Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Review of The Pig War, by Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Alison Jay

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

The Pig War

How a Porcine Tragedy Taught England and America to Share

by Emma Bland Smith
illustrated by Alison Jay

Calkins Creek (Boyds Mills & Kane), 2020. 28 pages.
Review written February 26, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

The Pig War is a delightful picture book about an actual skirmish between England and America over the fate of San Juan Island in 1859.

San Juan Island is an island off the coast of the Pacific northwest, whose ownership was not made clear in the Oregon Treaty between America and Britain. Both countries laid claim to it, and both countries had settlers.

One day in 1859, an American settler saw a pig rooting in his potato patch and shot it. The owner of the pig was British. He demanded an outrageous sum for the pig, and a dispute began. Soldiers and ships were called in, and the United States and England were on the brink of war.

This book turns the dispute into a folksy tale. It humorously shows how these things escalate, but also boasts the achievement of the two countries agreeing to share. In the Pig War, no one died except the pig.

I like this section where the book explains how things escalated:

Now, the two bosses, Harney and Douglas, may or may not have been cranky. We don’t know. But we do know that they were both – it must be said – on the hotheaded side. Harney promptly dispatched a company of sixty-four men, under the command of Captain George Pickett. The Americans must have sighed a breath of relief. Such a fearsome display of power would surely make the Brits back off.

Simple, right?
Not quite.

Because just two days later, a British ship, highly armed, commanded by Captain Geoffrey Hornby and loaded with several hundred men, steamed into the bay.

Oh, dear.
What started as a Pig Incident and turned into a Pig Argument was fast escalating into a Pig Situation.

There are detailed notes at the back, and you learn that you can visit the sites of the American Camp and the English Camp today.

These creators turn an unfortunate incident into a delightful story of cooperation and cool heads.

emmabsmith.com
calkinscreekbooks.com

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Review of Code Cracking for Kids, by Jean Daigneau

Thursday, March 25th, 2021

Code Cracking for Kids

Secret Communications Throughout History, with 21 Codes and Ciphers

by Jean Daigneau

Chicago Review Press, 2020. 129 pages.
Review written December 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a nice solid book on codes and ciphers for upper elementary through middle school kids. It’s got activities – the 21 codes and ciphers from the subtitle – but it’s also heavy on the history of how secret communication has developed, all the way up to talking about how cryptography works today and how important it is in computer applications.

The library got three new books on codes at the same time, and together they make a nice picture of how kids can use codes but also how the world around us uses them. This one doesn’t have any cartoon illustrations, but uses historical photographs, so it’s got a less playful approach, while still full of ideas for how kids can try out what they’re learning.

In fact, the first activity this author suggests is making a cryptologist’s kit – assembling materials used in making and breaking codes into a backpack. As more activities are presented, they usually suggest something to go into your cryptologist’s kit.

The codes and ciphers presented here are rooted in history. They begin with spies and the codes they used, as well as thinking of other languages and writing systems as a kind of code. Some of the historical items the reader gets to make are an Alberti Cipher Disk, invisible ink, a Jefferson Cipher Wheel, a message hidden inside an eggshell, a St. Cyr Slide Cipher, semaphore flags, and a secret book compartment.

When I was in junior high, I’d read about the tap code used by American POWs in Vietnam and used it to send messages with my friends. This is the first book I’ve seen that includes that cipher. In general, this one has more to say about codes in the present day than the other books I’ve read for kids.

There’s a lot of good information here, and lots of ideas that interested kids can take much further.

chicagoreviewpress.com
ipgbook.com

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Review of All Thirteen, by Christina Soontornvat

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

All Thirteen

The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team

by Christina Soontornvat

Candlewick Press, 2020. 280 pages.
Review written March 1, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2021 John Newbery Honor Book
2021 Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
2021 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist
2021 Orbis Pictus Award Honor Book

Wow! I had checked this book out but had decided not to read it, because it’s long, and I thought learning about an incident faraway on the other side of the world wasn’t all that compelling. I’m so glad that watching it win Honor after Honor at the Youth Media Awards – including Newbery Honor, which is rare for nonfiction – convinced me that I was mistaken and should take another look. And author Christina Soontornvat won an incredible two Newbery Honors in the same year, also getting one for her novel A Wish in the Dark.

I was so glad I did. Christina Soontornvat tells the complete story of the thirteen boys on the Thai soccer team who got trapped in a cave and had the whole nation, even the world, rally round to save them. Having read the book, I now understand how they got trapped – the treacherous geology that brought rainwater suddenly and unexpectedly into the cave. I also understand what an incredibly difficult task it was to rescue them – the people in charge honestly thought five to eight of the boys would die.

What I remembered about the news event was that one rescuer – a Thai Navy SEAL – did die in the rescue process. I now understand why cave diving is so much more treacherous than open sea diving and how that could have happened, even to an expert diver.

The author was visiting family in Thailand when the boys got trapped, so she was able to express and understand what the people there were thinking and feeling about the rescue, and how hundreds of people pitched in to help without pay.

It was an international team that saved the boys, including American Navy SEALS and British cave divers. But the author tells about the many Thai people that were involved, including those who worked to divert streams flowing into the cave and drain water coming out of the cave, which was also crucial to making the rescue possible.

Believe it or not, I was so taken up with this story, I dreamed about it one night when I was in the middle of the book!

This book is long, with lots of text, but the text is broken up with photographs or charts or sidebars on almost every spread. This is more for middle school or high school readers than younger kids, but whoever picks it up, once you start reading, you’re going to be drawn in.

candlewick.com

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Review of Unspeakable, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Unspeakable

The Tulsa Race Massacre

by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Carolrhoda Books, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written February 23, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book tells about the Tulsa Race Massacre simply, in a way that will haunt you.

The book begins with pictures and text about the prospering and thriving Black community in Greenwood, Oklahoma. We see the train tracks between the Black and white communities in Tulsa, and hear about all the businesses in Greenwood, some the largest Black-owned in the nation. The business district was called Black Wall Street.

Each section starts with “Once upon a time in Greenwood…” and we hear of all the thriving businesses and opportunities and see pictures of happy people enjoying them.

There were also several libraries, a hospital,
a post office, and a separate school system,
where some say Black children
got a better education than whites.

Another page shows the “grand homes of doctors, lawyers, and prominent businessmen.”

A little past the halfway point in the book is a turning point in the story, on a page mostly dark:

But in 1921, not everyone in Tulsa was pleased
with these signs of Black wealth – undeniable proof
that African Americans could achieve
just as much, if not more than, whites.

All it took was one elevator ride,
one seventeen-year-old white elevator operator
accusing a nineteen-year-old Black shoeshine man
of assault for simmering hatred to boil over.

The accused man was put in jail, and the white-owned newspaper urged readers to “nab” him.

There was a confrontation on May 31, 1921 of two thousand armed whites with thirty armed Black men trying to protect the accused. That was the beginning.

But then the mob turned on the rest of Greenwood and burned homes and businesses. They blocked firefighters from putting out the fires.

These pages don’t show pretty scenes.

Once upon a time in Greenwood,

up to three hundred Black people,
including Dr. Jackson, were killed.

Hundreds more were injured.
More than eight thousand people

were left homeless.
And hundreds of businesses

and other establishments
were reduced to ash.

After details about the massacre, the story part ends with Tulsa’s Reconciliation Park as it exists today.

There are detailed notes at the back and endpapers with a photograph of the devastated and desolate community – all the more hard-hitting after seeing the pictures of the community when it was thriving.

This is a sad story I only heard about last summer. It’s a story that Americans should know, and this book presents the difficult truth in a way that children can grasp.

lernerbooks.com

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Review of A Sporting Chance, by Lori Alexander, illustrated by Allan Drummond

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

A Sporting Chance

How Ludwig Guttmann Created the Paralympic Games

by Lori Alexander
illustrated by Allan Drummond

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 114 pages.
Review written January 13, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This nonfiction book for upper elementary and middle school students hits the sweet spot of children’s nonfiction. It’s got lots of information about a fascinating high-interest topic and it mixes plenty of engaging illustrations with historical photographs that surprise the reader.

The introductory chapter is about an English soldier who was paralyzed during World War II at a time when such people were put in a full-body cast and declared “incurable.” Then it goes on to tell about Ludwig Guttmann, who changed all that.

Ludwig Guttmann was Jewish, born in Germany in 1899. He escaped two world wars – the first one because he had an infection on his neck and the second one after he had been removed from his position in a hospital and finally realized that it was dangerous to stay in Germany. However, before he left Germany, the book follows his interest and expertise learning about caring for paraplegics.

In Great Britain, at first Ludwig wasn’t trusted to care for patients, so he did research. That research helped him when he got a chance to run a hospital for paraplegics after the war was over. He refused to see them as incurable and had far better records of successful healing than anywhere else in the world.

But it was the patients who first started playing team sports with one another, starting a spontaneous game of wheelchair polo. Ludwig saw how much it lifted their spirits as well as strengthening their bodies, and encouraged it as competition. Then they began inviting other hospitals to contribute teams, and then other countries. Eventually, it became affiliated with the Olympic games and the Paralympic games were born.

This book does a great job of telling about Ludwig but also about the amazing difference he made in the lives of disabled people.

The last chapter features six athletes from different parts of the world with different disabilities who have competed and won in different sports at the Paralympic Games.

This book is both inspiring and fascinating. All the photos and illustrations make it a quick and satisfying reading experience.

lorialexanderbooks.com
allandrummond.com
hmhbooks.com

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Review of Child of St. Kilda, by Beth Waters

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

Child of St. Kilda

by Beth Waters

Child’s Play, 2019. 72 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Here’s a lovely picture book for older elementary school readers. It tells about the remote island community of St. Kilda in northern Scotland. Conditions there were rugged and harsh, and the last settlers left the islands in 1930, after they had been inhabited for at least 4,000 years.

The story is told from the perspective of Norman John Gillies, who was born on the island of Hirta in St. Kilda in 1925. It tells what life was like on the islands as he knew it, and then how his life changed when the entire community moved away. Norman John was the last person alive who had lived on St. Kilda.

The book gives us painting of the wildlife and landscapes of the islands and tells about their rugged way of life. Some of the animals there aren’t found anywhere else in the world, because of how remote the islands are.

It tells about the community there and how they’d be cut off from the mainland for weeks at a time. They didn’t use money and paid rent in feathers, oil, and tweed. They worked together on various tasks for making food and clothing.

Here’s a story that came with a striking picture of the cliffs:

Between the months of March and November, collecting birds and eggs was the main activity.

The men climbed down the steep cliffs, using nothing but a simple handmade rope tied round their waist. They caught birds with a snare and also collected their eggs. Climbing barefoot gave a better grip, but it was still very dangerous work. It is said that the ankles of St Kildan men were much thicker than those of people from the mainland and their toes were much further apart.

The boys started climbing at about 10 years old, which must have been very scary! Norman John’s uncle, Finlay MacQueen, was the best climber of his day.

They would divide the catch among the whole community.

The book tells about school, church, and some interesting mail traditions.

But it was in the 1900s, when visitors began coming to the islands, that things began to change. As with other populations that met Europeans, the islanders didn’t have immunity to diseases that the visitors exposed them to, so many people died of illness. There was also the problem of young people deciding to move away where it wasn’t so hard to make a living. Some more disasters hit, and eventually, in 1930, when Norman John was five years old, the islanders were evacuated.

This book tells a story that’s fascinating and unusual. It does a good job of explaining why the people had to leave, while at the same time showing beautiful things about the rugged life on the islands. And it tells about Norman John’s years growing up on the mainland, happily remembering St Kilda.

childs-play.com

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Review of Martin Rising, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, paintings by Brian Pinkney

Sunday, December 6th, 2020

Martin Rising

Requiem for a King

by Andrea Davis Pinkney
paintings by Brian Pinkney

Scholastic Press, January 2018. 128 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I’m writing this review on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in 2018. It’s a shame I can’t post it today, but I have to remain silent online about any 2018 children’s books until after we announce our Newbery winners.

This book is poetry combined with art, telling about the events that happened 50 years ago in 1968, the last months of Martin’s life.

I have to confess I’m not the best audience for unrhymed poetry. I haven’t spoken with anyone else yet about this book, and I have a feeling that when I do, others will be able to point out details of the craft that went right by me.

But what we have here is history in the form of poetry. There is symbolism – a progression from daylight to darkness to dawn. Some more symbolism that even I could catch was in a poem about forcing forsythia to bloom where that’s compared with forcing garbage collectors in Tennessee to do degrading work in harsh conditions. March is said to come in like a lion – but no progress is made, and it leaves much more quietly.

And the event that sparks the chain of events in this book was the death of two sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee, and the protests that sparked. There are lots of facts here – you’ll learn about what happened, along with the dignity and nobility of those who protested.

(I’m now going to pause and reread the book as a fitting way of celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday.)

Here are some good bits:

In the poem “Come: February 24, 1968”:

But, Lord,
even with your handiwork
hard at work,
it is hard, hard work
not to strike back violently,
especially when you’re striking.

In the poem “Roar! March 11, 1968”:

These strikers have volunteered for
peaceful protest.

When the police handcuff
and shove them,
and choke hold their hope,
and cart them away,
these men and women,
and girls and boys
who have volunteered
for self-dignity,
will not
enter jail
in the same way
March
enters the calendar.

These strong, quiet
strikers,
and all who stand by them
refuse to Roar.

Going out like lambs,
they are ignored.

From the final poem, “Rejoice the Legacy: January 15 – Martin Luther King Day – Forever”:

And so, today, though his candles stopped
at thirty-nine,
we celebrate Martin’s exquisite life.

His sparkling-eyed vision
of tomorrow’s promise.
His destiny.
His dream.

How he led us to the mountaintop
on the path of light, love, and truth.
He didn’t get there with us.
But he showed us the way.

So that’s this book – a poetic tribute to Martin Luther King’s life and the story of his final months. I love the suggestion in the author’s note at the back to perform these as a group reading or as a classroom play. It is all too easy to rush through these poems. I’m pretty sure that the harder I look at them, the more riches I’ll find.

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

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Review of The Grand Escape, by Neal Bascomb

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

The Grand Escape

The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century

by Neal Bascomb

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2018. 275 pages.
Starred Review
Review written October 27, 2018, from my own copy, sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

This nonfiction book reads like a thriller. It covers a breakout from a prisoner of war camp in Germany during World War I.

The book gives us background first about how the war was going, and we meet several individuals important in planning the escape. Most of them had some earlier attempts at escape.

One particularly heart-wrenching attempt was a guy who almost made it to the border – and then he saw a town that matched the name of the Dutch town on his map. Well, it turned out there were two towns with the same name on either side of the border. He was in the German town, and got taken back to camp.

The grand escape of the title happened from Holzminden Camp and involved digging a long tunnel. It was a long, involved process, and we learn all about it in this book.

Usually I read nonfiction slowly, a chapter at a time, and break it up with fiction books in between. But this book was mesmerizing. I wanted to know how they would pull it off and which of these men would make it.

IReadYA.com
arthuralevinebooks.com

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Review of The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power

Friday, September 11th, 2020

The Women of the 116th Congress

Portraits of Power

Foreword by Roxane Gay

Portraits by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman

Abrams Image, 2019. 208 pages.
Review written September 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely book that fills my heart with pride in our nation. It consists of 130 portraits of the 131 women (one was not available) serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States of America after the 2018 elections.

The portraits are presented alphabetically by the state each woman represents. A list of firsts that woman has achieved are presented, many of them being the first woman from their state or their district in the House or the Senate, or the first woman of their ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation. And there’s a paragraph quote from each woman talking about what it means to them to serve in the United States Congress.

Throughout the book, there are short interruptions with spreads about historic women who paved the way for these ones, such as Jeannette Pickering Rankin: “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” Or Shirley Anita Chisholm: “In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.”

I never thought of it as an important cause to elect more women to Congress – until I looked through this book and it made me so happy and proud. I love to think that the day will come when we can look back on the 116th Congress and think how relatively few women they included back then.

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Review of The Eye That Never Sleeps, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

The Eye That Never Sleeps

How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln

by Marissa Moss
illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018. 48 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 7, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

This picture book biography is a fun and entertaining – while factual – story of how the detective Allan Pinkerton became a detective and ended up saving President Lincoln and founding the Secret Service.

The illustrator gave the pages the look of the time but with contemporary colors. Pinkerton fled Scotland on his wedding day, and this story is told with the pictures as well as the text. The Pinkerton agency eventually became known as “the eye that never sleeps,” and Pinkerton’s eyes – and the direction of his vision – are highlighted in orange throughout the book.

The complete package of words and pictures here keeps you turning pages, with the illustrations including panels that almost give the book a graphic novel feel.

Pinkerton did keep Lincoln safe after uncovering a plot to assassinate him when he was first elected. They used a decoy and sent him to Washington by a different route. The book also includes how Pinkerton became a detective and how he was the reason the term “private eye” was coined.

A fun and suspenseful story that’s also true.

abramsyoungreaders.com

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

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