheng writes a picture book, it delights my heart. I’ll list this under Children’s Nonfiction, because although it is a story, the emphasis is on the ideas.

This one tells of two kids, named X and Y, who are dreaming of infinite pie — X, pie that is infinitely wide, and Y, pie that is infinitely tall. They think of course that such pie isn’t real, but they ask their Aunt Z, who can create amazing things with her brain.

The book that follows explores infinity in many different ways, and all of them involve pie!

There are infinitely different ways you can make pie, and once it’s done, if you keep eating half your pie, it will last until infinity.

You can make a pie with infinite corners, cut pie crust infinite ways, and even make pastry with infinite layers.

I hope that gives you the idea of ways to explore infinity with pie — it’s all presented in a family setting with a fun aunt bending kids’ minds with tasty treats.

And there’s even a recipe for pie at the back! (After a spread that lays out mathematical ideas presented.) The recipe is for Banana Butterscotch Pie — and believe it or not, I couldn’t resist trying it out. (I hadn’t made a pie with crust in decades.) The pie was indeed delicious, but alas – the instructions didn’t specify how big your pie pan should be. I used a 9-inch one, and my pie was more of a tart — the filling only went about halfway up the pie crust. I think an 8-inch pie pan would do nicely. And it still tasted wonderful.

eugeniacheng.com
amber-ren.com
lbyr.com

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