Review of Mars Is, by Suzanne Slade

Mars Is

Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises

by Suzanne Slade

Peachtree, 2021. 48 pages.
Review written July 28, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book consists of close-up photographs of Mars, enhanced with color, taken by HiRISE, an advanced camera on a spacecraft orbiting Mars. The pictures are highlighted with simple text printed in very large letters, and then more detailed text explaining a little more.

Here’s an example of a spread that features an interesting swirly and sparkly photograph:

Mars is slippery snow and ice,

During winter, these sandy dunes in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars become covered with snow and big sheets of dry ice. When the sun shines in springtime, the ice begins to crack. soon, gas escapes up through the cracks and carries dark sand to the surface, painting beautiful, swirling designs.

Because the book has the simple and large text, you could use this book even with preschoolers, simply focusing on the general ideas. As kids get older, they’ll be fascinated by the details.

And anyone – child or adult – will enjoy looking at these amazing images from another world.

suzanneslade.com
peachtree-online.com

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Review of My Selma, by Willie Mae Brown

My Selma

True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement

by Willie Mae Brown

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2023. 230 pages.
Review written July 31, 2023, from my own copy sent by the publisher

In My Selma, debut author Willie Mae Brown tells stories from her childhood, where she lived with her big family in Selma, Alabama. She was a child at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, so she gives us stories of what it was like to find out about those events from a child’s perspective.

The stories are a little on the rambling side, and I’m not quite sure about how they’re organized – they don’t seem to be chronological. But that does give them the authentic feel of childhood memories. Some of them are stories about blatant racism – especially when her brother and sister were jailed for a week after being part of a peaceful protest. Others are just stories of being a kid in a big, loving family – like the year she wanted a baby doll for Christmas and then got so excited about her new bike, she didn’t open all the presents.

The book isn’t long, and it pulls you into these stories of a child who was witness to some events and people that shook the world.

As the author says in the Preface:

I write these stories of a Selma that I knew and loved. My own Selma. A Selma that brought me joy, troubled me, and baptized me into racial injustice and into the race for justice. I write these stories through the voices of people who lived at the time when I was growing up in Selma. We lived together, schooled together, played together, churched together, and fought together for the same rights as our white brethren who denied us the freedoms we were born with….

I write about Selma because our lives have historical precedence in shaping the future. I write so that you may hear, see, smell, and feel the injustice of ignorance but also the sweetness of everyday life, illuminated in my words.

And yes, you’ll find things both serious and sweet in these pages, all maintaining a child’s perspective.

Williemaebrown.com
Mackids.com

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Review of We Are Still Here! by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lessac

We Are Still Here!

Native American Truths Everyone Should Know

by Traci Sorell
illustrated by Frané Lessac

Charlesbridge, 2021. 40 pages.
Review written June 30, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book has the frame of kids from a Native Nations Community School making presentations on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It does throw a lot of information at the reader, but the information is presented in digestible amounts.

There’s a theme throughout the book, straight from the title. The beginning spread sets up the book:

Our Native Nations have always been here. We are Indigenous to the continent now called North America. Our leaders are sovereign and have power to make rules. Our ways of life changed when white people arrived from Europe….

Most people do not know what happened to Native Nations and our citizens after treaty making stopped in 1871.

Despite the continued occupation of our homelands,
regular attacks on our sovereignty,
and being mostly forgotten in US culture,
Native Nations all say,
“We are still here!”

The spreads in the rest of the book tell about aspects of Native Nations’ history after 1871 and all end with the refrain, “We are still here!”

The topics covered include Assimilation, Allotment, Indian New Deal, Termination, Relocation, Tribal Activism, Self-determination, Indian Child Welfare and Education, Religious Freedom, Economic Development, Language Revival, and Sovereign Resurgence. These are presented simply, in ways an upper elementary school child can understand. That’s a good thing, because I had a lot to learn, too.

The text tells about ways treaties were broken, but also about ways that Native people made sure their voices were heard.

There’s lots of informative back matter. The author is absolutely right and this history isn’t taught in school – I had some inklings because of my own reading, but I still have a lot to learn. And this beautiful book will help kids get a better start.

tracisorell.com
franelessac.com

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Review of The Tree of Life, written by Elisa Boxer, illustrated by Alianna Rozentsveig

The Tree of Life

How a Holocaust Sapling Inspired the World

written by Elisa Boxer
illustrated by Alianna Rozentsveig

Rocky Pond Books, 2024. 36 pages.
Review written March 20, 2024, from a library book.
Starred Review

Here’s a nonfiction picture book about the Holocaust that manages to focus on the inspiring rather than the terrible.

The story is told simply, with more detail in the author’s note in the back. From the start, the focus of the pictures is on the tree. Here’s how the book begins:

In a season of sadness, hope came to the children as a tiny tree, tucked inside a boot.

It was winter, World War Two, and the boot belonged to a prisoner in a ghetto called Terezin.

There were children in the ghetto too. The prisoner saw they were scared and separated from their families.

He also saw a woman secretly teaching the children to read, write, and celebrate Jewish holidays.
Tu BiShvat was coming — The New Year of the Trees.
The teacher, Irma Lauscher, risked her life when she asked the prisoner to sneak in a sapling.
the prisoner risked his life when he said yes.

They planted the tree, and the children of the community gave drops from their water rations to keep it watered. Even when there were fewer and fewer children to care for it.

Even though the children who left were taken to a place that was even worse, that tree kept growing and kept hope alive. By the end of the war, the tree was taller than the children.

That tree, planted during the war in Terezin, grew to be sixty feet tall and stood as a symbol of hope across the generations. The teacher who planted it sent seeds from the tree all over the world.

We learn that the tree finally died in 2007 after a flood destroyed its roots. But the book ends with schoolchildren in New York City in 2021 planting a sapling born from the original tree, standing as one of over 600 trees throughout the world, grown from the original maple.

Like all picture books, this is one you’ll appreciate more by looking at it yourself, and that won’t take long. A sensitive and lovely story of hope rooted in the history of a terrible time.

ElisaBoxer.com
AliannaRozentsveig.com
penguin.com/kids

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Review of Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged!

by Jody Nyasha Warner
pictures by Richard Rudnicki

Groundwood Books (Anansi Press), 2020. First published in 2010.
Review written November 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks. This picture book tells the story of Viola Desmond, an African Canadian who protested the segregation of a movie theater in Toronto in 1946.

The story is presented simply in a way that’s easy to understand. There’s a little bit of drama added to the story as they start off by telling us she’s brave and then tell about her car breaking down on the way home. It was going to take hours to fix, so she decided to see a movie.

At first, she was told politely to move. But they ended up bringing in the police.

But I told you Viola was brave, didn’t I?

She wouldn’t budge one inch because she knew this seating rule wasn’t fair to black folks. It was just plain wrong.

So the manager and the policeman dragged her out of the theater in a real rough way.

Viola didn’t even win her court case. The court refused to face it as a segregation issue and accused her of not paying the right price for the ticket.

Still, Viola’s bravery made a big difference.

She inspired all kinds of people to fight against segregation, and by the late 1950s it was made against the law.

So come on and join me in saying thank you to Viola Desmond, a real hero, who sat down for her rights.

The book has bright, colorful pictures, making attractive to young children a story about making the world more fair.

groundwoodbooks.com

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Review of Encyclopedia of Strangely Named Animals, Volume One, by Fredrik Colting & Melissa Medina, illustrated by Vlad Stankovic

Encyclopedia of Strangely Named Animals

Volume One

by Fredrik Colting & Melissa Medina
illustrated by Vlad Stankovic

Moppet Books, 2020. 52 pages.
Review written November 14, 2020, from a library book

This book is too much fun not to write a review. This “Encyclopedia” is for young readers. It lists twenty-eight strangely named animals. Each animal gets at least a page, sometimes two, with a large picture and a short and simple paragraph about the animal. It’s straightforward – but so much fun to browse.

Here’s an example, without the impressive pictures:

Sarcastic Fringehead

The Sarcastic Fringehead is a small fish with a very big mouth that makes its home in empty shells off the coast of California. When two Sarcastic Fringeheads get into a territorial argument over a shell, they settle it by pressing their huge mouths against each other. And just like sarcastic people, whoever has the biggest mouth is the one who wins the argument.

Other strangely named animals listed here include the Chicken Turtle, Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla, Sparklemuffin (a kind of Australian spider), Pleasing Fungus Beetle, White-Bellied Go-Away Bird, Pink Fairy Armadillo, Boops Boops, Tasseled Wobbegong, and Striped Pajama Squid. This book is a delight for curious people of all ages.

moppetbookspublishing.com

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Review of Girls Who Build, by Katie Hughes

Girls Who Build

Inspiring Curiosity and Confidence to Make Anything Possible

by Katie Hughes
illustrated by Kay Coenen

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2020. 258 pages.
Review written June 8, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is amazing and inspirational. It’s a high-quality photo book full of photographs of girls who build. Each featured girl has information about them – first name, age, location, and where they learn – and then a short interview about their history with building and how building makes them feel. Many of the girls present a project they’ve made, and instructions follow to make the project.

The book has a glossary and extensive instructions about building at the front. The importance of competent supervision and safety gear are stressed.

The author and photographer, Katie Hughes, is the founder of Girls Build. I absolutely love the story she tells at the end of her introduction which explains about the camp she runs, teaching girls to use tools:

On the last day of camp, when the girls are wild, loud, and somewhat preposterous as they tour their parents and guardians around, I make sure to position myself near what is commonly called the chop saw a stationary tool that sits on its own stand and features a 12” blade. Formally, it’s known as a sliding compound miter saw. To operate it, girls must reach up to the handle, hit the trigger, and lower the blade through a piece of wood. To parental eyes, it can look terrifying. It’s time to show off, though, and each girl walks up confidently.

She does all the prerequisite measuring and safety steps, and finally rests her fingers on the trigger, ready to cut. It’s at that moment that her parents, who have clearly been holding back, look to her and say, “Are you sure you can use this?” It’s like they waited until the last second, knowing they sent her to camp for this very tool, for this very lesson, and for her to use it with confidence. They can’t help themselves – they even hate themselves for it – but the words escape their mouths almost involuntarily.

Then comes the response.

No matter if she is ten or fourteen, she simultaneously huffs and slowly, meticulously, delivers the best eye roll imaginable.

“Of course I can use a chop saw,” she mutters, as if a chop saw were a pencil or tricycle or one of those little cars kids push with their feet. Of course she can. Duh.

She then hits the trigger, her shoulders thrown back in slight defiance, her cut as perfect as if I’d cut it. Then she blows off the sawdust with a little extra swagger.

I love that swagger. And I’ve started to think of the eye roll as the Girls Build litmus test.

Did she roller eyes at her parents for doubting her ability to handle the 12” sliding compound miter saw? Yes?

Mission accomplished.

What follows are photos of and interviews with those confident girls, explaining what building does for them, encouraging other girls to build, and explaining how they made some projects.

If you give this book to a girl, be prepared to help her find a place where she can learn to build.

I didn’t use the book to learn to build (though I was tempted), but I read the whole thing for the delight of seeing those confident faces.

girlsbuild.org
blackdogandleventhal.com

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Review of The In-Between, by Katie Van Heidrich

The In-Between

A Memoir in Verse

by Katie Van Heidrich

Aladdin, 2023. 295 pages.
Review written September 12, 2023, from a book sent to me by the publisher.
Starred Review

The In-Between tells the story of Katie’s family when her mother was in between jobs and they were in between homes.

It starts in an awful way (awful for Katie, but well-written for us). Katie is thirteen, and she and her mother and two younger siblings come home from their Grandpa’s funeral after an eight-hour drive to learn that their landlord didn’t feed the pets as he’d promised. Their dog is whimpering in her crate and the fish are belly-up in their tank.

Their mother takes everything in, then grabs the fish tank and takes it out their front door.

Mom? I ask nervously.
She doesn’t answer or
bother looking my way.
Instead, she holds the fish tank
high above her head,
careful not to drip
any of the rancid water
over herself and
without announcement or explanation,
sends the entire tank crashing
down
down
down
below,
exploding right onto
our landlord’s doorstep downstairs.

They pack up, as they’ve done many times, and leave that apartment. They end up staying in an Extended Stay Hotel for weeks, while Katie’s mother looks for a job. They spend weekends at their father’s place in the suburbs, but the rest of the time when they’re not at school, they’re all together in one room.

Katie doesn’t want her friends to know what’s going on. And she needs to make sure the school doesn’t know, since the hotel is not in the same school district. And she wonders why their dad won’t take them all the time and how to navigate her mother’s moods.

There are photos at the back, and I especially like the smiling author photo on the back flap – so we know that Katie got through this and emerged resilient.

I’ve found
that the in-between doesn’t have to be
the very end of the world and
that sometimes,
we just have to keep going
and face what scares us,
including ourselves,
especially ourselves,
because
sometimes,
that’s all you can do.

This is a promising debut book. I hope we’ll hear more from this author!

simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of Chance, by Uri Shulevitz

Chance

Escape from the Holocaust

by Uri Shulevitz

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 330 pages.
Review written March 22, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

When Uri Shulevitz was four years old, bombs fell on Warsaw, where he lived with his parents. But Uri’s father was in Bialystok, where he had found work. A chance encounter led to him not returning to Nazi-occupied Poland, but instead writing to his wife to come with Uri to Bialystok. They were Jewish, and all their family who stayed in Warsaw were killed during the war.

This book tells about Uri’s life as a very young refugee. A series of apparently chance encounters led them deeper into the Soviet Union. A clerk would not grant them Soviet citizenship because of Uri’s name. Uri was actually named after the father of Bezalel, the first artist of the Bible. But the clerk thought he was named after a Zionist poet and they were anti-Soviet reactionaries.

Not having Soviet citizenship meant they had to move farther from the border. Since Uri is an artist, the book is full of illustrations and has large print, and we’re given a clear view of what it’s like to be a refugee when you’re too young to really comprehend what’s going on. They spent much of the war in Settlement Yura in the far north, and much of the war in Turkestan, far east of the border, and much of the war, wherever they were, hungry.

Although the book is long, with the large print and the abundant illustrations, it makes for quick reading. Since he was a child when the events took place, he has no trouble speaking on a child’s level and talking about things children are interested in.

He was eleven by the time the war was over and they got out of the Soviet Union. So this is also the story of growing up and the seeds that were planted that led to him becoming an artist.

urishulevitz.com
mackids.com

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Review of The Wisdom of Trees, by Lita Judge

The Wisdom of Trees

How Trees Work Together to Form a Natural Kingdom

by Lita Judge

Roaring Brook Press, 2021. 48 pages.
Review written March 23, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

The Wisdom of Trees brings to a child’s level information about how trees communicate and help one another, which I learned in the book for adults, The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben. It’s listed as a resource in the back.

On each spread this book has a poem in the voice of trees, a painting from an actual forest, and a sidebar explaining the concept expressed in the poem. An Author’s Note at the back explains the location for each painting.

These poems cover concepts like trees telling each other about insects or predators and responding with chemicals to drive them away, trees communicating via fungi, trees resting in the winter, and trees nurturing young saplings.

This recent discovery that trees communicate and nurture one another is one that will delight children, as it did me when I learned about it.

Here’s an example poem about the way the roots of elder trees live on.

We Are the Ghosts

My limbs and needles are gone,
and the warm body of a newborn deer
comes to rest within the ghost of my great trunk
that once touched the sky.
But underneath the soft litter
of fallen needles and dark soil, I still live,
surrounded by my kingdom
with their willingness to give.

A lovely book that will reward repeated rereadings.

litajudge.net
mackids.com

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What did you think of this book?

*Note* To try to catch up on posting reviews, I’m posting the oldest reviews I’ve written on my blog without making a page on my main website. They’re still good books!