Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of The Grand Escape, by Neal Bascomb

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

The Grand Escape

The Greatest Prison Breakout of the 20th Century

by Neal Bascomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

IReadYA.com
arthuralevinebooks.com

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

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 Eye That Never Sleeps, by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020

The Eye That Never Sleeps

How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln

by Marissa Moss
illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

A fun and suspenseful story that’s also true.

abramsyoungreaders.com

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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 Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Attucks!

Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City

by Phillip Hoose

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 212 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 14, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am not a fan of sports books. Ho hum. Who really cares?

So I was completely surprised to be mesmerized and pulled into this story of an all-black high school in Indianapolis that built a championship basketball program, despite discrimination.

Phillip Hoose puts a special note at the front of the book about an interview he did with Oscar Robertson in 1986 about basketball fever in Indiana.

One scrap from that conversation inspired the book you’re reading now.

“You know,” Oscar said, “when the Ku Klux Klan started our school, they really didn’t understand what they were doing.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“They did something they couldn’t foresee by making Attucks an all-black school. The city of Indianapolis integrated because we were winning. All the black guys, the really great players, went to Attucks. We were winning all those games, and the coaches didn’t like it. And then a lot of black kids started going to other schools . . .”

What could he be talking about? A high school in a major American city – in the North – started by the Ku Klux Klan? And a basketball team integrating that city?

Oscar wasn’t laughing.

Could it be true?

So Phillip Hoose is telling the story of winning basketball teams, building a championship basketball program, and one of the greatest high school basketball players ever – but he does all that against the backdrop of overcoming racism and the whole city of Indianapolis building pride in the championship team at the all-black high school.

There are spoilers in the note at the front. The author doesn’t hide that Oscar Robertson led the Attucks team to state championships in 1955 and 1956. But how they got there – That’s a story!

The Prologue actually begins before Oscar was even in high school – with the game where his big brother had an amazing game-winning shot with seven seconds left.

Then the main text goes back to the founding of Cristpus Attucks high school in 1927 – yes, it was started by the Klan in order to separate the black kids who had been moving to Indianapolis from the south. He carefully gives us several threads to follow, including how the basketball program developed as well as Oscar’s childhood, obsessed with basketball from an early age.

The first basketball coach at Attucks was concerned that his players not offend anyone – which doesn’t make for the toughest team. But even when they got an excellent coach, the larger white schools wouldn’t play against them, and they weren’t even allowed in the statewide tournament until 1942.

The author includes several seasons, including some with real heartbreaker games. He highlights many of their great players (not just Oscar, the Big O). It all builds to a breathtaking finish and a description of their undefeated season when they became state champions.

And I should probably stop saying that I don’t like sports books. This one was outstanding.

philliphoose.com
fiercereads.com

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

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 Imagine, by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Monday, August 3rd, 2020

Imagine

by Juan Felipe Herrera
illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Candlewick Press, 2018. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written November 2, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I confess – when I first read this book at the library, I looked through it hastily and wasn’t impressed. But when the publisher sent it to my house, I gave it another look, knowing what it was, took my time, and this time was touched by its beauty.

This picture book is an illustrated poem – an autobiographical poem addressed to the reader and intended to inspire.

It’s short – I admit that it’s easy to dismiss if you don’t take your time with it and stop to look at each picture.

Juan Felipe Herrera was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2015 to 2017. This poem shows us his humble beginnings, and his journey to become a poet.

Each stanza ends with the word “imagine” and covers a double-page spread. Here are the first few stanzas:

If I picked chamomile flowers
as a child
in the windy fields and whispered
to their fuzzy faces,

imagine

If I let tadpoles
swim across my hands
in the wavy creek,

imagine

If I jumped up high
into my papi’s army truck
and left our village of farmworkers
and waved adios
to my amiguitos,

imagine

You see the boy gradually getting bigger in the pictures. The poetry also talks about his experiences:

If I moved
to the winding city
of tall, bending buildings
and skipped
to a new concrete school
I had never seen,

imagine

If I opened
my classroom’s wooden door
not knowing how to read
or
speak in English,

imagine

It takes him through writing stories and poetry, singing in front of people, and finally reading out of his own poetry book in front of the Library of Congress as the Poet Laureate of the United States of America.

And then, finally, the book finishes all the sentences:

imagine what you could do.

Inspiring and beautiful – and there’s also a treat under the paper cover! (The stars of the cover are embossed in gold foil on the book with the title.)

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.

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

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 Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

Hey, Kiddo

How I Lost My Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Graphix (Scholastic), 2018. 312 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 26, 2018, from an Advance Reader Copy.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

Here’s a graphic novel memoir by a bestselling graphic novelist, so it’s sure to be popular. This one, though, isn’t sweetness and light, and the issues addressed go a lot deeper than friends and cliques. We do have a happy ending – Jarrett Krosoczka has achieved success with his art. The book is marketed for 12 and up, so it’s for a somewhat older audience than those who love Lunch Lady.

Jarrett tells about his life. His mother was a heroin addict, and he didn’t know his father. His mother’s parents raised him, and they had their own quirks, being older than his friends’ parents.

Jarrett explains his family history. His grandparents had five kids, and he wasn’t a whole lot younger than his youngest aunt. He lived with his mother the first years of his life, but she couldn’t stay off heroin and out of trouble, so eventually he was permanently with his grandparents.

This book takes Jarrett through elementary school and high school, all the way up to applying to art school for college. He credits the teachers and friends who helped him along the way, as well as offering many tributes to his grandparents, without hiding their prickliness and quirks. His persistence, despite coming from an unconventional family, ended up paying off, and notes at the back bring us to the present.

This book speaks from the heart about a kid growing up in a family with challenges, but a lot of love. He learned to grapple with that, push boundaries, uncover truth, and above all use his art to throw light on shadows.

scholastic.com/graphix

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

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 Strong Voices, introductions by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Saturday, July 4th, 2020

Strong Voices

Fifteen American Speeches Worth Knowing

Introductions by Tonya Bolden
illustrated by Eric Velasquez
foreword by Cokie Roberts

Harper, 2020. 128 pages.
Review written April 9, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a book of great American speeches, so it is by its very nature inspiring. I was familiar with more than half of them, but I’m happy to have made a new acquaintance with the rest, and this is a fine collection covering the scope of the history of our nation and the important issues we’ve faced.

Tonya Bolden has written a detailed introduction to each piece and the speaker, and the speeches are spread out nicely on the pages, beginning with a spread that includes a painting of the speaker. The attractive format of the book appropriately showcases the words.

The speeches chosen place an emphasis on rights and freedoms, but also on inspirational challenges. It begins with Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” in 1775, and finishes with Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” in 1995.

In between, of course we’ve got Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself,” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” but we’ve also got a speech in 1805 by the Native American Red Jacket, “We Never Quarrel About Religion,” Lou Gehrig’s “Farewell to Baseball,” and Fannie Lou Hamer’s “I Question America.”

There’s a Timeline at the back. At first I liked how it places all the speeches on the line with historical events marked as well, going from the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech in 1995. I also liked that it has a series of shaded dots next to the line for long time periods – various wars, as well as the Jim Crow laws. But then I noticed that the spacing between things on the timeline isn’t proportional at all. World War I, from 1914-1918, takes up five shaded dots, for example, but World War II, 1939-1945, takes up thirteen shaded dots. But the Vietnam War, 1955-1975, takes up 93 shaded dots. So it’s mainly to lay out the events and speeches in order, and they’re spaced out to read clearly, but not so much to reflect how long different things lasted. So the timeline makes it look like the speeches were spaced out evenly throughout American history, but actually six of the fifteen happened after 1950.

Reading this book made me want to stand with these Americans and continue working for freedom and justice! I hope it will inspire children and teens the same way.

tonyaboldenbooks.com
ericvelasquez.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 Drawn from Nature, by Helen Ahpornsiri

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Drawn from Nature

by Helen Ahpornsiri

Big Picture Press (Candlewick), 2018. 60 pages.
Starred Review
Review written April 29, 2018, from a library book
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

I don’t think this book is eligible for either the Newbery or the Caldecott Medal, because the author lives in the United Kingdom – but that’s too bad! The art in this book is incredible! (I’m going to wait to post this review until after the Newbery is announced, just to be careful.)

All of the art in this amazing book is made from actual plants. Here’s how the artist explains it in the back:

Everything you see in these pages – from the gleam in a fox’s eye to the delicate line of a cobweb – is made from a plant.

Flowers and foliage are always changing with the seasons, but here they have been paused in their life cycle, kindled with a new story. Ferns have been transformed into feathers, and the colorful wings of insects are formed from the very flowers they feed on.

Each collage is made from hundreds of leaves and flowers, which are responsibly grown or foraged in the wild and preserved with traditional flower-pressing methods. The plants are then delicately arranged into bold new shapes and forms. They are all brimming with the twists and tangles of the wilderness, all capturing a perfect moment in time.

The text is about nature as it goes through the seasons, beginning with Spring and birds building nests, through Summer in the meadow, through Autumn with falling leaves, and finishing with Winter and hibernation and bare branches. But that’s a very brief summary – besides the incredibly detailed illustrations, the words reveal a knowledge of details of life in the wild that show careful observation.

I could look at these illustrations for hours. They are the sort that prompt me to show everyone in the library. One co-worker said that she has ordered cards from this artist on Etsy. The beauty and detail of her work is simply astonishing.

candlewick.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 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 House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg

Friday, June 12th, 2020

House of Dreams

The Life of L. M. Montgomery

by Liz Rosenberg
illustrated by Julie Morstad

Candlewick Press, 2018. 339 pages.
Starred Review
Reviewed July 7, 2018, from a copy sent from the publisher.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I am an avid L. M. Montgomery fan. I have read all of her published journals. I’ve read all her novels. Usually when I read a biography, I think how much nicer it was to read about these things in L. M. Montgomery’s own words. But I didn’t feel that way about House of Dreams.

In the first place, Liz Rosenberg did a great job of giving us the high points of L. M. Montgomery’s life. She speaks frankly of bipolar disorder and that there was no real treatment for it in her time. When Maud had a long low period, we don’t have to wade through the despairing journal entries, but we get a summary.

I thought I knew the whole story. But this book was the first I heard a crucial fact about Maud’s passionate love affair with Herman Leard – he was publicly courting another woman. It always made me crazy in her journals to read all the reasons why he wasn’t actually suited to her for marriage. I had no idea that she was protecting herself from jealousy. (I did know that she herself was engaged at that time to Edwin Simpson.)

I also knew that her life ended very unhappily and that she was very disappointed in her oldest son Chester. This book puts perspective on that and gives more details than Maud did about what Chester had done. (It’s this part that makes the book more for young adults than for children.) And I did not know that her death was probably a suicide, though I did know that she ended her days feeling despairing.

Her life ended unhappily, but there was so much inspiring about her life. Her persistent work at writing and her eventual success of climbing “the Alpine path” is always an uplifting story to hear. This quiet imaginative girl from Prince Edward Island achieved fame and wealth and a lasting legacy. The illustrations by Julie Morstad are perfect and make the book a treasure. (I’d love to see Julie Morstad illustrate all of L. M. Montgomery’s novels!)

I’m not going to keep all of the books that publishers have sent me to consider for the Newbery – but this one is going right into my collection of books by and about L. M. Montgomery. It’s a lovely book about a fascinating and inspiring life. I do recommend it to all my friends, teen and up, who love the Anne and Emily books.

candlewick.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 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 Lights! Camera! Alice! by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Saturday, May 30th, 2020

Lights! Camera! Alice!

The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker

by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Chronicle Books, 2018. 56 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

Who knew? One of the first people to create movies was a woman! This is from the note at the back:

Alice Guy-Blaché (1875-1968) was the first woman in the world to make movies – and one of the very first moviemakers, period. Long before Hollywood turned from silent films to “talkies,” Alice directed the first sound films ever made. She was also one of the first to film made-up stories instead of real events. (Some historians say she was the first, while others credit the Lumière brothers or Georges Méliès.) Between 1896 and 1920, Alice made over seven hundred movies, and her studio, Solax, produced hundreds more. She truly earned the title “Mother of the Movies.”

This picture book biography dramatizes Alice’s life without enormous amount of text and plenty of visuals. She grew up in France and got her start there, but came to America and made movies outside New York City. But the rise of Hollywood and the start of World War I meant her studio went out of business.

Each “episode” of her life has a “title card” like the old-fashioned title cards used in silent movies, and it turns out that each one is the title of a movie Alice made, with titles like “A Terrible Catastrophe,” “The Great Discovery,” “Starting Something,” “Imagination,” and “Her Great Adventure.”

There’s lots of back matter, and I took the time to look up one of Alice’s short films on YouTube. I was quite taken with this amazing woman I’d never heard of before – who changed the world.

mararockliff.com
chroniclekids.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 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 Calling All Minds, by Temple Grandin

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Calling All Minds

How to Think and Create Like an Inventor

by Temple Grandin
with Betsy Lerner

Philomel Books, 2018. 228 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 23, 2018, from a book sent by the publisher
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

As the blurb on the cover of the book states, Temple Grandin is a “World-Renowned Scientist, Inventor, and Expert on Visual Thinking.” She is also autistic. This book outlines some of the things that fascinated her as a child and led to her becoming a world-renowned inventor.

All along the way in this book, she presents projects for kids to experiment with. And for the most part, we’re not talking about simple craft projects, though there are a few of those. Many things involve sawing lumber or cutting pieces to the right size. I also like the way she suggests tinkering with the creations to get the results you want.

A note to readers and their parents right at the front warns which projects “require the use of sharp objects or power tools.” I think this makes the book all the more fascinating for an inquisitive mind.

I love the way she fills the book with stories of things that made her curious as a child. But I think my favorite part is where she explains about patents and how they work. She’s got many diagrams from patents used in the illustrations. But best of all is that she encourages kids to indulge in this curiosity, too:

My grandfather stimulated my early interest in science and invention. There may even be a genetic link that explains our shared interest. You can look up one of his patents, Patent No. US2383460A, for a magnetic field responsive device. His invention makes the autopilot on airplanes work. A really fun thing to do online is to look up patents. You can easily find any invention; just type in “Google patent” and enter key words for whatever you’re interested in. It’s much easier to search Google than the government patent site, though you can use that, too.

Here’s how she finishes the introductory chapter:

The future holds many crucial challenges such as understanding the impact of climate change, curing diseases, and ending hunger. We need all kinds of minds if we are going to figure out how to adapt. If we lose the ability to make things, we will lose a whole lot more. We need people who can cast iron and chemists who can create new materials that are lighter and stronger than metal. We need new storytellers, filmmakers, musicians, and artists. And we need new technologies to explore the future, including a deeper and more complex understanding of the earth and the ocean and the galaxies.

There is no better way to start than by making things of your own design. All the projects I made when I was young contributed to the inventions I’ve made throughout my life. And they have given my life meaning. I hope these projects and the ones you create will do the same for you.

Encourage the kids in your life to create, to try and try again, to tinker, and to make things with their own hands. This book is going to make some minds take off!

templegrandin.com
penguin.com/middle-grade

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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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