Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Review of Becoming, by Michelle Obama

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Becoming

by Michelle Obama
read by the author

Review written March 22, 2019, from a library audiobook plus my own print copy preordered via Amazon.com
Random House Audio, 2018. 19 hours on 16 CDs.
Starred Review

I got to hear Michelle Obama speak about this book last June at ALA Annual Conference and got excited enough to preorder the book from Amazon.com. But since it came when my Newbery reading was heating up, I decided to listen to the audiobook from the library. However, I had to stop in the middle before my trip to Seattle to choose the Newbery winner, and there was a long wait to get the audiobook again. I ended up reading part of the book in print, then listening to that part again. She is a slow and deliberate reader, so the book is extra long in audio format. But I like her so much, I was happy to hear her voice, and it was worth taking the time to listen.

As for the book – I loved every bit of it. This will be no surprise, since I already love the Obamas. Listening to the book now, with such a contrast between them and the current occupant of the White House – it makes you sad. Yet it’s good to remember that past presidents were there to serve the country. I believe it can happen again.

Part of what I loved about this book was that Michelle Obama was born the same year I was. And both of us skipped a year of school, so she graduated from high school the same year I did, too. Our lives were not terribly similar, but there are some little details about life in the 60s and 70s that felt so familiar to me. I also think that our personalities are quite similar – detail-oriented and trying to control things and achieving in school for starters. So I enjoyed reading about her growing-up years almost the most of all. Felt like I had a sister in spirit. I already knew a lot about her political years – but hearing about her childhood was extra charming to me.

And she’s a good writer. The story of her romance is told as effectively as a good romance novel. I had to turn in the audiobook when I’d gotten to where they’d just had their first kiss and was super frustrated to have to wait to hear more. Of course, it helps that I already have a crush on her husband!

Yes, this book paints her husband’s politics in a good light, so those who already despise the Obamas probably won’t like it. But if you can tolerate that, this book presents a window on American life. Michelle Obama presents herself as an ordinary person who was blessed with some fantastic opportunities, and she wants to pass on some of that good fortune to others and help young people from modest backgrounds aspire to much more.

I liked hearing about all the young people the Obamas brought to the White House with several different programs, to encourage them and give them a boost. Truly they were there to serve.

In her Epilogue, Michelle shows that she’s still living with optimism, one of her most important values. Even though this book made me discouraged for how things have gone since the Obamas left office, her optimism is contagious. America will continue to make progress. After reading this book, I can believe it again.

Here are her final thoughts in this book:

I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. I’ve been lucky enough to get to walk into stone castles, urban classrooms, and Iowa kitchens, just trying to be myself, just trying to connect. For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.

becomingmichelleobama.com
crownpublishing.com
penguinrandomhouseaudio.com

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

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Review of The Boo-Boos That Changed the World, by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Chris Hsu

Saturday, March 9th, 2019

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World

A True Story about an Accidental Invention (Really!)

by Barry Wittenstein
illustrated by Chris Hsu

Charlesbridge, 2018. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 5, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a fun picture book that tells about the invention of Band-Aids.

It turns out they were invented by a guy named Earle Dickson who worked for a hospital supply company and whose father was a doctor. But that wasn’t enough. The reason he invented Band-Aids was that he had an accident-prone wife.

When Earle’s wife Josephine cut her fingers, it was hard to wrap the wounds in a way so that she could still use her hands. So Earle thought of attaching a piece of sterile gauze to adhesive tape. Then she could easily tape a strip over her cuts and scrapes.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. They still needed to manufacture the new adhesive bandages and then convince people to buy them.

At first, they sold them in big rolls, and you had to cut off a piece before you could put it on a cut. They were also difficult to manufacture. Even when they got the idea of individually-wrapped bandages, it still took time to catch on.

In fact, it was giving free samples to Boy Scouts and the military fighting overseas during World War II that made Band-Aids a household necessity.

I like the way this picture book looks at the entire process of a relatively simple invention and explains how it was developed in a way that children can understand.

I’m planning to booktalk this book in the elementary schools this summer. It has the hook of being a fun story about something everyone has used, and it also teaches what goes into making an invention popular.

onedogwoof.com
chrishsu.net
charlesbridge.com

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

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Review of The Stuff of Stars, by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

The Stuff of Stars

by Marion Dane Bauer
illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Candlewick Press, 2018. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 25, 2018, from a library book
2019 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#2 General Picture Books

The Stuff of Stars is a gorgeous and glorious book.

The book is an extra large square, so it’s got a weighty presence. All the pages use marbled papers in swirly patterns. The front cover has the title in gold-sparkled lettering like star clusters.

Here’s how the book begins, on black paper with other dark swirled colors and one white dot:

In the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark,
a speck floated,
invisible as thought,
weighty as God.
There was yet no time,
there was yet no space.
No up,
no down,
no edge,
no center.

It goes on to poetically talk about the Big Bang on the third spread. And slowly how the stars and worlds formed. Christians, there’s plenty of room to explain to your child that God’s responsible for that Big Bang.

I like when it talks about what isn’t there yet:

And throughout the cosmos
stars caught fire.
Trillions of stars,
but still no planets
to attend those stars.
And if no planets,
then no oceans,
no mountains,
no hippopotami.
No violets blooming
in a shady wood,
no crickets singing
to the night.
No day,
no night.

Next, planets are formed, and even Earth, “one lucky planet, a fragile blue ball.” And it talks about the creatures that were formed on earth, from mitochondria to sharks, daisies, and galloping horses.

And then there’s a shift of gears:

Then one day . . .
in the dark,
in the dark,
in the deep, deep dark,
another speck floated,
invisible as dreams,
special as Love.

Waiting,
waiting,
dividing,
changing,
growing.
Until at last,
YOU burst into the world.

And it builds to the cozy image of two people cuddling together, the same as on the cover.

The random list of earth’s creatures combined with the glorious swirling images is a perfect pairing.

You
and the velvet moss,
the caterpillars,
the lions.

You and the singing whales,
the larks,
the frogs.

You,
and me
loving you.
All of us
the stuff of stars.

A marvelous and wondrous book.

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.

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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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 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 Ten Days a Madwoman, by Deborah Noyes

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Ten Days a Madwoman

The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter Nellie Bly

by Deborah Noyes

Viking, 2016. 136 pages.
Review written in 2016 from a library book.

Despite the title, this is a complete biography of Nellie Bly for middle grade readers. The episode where she infiltrated an insane asylum for ten days is the way she launched her career in stunt journalism.

Sidebars that take up an entire spread are common, and there are plenty of illustrations and photographs from the time period, so there’s lots of variety in this account.

Nellie Bly, then Elizabeth Jane “Pink” Cochran, came to New York without money, planning to get hired by a newspaper. When that didn’t happen, she decided to write an article for her hometown paper, the Pittsburgh Dispatch answering the question if women reporters could get hired in New York. She interviewed the heads of the six major newspapers — and thus introduced herself to them.

Here’s the beginning of Chapter 2:

One fateful day in September, about four months into her New York adventure, Nellie — who was already nearly broke — found that her purse had gone missing, along with the last of her savings.

In the months and years to come, she would circle the globe, marry a millionaire and be widowed, take over his manufacturing empire, and become an influential businesswoman. But for now, Nellie Bly, who came to New York in search of “new worlds to conquer,” was penniless. She was also too proud to give up. “Indeed,” she wrote later, “I cannot say the thought ever presented itself to me, for I never in my life turned back from a course I had started upon.”

That was when she went to the office of the New York World, talked her way in, and proposed to the editor that she would sail to Europe and return in steerage to expose the horrible conditions.

The newspaper didn’t accept that idea, but they proposed another. Could Nellie get herself admitted to the insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island to report conditions there? If she could get herself in, the newspaper promised to get her out again.

This story — as hinted in the title — is the one the book gives in the most detail. It was frighteningly easy for Nellie to get herself admitted. Once there, she dropped the pretense of being insane — but was completely unable to talk herself out of the asylum. Conditions were horrible and the staff were abusive. Fortunately, the newspaper did get her out after ten days, and then Nellie exposed it all.

This gave her fame, and even opened up the field to more women and “stunt journalism.” Another adventure was when she went around the world in 72 days. She met Jules Verne along the way, since it was his book that had inspired the adventure.

This book is accessible to middle grade readers with its short chapters broken up by interesting sidebars, ample illustrations, and truly surprising stories. Nellie Bly had an amazing life, even when women were expected to keep quiet and do as they were told.

deborahnoyes.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 How to Build a Museum, by Tonya Bolden

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

How to Build a Museum

Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

by Tonya Bolden

Smithsonian (Viking), 2016. 60 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a beautiful book, published just in time to hit the gift shop of the National Museum of African American History. Here’s the complete Preface, which gives you an idea what to expect:

A museum is a treasure trove of things. Things lost then found. Things perennially prized. Objects once deemed worthless.

Whatever a museum collects – paintings, pottery, or playthings – its aim is the same: to safeguard remnants of history and culture that inspire, enlighten, and kindle the curiosity of the children and adults who come through its doors, generation after generation.

Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is a treasure trove of paintings, photographs, posters, playbills, pottery, documents, dolls, diaries, books, balls, bells, benches, medals, medallions, and more: objects that deepen our understanding of the black experience in America and so strengthen our grasp of American history.

This is the story of how that magnificent and monumental museum got built.

The first half of the book indeed describes how the museum came to be. The dream actually took shape 100 years ago, but only recently became an actual plan. Then the book tells about that planning process, including choosing a location – the last available space on the National Mall – and designing the building.

The second half of the book talks about the collections contained in the museum and their significance.

What makes this book wonderful is the abundance of photos – first of the building process, then of many items contained in the museum (and in some cases pictures showing how they got into the museum).

Reading this book has made me eager to visit the new museum, which opened only a few weeks ago. And now I have a better grasp of what I will see. This book is a nice overview for children’s and adults. It tells all that goes into building a museum as well as what you should look for in the finished museum.

tonyaboldenbooks.com
nmaahc.si.edu
www.penguin.com/youngreaders

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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 Hello World, by Jonathan Litton

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Hello World

A Celebration of Languages and Curiosities

by Jonathan Litton
illustrated by L’Atelier Cartographik

360 Degrees, Wilton, CT, 2016. 16 pages.

Wow! I’m not sure how long this book will hold up in the library, but it would be a wonderful book to own. Mainly, this book consists of how to say Hello in many, many languages all over the world.

The method used is large maps of the continents, with speech bubbles showing how to say “Hello” in different languages, pinpointed by location. The words are printed on flaps. When you lift the flap, you get a phonetic pronunciation and the number of speakers of that language in that country. Other language facts are listed throughout the book.

The pages are made of sturdy cardboard, so it’s made to take some tough usage – but, well, lift-the-flap books in the library are generally doomed to suffer from overenthusiastic usage. Once enough flaps are ripped off, this book won’t be as useful. (Reserve it quickly, while our library’s copies are still new!) But this would be a book worth owning and poring over.

I can imagine a child who enjoys highly detailed illustrations getting a lot of joy out of this book – at least as much joy as finding Waldo! And if you could then take that child to where some other languages are spoken, they would have an excited appreciation of being able to say Hello.

This is a lovely idea, and it’s carried out beautifully. May the flaps endure through many, many check-outs!

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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 Drowned City, by Don Brown

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Drowned City

Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans

by Don Brown

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 96 pages.
2016 Sibert Honor

Nonfiction in comic book form is an idea whose time has come. What could be more memorable? Do you want to teach history in a way kids will pay attention, absorb, and understand? In fact, speaking for myself, this is a way adults can read it and absorb much more information than reading regular text.

Now, the story of Hurricane Katrina is not a pleasant story at all. This feels more hard-hitting than The Great American Dust Bowl, since the people involved, including those who bungled the response, are still alive. Though both stories are horrific. And the reader can understand that better with the graphic illustrations.

Don Brown uses a variety of panel arrangements and colors to keep interest high. Leafing through the pages, you get a sense of action.

The book does end on a hopeful note. The last spread is a picture of new construction. The text on the last page says:

One ruined neighborhood, the lower ninth ward, is overgrown with plants and weeds and has just 15 percent of the population it had before Katrina. But new houses are going up, built atop deeply driven piles, giving them firm roots to stop them from floating away during the next Katrina. The man setting the piles is a “born and raised” New Orleanian.

“We’re coming back. This is home. This is life.”

hmhco.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 The Hour of Land, by Terry Tempest Williams

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

The Hour of Land

A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks

by Terry Tempest Williams

Sarah Crichton Books (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 2016. 389 pages.
Starred Review

I got to hear Terry Tempest Williams speak about this book at an ALA conference before it was published and got a chapbook of the first chapter, so I was watching eagerly for it to come out. However, it still took me a long time to get it read. I tend to read nonfiction slowly, a chapter at a time, and this one continued to be on hold at the library, so I couldn’t just renew it and keep going. I finally buckled down to finish and was even more impressed than I expected to be.

I expected a lot of meditations on the beauty of our National Parks, but what I found is a lot more than that. There is much information about their history, and yes, about the wildlife and landscape, but there’s also a great deal about current concerns, such as oil companies taking over the land all around a national park and creating environmental devastation inside the park. Or the devastation wrought by an oil spill on a national park on the coast. Since this was written before the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, it was hard to read about the challenges and be pretty certain that things aren’t getting better.

Here are some things Terry Tempest Williams has to say in the introductory chapter.

In my wanderings among these dozen national parks, my intention was to create portraits of unexpected beauty and complexity. I thought it would be a straightforward and exuberant project, focusing on the protection of public lands, as I have done through most of my life. But, in truth, it has been among the most rigorous assignments I have ever given myself because I was writing out of my limitations. I am not a historian or a scientist or an employee of a federal land agency privy to public land policy and law. My authority is simply that of a storyteller who lives in the American West in love with this country called home.

I have been inspired by the photographs and people included in this book. I have learned that there is no such thing as one portrait or one story, only the knowledge of our own experience shared. I no longer see America’s parks as “our best idea,” but our evolving idea; I see our national parks as our ongoing struggle as a diverse people to create circles of reverence in a time of collective cynicism where we are wary of being moved by anything but our own clever perspective.

“The purpose of life is to see,” the writer Jack Turner said to me on a late summer walk at the base of the Tetons. I understand this to be a matter of paying attention. The nature of our national parks is bound to the nature of our own humility, our capacity to stay open and curious in a world that instead beckons closure through fear. For me, humility begins as a deep recognition of all I do not know. This understanding doesn’t stop me, it inspires me to ask questions, to look more closely, feel more fully the character of the place where I am. And so with this particular book, I have sought to listen to both the inner and the outer landscapes that spoke to me, to not hide behind metaphor or lyricism as I have in the past, but to simply share the stories that emerged in each park encountered.

At a time when it feels like we are a nation divided, I am interested in how a sense of place can evolve toward an ethic of place, especially within our national parks….

This is the Hour of Land, when our mistakes and shortcomings must be placed in the perspective of time. The Hour of Land is where we remember what we have forgotten: We are not the only species who lives and dreams on the planet. There is something enduring that circulates in the heart of nature that deserves our respect and attention.

The national parks she explores in this book are Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, Acadia National Park in Maine, Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa, Big Bend National Park in Texas, Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, Alcatraz Island and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California, Glacier National Park in Montana, and César E. Chavez National Monument in California.

What she discovered in these parks is fascinating and surprising and thought-provoking. This book is a treasure and a challenge.

fsgbooks.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?