Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

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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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 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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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 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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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 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 Can You Crack the Code? by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Lily Williams

Monday, February 15th, 2021

Can You Crack the Code?

A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography

by Ella Schwartz
illustrated by Lily Williams

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 118 pages.
Review written December 14, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 General Children’s Nonfiction
2021 Mathical Honor Book, Grades 6-8

I’ve always thought codes and ciphers are fascinating, from the time I was a kid right up to the present when I made some videos showing how to make interesting ciphers using mathematical concepts.

When I made the videos last Spring when the library was closed for the pandemic, I didn’t find too many current books on making codes, but that situation has been remedied. This book is a nice solid selection to fill in that gap. Written for elementary to middle school kids, it gives a history of encoded messages along with explanations of ciphers and codes the reader can use.

Each chapter has a message to decrypt, and the book ends with a message for the reader to solve and email the author if they figure it out. A few clues are given, and it’s a nicely appropriate historical code used.

The book starts with steganography – hiding a message in some way – and the Caesar cipher and continues with things like Benedict Arnold’s book cipher and Thomas Jefferson’s wheel cipher up through a puzzle encoded in a statue in front of CIA headquarters and the use of prime numbers in computer security.

Even when they get deep into the history of clandestine messages, they do give the readers chances to crack the codes.

There’s plenty here to get kids intrigued, and one thing I love about code-making is there are lots of jumping-off points from this book.

ellasbooks.com
lilywilliamsart.com
Bloomsbury.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Magnificent Migration, by Sy Montgomery

Sunday, February 14th, 2021

The Magnificent Migration

On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds

by Sy Montgomery
with photos by Roger and Logan Wood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 162 pages.
Review written April 15, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This visually stunning book has taught me so many things about “the greatest of all mammalian migrations” – the wildebeests of the Serengeti. Who knew that the gnu is so hugely important to earth’s environment? I didn’t before reading this book, but I do now.

Here’s a small section from the Introduction:

Like no other event in nature, the wildebeest migration defines wild Africa. The extravagance of their number stupefies: one and a quarter million wildebeests, in separate herds of tens of thousands, all on the move at once, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles. It is the largest mass movement of animals on land.

The sheer number of so many animals in motion is a dazzling spectacle. It is a force like gravity, or rainfall – a force that transforms, nourishes, and renews both the land over which they travel and the other creatures who gather in their wake.

Sy Montgomery does insert herself into the book – this is basically the story of her safari to observe wildebeests, traveling with the world’s foremost expert on them. But that added a little drama to the story – would they find a large group of wildebeests, since they don’t travel the same route from year to year? And we learn so much about wildebeests and other animals of Africa along the way. In hearing where they traveled to find the wildebeests, we understood more about the migration and about rutting season for the animals and about all the other animals affected by the migration.

The photographs in this book, taken on her safari, are amazing. The format is extra large, with spreads big as a picture book. There are photographs on every page, but there’s also plenty of text. I ended up being surprised how long it took me to read, because it’s much more than a picture book. Those big pages, which are so nice for the photographs, also hold large amounts of text.

There are many sidebars throughout. They include information about other animals that migrate, other animals of Africa, and even information about a migration that once was even greater than that of the African wildebeests – the American bison. When that population was wiped out, it left a wave of devastation that would also happen if the wildebeests had to stop migrating. The migration itself has a huge effect on the lands and other animals of Africa, and the reader comes to better understand those interactions.

This book is for readers around middle school age. They have to have a long attention span to handle all that text. And they need to be able to handle plenty of information about animals mating and wildebeests rutting. On the very first page, we learn that a lion has tiny barbs on his penis, and lion sex usually ends with a swat and a snarl from the lioness. This is in the context of saying that wildebeests are far more interesting to watch than lions, even if they aren’t nearly as popular for tourists.

For a kid who sticks it out, there’s a very good chance they could end up fascinated by Africa and its wildlife. I learned so much I didn’t know I didn’t know by reading this book packed full of beautiful photographs and information about the animals and environment of Africa.

symontgomery.com
hmhco.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 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 Overview: A New Way of Seeing Earth, by Benjamin Grant with Sandra Markle

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

Overview

A New Way of Seeing Earth

Young Explorer’s Edition

by Benjamin Grant
with Sandra Markle

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 150 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 02/20/2020, from a library book

This book reminds me of The Earth from Above, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, which I read and reviewed back in 2004. This is the same idea: photos of earth taken from above. But in the previous book, I believe the photos were taken by airplane. These are taken by satellite – but a satellite that can zoom in or out and still get detailed shots.

This book is packaged for children, with a text upper elementary kids can understand. The focus is the photos, so the text isn’t long, but does give some food for thought.

This book was revised by children’s nonfiction author Sandra Markle from a longer book for adults called Overview, and that book was based on an Instagram page showing satellite pictures.

There’s a foreword by retired astronaut Scott Kelly, where he explains how it can affect you to look at Earth from space:

From space, Earth looks like a peaceful place, without political borders. From orbit, astronauts get the sense that this is how Earth was meant to be viewed. This vantage point gives you a sense of oneness, an awareness that we are all part of the same humanity. Many people call this the Overview Effect, which is where this book gets its name. When astronauts experience the Overview Effect, we feel a greater connection to Earth, its people, and the environment that changes us forever.

The pictures in this book are stunning and amazing. Many of them are beautiful. With both manmade beauty and natural beauty. Many are disturbing – particularly ones of bright red polluted bodies of water. But this is a book you’ll enjoy looking at over and over again.

dailyoverview.com
rhcbooks.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 Girl on a Motorcycle, by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Tuesday, February 9th, 2021

Girl on a Motorcycle

by Amy Novesky
illustrated by Julie Morstad

Viking, 2020. 48 pages.
Review written October 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Girl on a Motorcycle is a beautifully illustrated picture book telling the true story of Anne-France Dautheville, a French girl who rode a motorcycle around the world in 1973.

Julie Morstad’s illustrations have a retro feel, but they also give a feeling of adventure, wonder, and beauty. The girl on the motorcycle is small, but she’s determined.

The book shows the many different places she traveled and the many different people she met along the way. It tells about times when she needed help from strangers and other times when she simply enjoyed the company of strangers.

And it captures the feeling of seeing amazing things and collecting amazing experiences.

The text part (before the Author’s Note) closes with a quote from Anne-France:

The world is beautiful. The world is good.

When she closes her eyes, the girl can still hear the road.
Elsewhere is just a little bit farther.

This book leaves you ready to listen to the call of the road. I wonder if any children reading it will end up as world travelers.

penguin.com/kids

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Superpower Field Guide: Moles, by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Friday, February 5th, 2021

The Superpower Field Guide

Moles

by Rachel Poliquin
illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 96 pages.
Review written April 2, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 General Children’s Nonfiction

I checked out this book thinking it would work well for booktalking in the schools. I was absolutely right, but now that schools are closed I’m going to have to wait another year to do it. So let me tell you about it.

I never dreamed a book about moles could be so entertaining! This author uses a conversational tone and really emphasizes the Wow factor of many strange characteristics of moles. One way she does this is by describing nine mole superpowers: Astonishing Architect of Dirt, Indefatigable Paws of Power, Double-Thumb-Digging Dominance, Arms of Hercules, Super-Squidgibility, Early Whisker Warning System, Headless Hoarding, Saliva of Death (Maybe?), and Blood of the Gods.

She describes moles in ways you can understand, such as shaped like a potato. And gives scientific terms more vivid names. The prepollex is given the name Weird Fake Thumb, or WFT for short. Scientists say that moles’ blood has high oxygen affinity. This author says they have the Blood of the Gods.

Here’s an example of the writing style in this book, taken from the beginning, after she’s explained that moles are shaped like a potato:

Now, potato-shapeliness is definitely too dowdy to be a superpower. But believe it or not, it’s a MOLE’S SECRET WEAPON.

Let me explain.

Scientists say moles and potatoes have cylindrical bodies. Cylindrical is a fancy way of saying “shaped like a tube.” But if you look at a potato, you’ll notice it is not shaped like a tube so much as shaped to fit inside a tube. And that is the important thing about potato-shapeliness – it helps moles fit in tubes. A giraffe would not fit in a tube. Neither would a poodle, nor a chicken, nor any other animal with long legs and a long, bendy neck. Big floppy ears would also not be good in a tube. Take it from me, if you’re going to live in a tube, it’s best to be shaped like a potato.

Of course, moles don’t live in any sort of tube. They live in underground tunnels. And not just any underground tunnel. Moles are MASTERMINDS OF UNDERGROUND EXCAVATION! They are ASTONISHING ARCHITECTS OF DIRT! They are TUNNELING TORPEDOES! Which brings me to ROSALIE’S FIRST SUPERPOWER.

The cartoon illustrations also fit the tone perfectly.

So there you have it – I now know about the wonders of moles. I read an entire book about moles and enjoyed every moment of it. Who knew science could be so much fun?

rachelpoliquin.com
nicholasjohnfrith.com
hmhco.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 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 Imaginaries, by Emily Winfield Martin

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

The Imaginaries

Little Scraps of Larger Stories

by Emily Winfield Martin

Random House, 2020. 80 pages.
Review written July 11, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is a worthy addition to the tradition of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. What you have are a set of fantastical paintings, each with a scrap of text, with the text usually shown as actually written on a scrap of paper.

The caption that goes with the picture that appears on the front cover is “Lily wanted to be a good place to land.”

One of my favorites shows a monkey holding a key and says, “Ask the monkey what he knows.” It’s written on the back of an envelope.

There’s a picture of five children wearing dresses at the edge of a forest, and they have the heads of animals. The caption says, “Their parents never knew the secret.”

A few characters seem to appear in more than one picture.

A note at the front from the author says that she found these scraps of words and pictures over the years, “illustrations for stories that do not exist,” in various places.

I found one in a lighthouse, one in a packet of seeds, one in the trunk of a hollow tree.

There was one tucked in the corner of a forgotten diorama, one hidden like a pearl in an oyster shell . . . one forgotten in a paperback from a used bookstore in Paris.

These pictures will send your imagination circling as you browse them, and may provide seeds for all kinds of stories.

A wonderful offering.

rhcbooks.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.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Sounds All Around, by Dr. James Chapman

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Sounds All Around

A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World

by Dr. James Chapman

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020. 165 pages.
Review written November 13, 2020, from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Children’s Nonfiction

Here’s what it says on the page at the front of this book:

Let’s Make Some Noise

Learning the sounds animals make is an essential part of language learning. Spending hours and hours pretending you’re a chicken or a dog is not only great fun, it’s educational, too. If you grew up speaking English, you probably already know your woofs and meows from your clucks and quacks – but how does the rest of the world describe sounds?

[This next part has cartoon animals.]
In Japanese, cats don’t go MEOW. “NYAN!”
In German, pigs don’t go OINK. “GRUNZ!”
In Hindi, frogs don’t go RIBBIT. “TARR!”

There’s a whole world of words for all the sounds you know and love! (And even some words for sounds that don’t show up in English.)

The words that imitate sounds are known as “onomatopoeia.” These words are a wonderfully strange and interesting part of language. After all, we hear the same sounds, but we interpret and write them differently in different languages.

If you sing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in French, your farmyard ducks go “coin coin” instead of “quack quack,” and in Russian they go “krya krya.” From the sound of a speeding car, to the sound a dog makes, to the sound of rain, there are almost as many words for these sounds as there are languages!

The format of this book is chapters of types of sounds with spreads looking at one certain type of sound in multiple languages. It’s in graphic novel format, so we see the sounds in speech bubbles coming from cartoon animals or characters or things. The chapters are “Animal Noises,” “On the Farm,” “In the Zoo,” “Loud Noises,” “Natural Noises,” “Noisy Machines,” “Sounds of the Human Body,” and “Sounds of Emotion.”

We learn fascinating things, such as “Kusukusu” being the Japanese word for “Ha Ha” and “Tagaktak” being the Filipino word for “Splat” and “Vzheeh” being how Russians say “Zoom.” It’s all mind-expanding to think about the many different languages, but also mind-expanding to realize how many different words we have in our own language for sounds.

This isn’t a book that fits neatly into a curriculum anywhere. You couldn’t use it to learn a language. But it’s super fun to read and to think about. This is a book that could easily capture a child’s imagination. I know it captured mine.

The one little thing that I wish it had is a pronunciation guide, since I know in some languages, English letters don’t make the same sounds. Though perhaps they left that out because once they started, it would have gotten tricky with so many languages used. This keeps it light and fun, but still informative.

andrewsmcmeel.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 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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