Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Review of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story, by Caren Stilson

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

Sachiko

A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story

by Caren Stilson

Carolrhoda Books, 2016. 144 pages.
Starred Review
2016 National Book Award Longlist
2017 Sibert Honor Book
2016 Cybils Award, Middle Grade Nonfiction
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #7 Children’s Nonfiction

This book is what the title says it is: The story of a survivor of the Nagasaki atom bomb.

Sachiko Yasui was six years old when the bomb fell on her city. The book first sets the stage, briefly explaining how the war was going and American attitudes toward the Japanese at the time. Throughout the book, background information is inserted with spreads on darker-colored pages, so it’s clear they are background. But we’re given a detailed, hour-by-hour account of what happened in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Of course Sachiko and her family lost their home. But one by one, she also lost all her family members.

The first to die was her two-year-old brother, who had a wooden stick go through his head in the initial blast. All of the girls Sachiko was playing with at the moment the bomb went off also died. Her other two brothers took longer to die of radiation sickness.

Fortunately, Sachiko had her parents to take her out of the city and to help her survive and to put her in school. Though years later, it was cancer that took their lives, a result of the radiation from the bomb.

Sachiko herself suffered from radiation sickness and was bullied in her new school because she lost her hair and had scaly skin. I do like the way the author weaves in stories of those who inspired Sachiko: Her father revered the teachings of Gandhi; Sachiko got to see Helen Keller when she visited Japan; and she was impressed by the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was a long time before Sachiko was ready to tell her story, but since 1995, she has traveled around the world, especially speaking to students, and promoting peace.

Sachiko also tells young people that, as she was inspired by Helen Keller, she hopes to inspire them. “I’ll try to speak about how strong you can be as a human being when you encounter difficulties in the future.”

This book is illustrated with plenty of photographs and presents a powerful and important story, in a way that young people can understand and that will move anyone’s heart.

May her words be true: “What happened to me must never happen to you.”

hibakushastories.org
lernerbooks.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 A Poem for Peter, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

A Poem for Peter

The Story of EZRA JACK KEATS and the Creation of THE SNOWY DAY

by Andrea Davis Pinkney

pictures by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Viking, 2016. 52 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Nonfiction

This is a picture book biography — in poetry form. And the narrative poem is written addressing Peter, the hero of the classic picture book The Snowy Day.

We’ve got all the details of Ezra Jack Keats’ life. His parents were immigrants from Poland, and he grew up in Brooklyn, knowing about poverty and discrimination. Even as a child, he wanted to be an artist, and his father found ways to get him paints. There are a couple of special pages when he discovered the Brooklyn Public Library.

It tells about the art scholarship he won and had to give up when his father died of a heart attack, then about his struggles finding work during the Depression — eventually getting to work as an artist with the Works Progress Administration. Then he served in World War II, but after the war had to change his name from Jacob Ezra Katz to sound less Jewish in order to get work.

When Ezra started writing and illustrating picture books, he’d noticed there weren’t many picture book scenes like those in his Brooklyn neighborhood, nor many children who looked like his neighbors.

I especially like the pages when Peter is created and the book is born.

Peter, child,
you brought your stick.
Yes, you did.
Smack-smacked at a tree.
Some say you were whacking
at ice-packed intolerance,
shaking it loose from narrow-
minded branches.

When prejudice fell,
you rolled it, packed it,
put its snowball in your pocket
of possibility,
where it melted away.

Peter and Ezra,
you made a great team.
Together you brought a snowstorm
of dreams.
A blizzard of imagination.
Flurries of fun!

And soon readers called for
more of where are you?
And between you two,
the one-of-a-kind snowflakes
kept falling.
Onto sweet pages
of brown-sugar good.

More neighborhood friends.
More books with kids who
answered where are you?
with here we are!

The art is lovely as well, with many images of Peter straight out of Ezra Jack Keats’ work and lovely snowflake pictures, as well as a variety of images illustrating Ezra’s life.

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 Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

Friday, October 28th, 2016

some_writer_largeSome Writer!

The Story of E. B. White

by Melissa Sweet

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. 161 pages.
Starred Review

This book is amazing. I’ve seen Melissa Sweet do picture book biographies, such as Balloons Over Broadway and illustrations as in A River of Words. But this is a full-length children’s biography with 161 pages, with illustrations or photographs or clippings or maps or mementoes or other visual aids on every spread.

I’ve read a biography of E. B. White for adults. While it did include much more detail, this book was far more entertaining. The visual material includes many quotations from E. B. White’s work, typed out on a manual typewriter.

I was particularly impressed with the map Melissa Sweet made of E. B. White’s (Andy’s) trip across the country in a Model T with his friend Cush in 1922. She painted a map of the United States on wood. There’s a zigzagging trail with numbers and little mementoes attached to the numbers. A Legend on the side explains what each memento represents. For example, number 5 is a piece of sandpaper, and the Legend reads, “Sandpapered a dance floor earning $3.00.”

As a children’s biography, this book does linger over his childhood. He spent lots of time outdoors, but was also writing at a young age, submitting pieces to St. Nicholas. A picture of the magazine and an article clipping is included.

His time at The New Yorker is covered, and his move to Maine. There are all kinds of mementoes illustrating these. One of the pages has at the top a quotation from The Letters of E. B. White:

I have discovered, rather too late in life, that there is nothing so much fun as building a boat. The best thing about building a boat is that it allows absolutely no time for writing; there isn’t a minute to spare.

Below the quotation is a page from a book describing how to build a boat, complete with diagrams. The page also shows some old tools he would have used. Across the page in the main text, we learn that Andy built his son a boat after they moved to Maine.

There’s a chapter on each of Andy’s children’s books and a chapter on The Elements of Style. The chapter on The Elements of Style surprised me. Melissa Sweet takes quotations from three award-winning children’s authors telling their favorite parts of The Elements of Style.

Here’s a paragraph from the final chapter:

His obituary in The New Yorker read, in part, “White had abundantly that most precious and least learnable of writerly gifts – the gift of inspiring affection in the reader.” Whether he was working on a poem, a cartoon caption, an essay, or a children’s book, E. B. White felt it was a writer’s obligation “to transmit, as best he can, his love of life, his appreciation for the world.” His friend and editor William Shawn said: “Even though White lived much of his life on a farm in Maine, remote from the clatter of publicity and celebrity, fame overtook him, fortunately leaving him untouched. His connections with nature were intimate and ardent. He loved his farm, his farm animals, his neighbors, his family and words.”

I can’t overstate how thoroughly and meticulously this book is crafted. Melissa Sweet follows E. B. White’s advice and wastes no words or images. The complete package is stunning.

There’s an Afterword by E. B. White’s granddaughter, but there’s also an Author’s Note. In “About the Art,” Melissa Sweet tells us:

I set out to capture two things as I began the art for this book: the sense of place in White’s writing and the small, vivid details he describes.

She achieved this goal beautifully.

melissasweet.net
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 I Dissent, by Debbie Levy, illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

i_dissent_largeI Dissent

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark

by Debbie Levy
illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a picture book biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The story is simplified for young readers (I’d say middle to upper elementary), but strikingly told.

The introductory page uses large dramatic fonts to express not being afraid to disagree:

You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been . . .
one disagreement after another.

Disagreement with creaky old ideas.
With unfairness.
With inequality.
Ruth has disagreed,
disapproved,
and differed.

She has objected.
She has resisted.
She has dissented.

Disagreeable? No.
Determined? Yes.

This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life – and ours.

Although the story is told quite simply, it’s still filled with details. We learn about her childhood in 1940 in an immigrant neighborhood, her love of reading, and family travels where they saw signs that Jews weren’t allowed.

Ruth was left-handed, but was told to use her right hand and got a D in penmanship – until she protested. I like the pages where it tells what she doesn’t do well – cooking and singing. After she got married, her family agreed that it was best for her husband to do the cooking.

But the bulk of the book covers her career as a lawyer. They speak in general terms of cases she presented before the Supreme Court, and then her appointment to the Supreme Court. There are notes at the back with more information and listing specific cases.

I didn’t know before that Justice Ginsburg wears a different lace collar over her robes when she writes a majority opinion from the one she wears when she writes a dissenting opinion.

Here’s how the author summarizes some of her dissenting opinions:

I DISSENT,
Justice Ginsburg said when the court wouldn’t help women or African Americans or immigrants who had been treated unfairly at work.

I DISSENT,
when the court rejected a law meant to protect the right of all citizens to vote, no matter their skin color.

I DISSENT,
when the court said no to schools that offered African Americans a better chance to go to college.

This is an interesting story and an inspiring story. I hope many girls and boys will read this story and think about making their own mark.

The quote on the back of the book from Ruth Bader Ginsburg sums up the book well:

Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.

debbielevybooks.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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 Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation, by Peggy Thomas and Stacy Innerst

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

thomas_jefferson_grows_a_nation_largeThomas Jefferson Grows a Nation

by Peggy Thomas
illustrations by Stacy Innerst

Calkins Creek (Highlights), Honesdale, Pennsylvania, 2015.

I expected this picture book to be about Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. Yes, that’s included. But what I didn’t expect was all the information about Thomas Jefferson as a farmer and as a scientist studying agriculture.

There’s an amazing and amusing extended story right toward the beginning. Thomas Jefferson got into a sort of competition with a French naturalist, Count Buffon, who wrote a book claiming that America’s very wildlife showed it to be an inferior continent.

The wildlife was inferior, he said. “Shrivelled.” “Diminished.” Sheep were “meagre, and their flesh less juicy.” A jaguar was no bigger than a beagle, and dogs were “mute.” The New World, he argued, had nothing as grand as an elephant, and the weather produced an infestation of lowly reptiles and insects.

Thomas Jefferson worked hard to set the record straight. He even had a moose carcass shipped to him in France!

The book also covers Jefferson’s many experiments with different plants for farming, and his study of invasive pests. He practiced crop rotation and was interested in the science of farming. He even won a gold medal from the French Society of Agriculture for a device that improved plows.

When he was President and responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, it was only natural that he was also behind Lewis and Clark’s expedition, cataloguing the plants and animals of the new territory.

This is a nontraditional look at Thomas Jefferson, and made all the more interesting with the illustrations. Although it’s a picture book, there is plenty of text on each page, more suitable for upper elementary school readers. A fascinating presentation of the life of someone I thought I already knew about.

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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 Tiny Stitches, by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman

Friday, July 15th, 2016

tiny_stitches_largeTiny Stitches

The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas

by Gwendolyn Hooks
illustrated by Colin Bootman

Lee & Low Books, New York, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

Tiny Stitches is the story of Vivien Thomas, the African-American medical researcher who developed the surgical procedure that saved the life of blue babies during the days of segregation and despite overwhelming prejudice.

Vivien always wanted to be a doctor. He saved money for medical school even as a child working with his father as a carpenter. But they lost all their savings in the Great Depression.

It wasn’t through going to medical school that Vivien got his opportunity. He interviewed for a job with medical researcher Dr. Alfred Blalock, and impressed him with his knowledge and intelligent questions. He got a job assisting Dr. Blalock, who gave him more and more research of his own.

Vivien’s surgical techniques improved with each operation. Just as he had learned to fit pieces of wood together seamlessly, Vivien learned to suture, or sew, blood vessels together seamlessly. Dr. Blalock was impressed by Vivien’s tiny stitches. Sometimes Vivien assisted Dr. Blalock with an experiment. On other days, Dr. Blalock assisted Vivien.

Vivien was happy working as a researcher, until he learned that his official job description was janitor. White men with the same duties and skills as Vivien were called research technicians and earned more money. Vivien was insulted. He was not a janitor. He told Dr. Blalock that he would not continue working unless he was paid the same as the other technicians. A few days later, Vivien noticed his paycheck was much better. He now earned about the same as the white technicians.

In 1941, Dr. Blalock became Chief of Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He took Vivien Thomas with him, where Vivien faced even more discrimination.

In 1943, Dr. Helen Taussig approached them with the problem of blue babies – babies born with a heart defect so that their blood didn’t get enough oxygen, and they died. Dr. Blalock assigned Vivien to research a method for operating on the babies.

Vivien had to develop new needles small enough to use on babies, and he tried the procedure out on animals. Dr. Blalock assisted Vivien only once during his experiments.

On November 29, 1944, Dr. Blalock tried the procedure Vivien had developed on a blue baby patient named Eileen. Dr. Blalock asked Vivien to stand on a stool behind him and guide him through the operation.

After that operation and others (also assisted by Vivien) were successful, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig were highly acclaimed.

As news spread of Dr. Blalock’s success, two or three operations a week soon became two or three operations a day. Patients came from as far away as Europe to have the procedure. Vivien remained standing on the stool behind Dr. Blalock, coaching him through more than one hundred fifty operations.

The last double-page spread has a picture of Vivien in full academic regalia up on stage.

Vivien Thomas was not publicly acknowledged for his brilliant research and surgical talents until more than twenty-six years after the first blue baby operation. On February 27, 1971, the Old Hands Club, a group of doctors who had trained under Vivien, presented a formal portrait of him to Johns Hopkins Hospital. It is displayed across from Dr. Blalock’s portrait. In 1976, Johns Hopkins University awarded Vivien an honorary doctorate degree and appointed him to the faculty as Instructor of Surgery.

Although he never had the chance to attend medical school, Vivien’s research pioneered open-heart surgery on children. Today about forty thousand children are born each year with heart problems. Because of Vivien Thomas, these children now have a chance to live full and healthy lives.

This book isn’t flashy. The prose tells the story without frills. The pictures show a doctor at work. There’s nothing surprising or startling here.

But the story tells about a remarkable man who did outstanding work and saved lives – even without recognition.

gwendolynhooks.com
colinbootman.net
leeandlow.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 Frederick’s Journey, by Doreen Rappaport

Friday, July 15th, 2016

fredericks_journey_largeFrederick’s Journey

The Life of Frederick Douglass

by Doreen Rappaport
illustrated by London Ladd

Disney Jump at the Sun, Los Angeles, 2015. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s another striking large format picture book biography from Doreen Rappaport. Like her biography of Theodore Roosevelt, To Dare Mighty Things, the bold painting of the subject on the cover sets the tone.

She has a gift for telling important things about a subject even in the short picture book form. Of course, the large paintings by London Ladd keep the reader engaged. As with To Dare Mighty Things, the author includes quotations on every spread.

Frederick Douglass’s story begins with his childhood as a slave. It goes on to tell how he worked hard to learn to read and eventually gained the hope that motivated him to seek his freedom. After that, he worked tirelessly to spread freedom to others.

The quotation at the front of the book sums it up well:

You have seen how man was made a slave;
You shall see how a slave was made a man.

This book shows you Frederick’s story, so you can see his journey yourself.

doreenrappaport.com
londonladd.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 Whoosh! by Chris Barton

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

whoosh_largeWhoosh!

Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions

by Chris Barton

illustrated by Don Tate

Charlesbridge, 2016. 32 pages.
Starred Review

It’s hard to imagine a more kid-friendly picture book biography. The subject is Lonnie Johnson, the African-American inventor who created the Super Soaker water gun. Need I say more?

Lonnie Johnson’s story is as inspiring as you might imagine. He played with rockets as a kid and won first place in a science fair at the University of Alabama with a homemade robot in 1968, the first year that African-Americans were even allowed to participate. He worked for NASA on the Galileo probe.

The idea for the Super Soaker water gun came by accident when Lonnie was working on a cooling system using water and air pressure. That particular accident makes an amusing illustration. But even when he’d thought how to apply the ideas to a water gun and created a prototype, he met with obstacles in trying to get a company to produce his invention.

When he finally did get a meeting, there’s another fun illustration, with a special fold-out page, demonstrating the Super Soaker.

Best of all, Lonnie Johnson isn’t finished yet. Yes, he made profits at last from his invention. Here’s how the book ends:

So what did Lonnie do?

He got a bigger workshop, which is where you’ll find him today. Because facing challenges, solving problems, and building things are what Lonnie Johnson loves to do. And his ideas just keep on flowing.

May this book inspire more kids to be inventors!

chrisbarton.info
dontate.com
charlesbridge.com

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

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

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Review of Watch Out for Flying Kids! by Cynthia Levinson

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

watch_out_for_flying_kids_largeWatch Out for Flying Kids!

How Two Circuses, Two Countries, and Nine Kids Confront Conflict and Build Community

by Cynthia Levinson

Peachtree, Atlanta, 2015. 216 pages.
Starred Review

I booktalked this book in local elementary schools this year. It’s a story about real kids, with a large format and lots of pictures — and everything in it is true.

A section of the Prologue neatly explains why this is an important book:

Watch Out for Flying Kids spotlights a little-known corner of this universe: youth social circus.

As the first word of the name suggests, “youth circus” refers to programs in which the performers are children. The nine performers featured in this book are teenagers.

The word “social” refers to the mission of bringing together young people who would not ordinarily meet — or, if they did, might fear or oppose each other. The two organizations portrayed in this book — the St. Louis Arches and the Galilee Circus — bring together young people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures through training in circus arts. The goal of both groups is to replace fear with respect and opposition with trust, changing the world one acrobat, contortionist, and flyer at a time.

Why wouldn’t these kids meet if it weren’t for circus? Why might they even fear or mistrust one another? The three white and two black troupers who are Arches live in different neighborhoods and go to different schools in St. Louis, Missouri, a city that is segregated by race and income level. The two Arabs and two Jews who perform with the Galilee Circus in northern Israel live in towns segregated by religion, ethnicity, language, and history. They represent groups that have been violently at odds with each other for hundreds of years.

Watch Out for Flying Kids shows what happens when all of them get together. That is, it demonstrates how they learn to juggle their responsibilities, fly above the fray, balance schoolwork and circus work, unicycle circles around people who doubt them, tumble gracefully through life — even when injured — and walk the tightrope of politics and friendship.

This book looks at the two circuses, the St. Louis Arches and the Galilee Circus, over the years 2005 to 2014. Nine kids in particular are highlighted and their journey described.

Performing in a circus is tremendously difficult, and the hard work and dedication required is conveyed well. The two circuses got to visit each other’s countries and perform together, and the book also shows us the challenges of working together across cultures.

This is a wonderful, inspiring and informative book about a group of kids working hard, forming a community, and putting on a great show.

cynthialevinson.com
peachtree-online.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 Ada’s Violin, by Susan Hood and Sally Wern Comport

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

adas_violin_largeAda’s Violin

The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

by Susan Hood
illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This picture book tells the story of Ada Rios, who grew up living in the main garbage dump of Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay. Her family worked in the landfill as a recycler, finding trash they could sell.

One day Favio Chavez came to town, offering music lessons for the children of the town, Cateura. There weren’t enough musical instruments to go around — so they made instruments out of recycled materials they found in the landfill.

They formed an orchestra, and Ada practiced hard. They performed concerts and ended up being able to travel around the world, even performing at a Metallica concert.

The picture book tells the story simply enough for children. Material at the back fills in the details for adults, complete with YouTube links.

Music and creativity combined with time and dedication brought music and new life to the children of Cateura.

The last paragraphs of the Author’s Note at the back is filled with hope:

Money from the orchestra’s concerts goes back to Cateura to help families rebuild their homes, their music school, and their lives. “Not too long ago we purchased a piece of land where we will build houses for fifteen orchestra families,” said Chavez. “Ada has a new house there.” This land is out of the flood zone. These families will never again have to face the evacuations that displace Cateura villagers every year when the river rises.

What started as a music class for ten kids has swelled to orchestral rehearsals for two hundred students, with more than twenty-five instructors. Chavez quit his ecology job to work with the orchestra full-time. Now plans are afoot to use the Recycled Orchestra’s experiences as a model to help other children living on landfills around the world.

recycledorchestracateura.com
susanhoodbooks.com
sallycomport.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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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.

What did you think of this book?