Archive for the ‘Children’s Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of Before They Were Artists, by Elizabeth Haidle

Tuesday, July 20th, 2021

Before They Were Artists

Famous Illustrators as Kids

by Elizabeth Haidle

Etch (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2021. 64 pages.
Review written July 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a picture-book-sized nonfiction book for children in graphic novel format telling about the childhoods of six distinguished illustrators.

I would have never thought to put these particular illustrators together in a book, and I love the variety of backgrounds they represent. We’ve got:

Wanda Gág, who wrote Millions of Cats, born in 1893 in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, born in 1928 in Brooklyn, New York.
Tove Jansson, who wrote Finn Family Moomintroll, born in 1914 in Helsinki, Finland.
Jerry Pinkney, who wrote The Lion and the Mouse, born in 1939 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Yuyi Morales, who wrote Just a Minute, born in 1968 in Xalapa, Mexico.
Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, born in 1941 in Tokyo, Japan.

Each illustrator gets a title spread with one book featured (the one I listed above), a picture of the illustrator as a child in the landscape of their own books, with a quotation coming from a speech bubble. There’s a time line across the bottom with notable events in their lives, including other books they’ve written. Then they each get six to eight more pages with panels in graphic novel format telling about their childhoods, how they got started in art, and their many accomplishments.

This book is delightful to look at and presents lots of information in an entertaining way. It’s sure to inspire other young artists or at least get them thinking about what their love for art could lead to.

There’s a spread at the front with the title “What makes an illustrator?” It talks about how they had many different backgrounds, but they loved to draw.

In all cases, inspiration from someone else helped pave the way: another artist, animator, cartoonist, or painter whose books, films, or paintings moved hearts and imprinted themselves on minds. These heroes and mentors made a path of possibility to walk down.

May the stories in this book inspire other artists in turn.

hmhbooks.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 Play Like a Girl, by Kate T. Parker

Friday, July 2nd, 2021

Play Like a Girl

Life Lessons from the Soccer Field

by Kate T. Parker

Workman Publishing, 2020. 204 pages.
Review written October 31, 2020, from a library book

Play Like a Girl is another book packed with wonderful action shots of people from the author of Strong Is the New Pretty and The Heart of a Boy. This book features female soccer players – girls and women from all levels of soccer competition. Every photo includes a quote with the subject’s first name and age. Professional soccer players featured are given a short bio at the back.

The book is organized into ten chapters with ten “Rules,” things like “Keep Your Head Up” and “The Team Is the Thing.” The first page of the chapter has a short inspirational text with lessons from playing soccer. The rest is all quotes and photos.

This is another astonishingly beautiful book to look through. Almost made me wish I played soccer! This book would be a wonderful gift for any girl who plays soccer.

katetparker.com
workman.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 A Most Clever Girl, by Jasmine A. Stirling and Vesper Stamper

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

A Most Clever Girl

How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

by Jasmine A. Stirling
illustrated by Vesper Stamper

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written June 16, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

How do you tell kids about the life of a novelist who writes books for adults? Jasmine Stirling talks about Jane Austen’s supportive family and life circumstances growing up. But she also, in a simple way, explains what kind of writing was prevalent in Jane’s day and how she made fun of it. Here’s how the book begins:

Jane loved stories – long ones, short ones, worn and new.

But there were some kinds of stories that she just couldn’t stand.
These were pale stories with delicate ladies who fainted all the time. (ALAS!)
Or gloomy stories with orphans on doorsteps and terrible secrets in the attic. (OOOH!)
Or sticky-sweet stories where people fell in love at first sight. (EWW!)

This was the fluff that was fashionable in those days. Jane found it, well, stale. And predictable.

You see, Jane had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.

Jane started writing silly stories that poked fun at the fluff.
In one, a pair of pale ladies took turns fainting on a sofa. (ALAS!)
In another, a mother abandoned her baby under a haystack only to discover her alive . . . weeks later. (OOOH!)
In yet another, two children were so hungry they bit off their mother’s fingers. (EWW!)

After this engaging beginning, the book goes on to tell about the circumstances of her life. How her father encouraged her writing. (I love the inclusion of the writing desk he gave her, since I’ve seen that desk in the British Library, and when I did, it brought tears to my eyes.)

But then money got tight, they moved to Bath, and Jane’s father died. The book takes us through those events and on to the time when her brother gave Jane and her sister and mother a cottage to live in. There, Jane began writing again and found her voice.

The illustrator explains at the back how much she enjoyed researching on location. She uses pink to represent youthful playfulness, gray for the hard years, and green as Jane found new maturity.

This book came along just in time for the Jane Austen virtual symposium I’m attending beginning the day after I’m writing this review. The author is going to be speaking and talking about how she attempted to convey Jane Austen’s life in picture book form. I’m looking forward to hearing her speak, already impressed with the results of her work.

jasmineastirling.com
vesperillustration.com
Bloomsbury.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 Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, by Laurie Wallmark, art by Brooke Smart

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter

How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars

words by Laurie Wallmark
art by Brooke Smart

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 44 pages.
Review written May 15, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This picture book biography features a female American code breaker, a woman I’d never heard of before – whose work was declassified in 2015, thirty-five years after her death.

Most of us have heard of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who broke the German’s Enigma code. I hadn’t realized that America was working separately on cracking the code and succeeded separately to crack the code. And the person in charge of that effort was a woman, Elizebeth Friedman.

Her work as a code breaker began long before that. She was hired in 1916 to try to find secret messages hidden in Shakespeare’s plays by Francis Bacon, whom her employer thought was the real author of the plays. She didn’t succeed in finding any, but that got her started in decoding. She and her husband were involved in the United States government’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Ciphers, in 1917 during World War I. They wrote pamphlets about the techniques they developed which are considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology.

She didn’t only work during war time, although she served during both wars. She also used her methods to catch smugglers during Prohibition and later captured spies.

I’ve recently reviewed books about making and breaking codes and ciphers, so I love this one about a woman who made that her life’s work. The author includes fun details such as the dinner party that Elizebeth and her husband hosted in 1938 where the guests had to solve clues to figure out where each course was being served.

Because of the top secret nature of her work, Elizebeth wasn’t celebrated for her accomplishments in her lifetime. Here’s how this picture book biography ends:

Elizebeth was a true heroine of both World War I and World War II. She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time. Yet no one knew how many codes she broke, how many Nazis she stopped, how many American lives she saved . . . until now.

There’s more information at the back of the book including hints about coded messages hidden in the illustrations. This is a perfect book for kids interested in codes.

lauriewallmark.com
brooke-smart.com
abramsbooks.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 Hear My Voice, compliled by Warren Binford

Monday, May 24th, 2021

Hear My Voice

The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States

compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

Workman Publishing, 2021. 96 pages.
Review written May 20, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

It is horrible that this heart-wrenching book exists.

It’s all true. The words are taken entirely “from the sworn testimonies given by children while they were being held at Border Patrol facilities or other detention centers near the US border, often in violation of their rights.”

Those words tell us about terrible things.

The words are accompanied by illustrations from seventeen Latinx illustrators, adding tremendous power to what is said, with haunting images.

The testimonies tell of the danger they fled from, of family in the United States they want to join, of severely crowded conditions, of not getting fruits or vegetables, of waking up in the night hungry, of being verbally abused, of being cold, of having to sleep on the floor under glaring lights, of being woken up in the night at random times, of not getting medical care when sick, and more.

There are six pages after the picture book text, explaining the situation. Warren Binford, who compiled the material, is a lawyer who has visited the facilities as part of official inspections. He begins by explaining cases that established what the law requires, since 1997. This includes that children should be released as quickly as possible from government detention, and children should be released to family members. While they are in detention, they must be properly cared for in safe, clean conditions, with many specifications of what that should look like (which are clearly not being met).

Then he talks about his own visits to border patrol facilities, with an especially horrific visit to the Clint Border Patrol Station in 2019. After talking with the children as part of a mandated inspection, they decided to amplify those children’s voices and share the children’s stories. This book is part of that.

Although this is a children’s book, you’ll want to talk about it with kids, and some guidelines are included for doing that. Here’s what Warren Binford has to say about that:

We call it a “children’s book” because Hear My Voice is about children’s lives and experiences. Every word is from a child being held in a US detention facility. Every passage was selected while envisioning a child’s eyes and mind reading and contemplating the content. Every illustration is intended to help bridge the humanity between the children whose collective stories are told and the child who is trying to understand what is happening to children forced to move across national borders.

Although this is a children’s book, we recommend that thoughtful adults are on hand to help young readers process what they are learning from these children’s accounts. The book should be viewed as an opportunity to better understand human migration and children’s rights.

This book is also a dual-language book – if you flip it over, you get the same text and pictures in Spanish. So half of the 96 pages are given to each language. The unfortunate thing about that is our library is shelving it in the Spanish language section, and I’m afraid English-speaking children won’t find it.

This is a powerful and heart-breaking set of testimonies. The book also includes a section titled “Here are some ways your family can help,” and you will want to get started on those right away.

project-amplify.org/declarations

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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 Legacy, by Nikki Grimes

Friday, May 14th, 2021

Legacy

Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance

by Nikki Grimes

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021. 134 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book

Quick, name a female poet from the Harlem Renaissance! I couldn’t do it before I read this book.

Here Nikki Grimes features poems from fifteen women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. After each poem she selects, she writes her own Golden Shovel poem – taking a significant line from the original poem and using those words at the ends of the lines in her tribute poem.

She says in the introduction:

In these pages, you will meet some of the gifted female poets – and remarkable women – of the Harlem Renaissance who created alongside and often nurtured the male poets we know. They didn’t all produce poetry collections of their own, but each played an integral part in this historic era in America.

Then, alongside the challenging, inspirational, and beautiful poetry is placed art from nineteen black women artists. In the back, there are biographies of all the poets and all the artists.

The poems themselves are inspirational. As an example, the poem “Four Walls,” by Blanche Taylor Dickinson, about overcoming obstacles, is paired with Nikki Grimes golden shovel poem “What Girls Can Do,” also about breaking out of boxes.

This is especially an anthology to hand to black girls to let them know there are no limits, but anyone can appreciate this message and the beauty of the words and images. And find out about some too-long-overlooked poets.

nikkigrimes.com
bloomsbury.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 One Grain of Rice, by Demi

Saturday, May 8th, 2021

One Grain of Rice

A Mathematical Folktale

by Demi

Scholastic Press, 1997. 36 pages.
Review written May 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
Mathical Hall of Fame

One Grain of Rice was recently chosen for the Mathical Books Hall of Fame, so I thought I should catch up – I missed this one when it was published. Yes, I’ve heard the tale in different versions, so I knew what to expect: a lowly person outwitting an autocrat with the power of exponential growth, asking for one grain of rice the first day, twice as much the next day, and doubling each day for thirty days.

This version has Demi’s exquisite artwork. The lowly person in this story is a clever peasant girl named Rani who devises a plan to feed hungry people. I also like the way the tyrant hoarding rice reforms and everybody’s happy at the end. It’s a picture book, after all.

As for the math – there’s a chart at the back that shows how many grains of rice Rani gets on each of the thirty days, so kids can see the exponential growth. I like the way the story doesn’t pretend that someone counts out each grain (couldn’t be done in a day!), but shows progressively bigger baskets transporting the rice. On the final day, two hundred and fifty-six elephants show up on a giant fold-out page bringing the contents of four royal storehouses.

I’m afraid during a pandemic is an especially good time for kids to have a basic understanding of how exponential growth works. It starts out very small, but can grow to very big if you keep on doubling. This classic book makes the ideas memorable, understandable, and beautiful.

scholastic.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 Eclipse Chaser, by Ilima Loomis

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Eclipse Chaser

Science in the Moon’s Shadow

by Ilima Loomis
with photographs by Amanda Cowan

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 80 pages.
Review written April 27, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Eclipse Chaser is part of the wonderful Scientists in the Field series, which uses the tagline, Where Science Meets Adventure. These books show actual scientists on actual expeditions. They explain what the scientists are trying to figure out, the importance of their endeavors, and the obstacles, challenges, and successes they meet with.

This book features the scientist Shadia Habbal and her expedition to get vital scientific information during the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of 2017. This makes the book especially pertinent, since many of the readers, like me, will have experienced that eclipse themselves.

It tells about the many other total solar eclipses Shadia has seen, how that gives her an exceptional look at the sun’s corona, and about some of the breakthroughs she has discovered in her previous work. Shaddia is studying solar winds, and to do that, she uses special filtered cameras that show the location of certain elements in the sun’s corona, as well as photos of certain iron ions that give the temperature in the corona where they’re present.

The book is full of photographs. There’s plenty of drama about setting up all the expensive equipment to take photographs in a short period of time. Since I was present for a solar eclipse in Germany in 1999 where clouds covered the sun in the last minute before totality, I was extra appreciative of those worries. We were told about past expeditions where weather wiped out all their plans.

It’s all fascinating information that helped me understand better why solar eclipses are so important for scientists. There are several photos of the sun’s corona taken during eclipses to help you grasp what they can find out and understand what they’re talking about with the term “solar wind.”

A map in the back of paths, dates, and durations of solar eclipses between 2011 and 2060 says there’s going to be another total solar eclipse in America in April 2024. We’ll want to prominently display this book on our library shelves when that event approaches.

ilimaloomis.com
amandacowanphotography.com
hmhbooks.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 Oldest Student, by Rita Lorraine Hubbard & Oge Mora

Friday, April 30th, 2021

The Oldest Student

How Mary Walker Learned to Read

by Rita Lorraine Hubbard
illustrated by Oge Mora

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written January 23, 2020, from a library book

I know a book is worth reviewing when I can’t resist telling my coworkers about it. This is an amazing true story, beautifully told in a picture book.

Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848. Of course slaves weren’t allowed to learn to read. She was freed when she was fifteen years old, but there was still hard work in her life. Now she was too busy to learn to read. She was given a Bible and planned to learn to read some day, but at the time she had work to do.

This picture book shows her busy life bringing up children, working in people’s homes, and raising money for her church. She’d bring her Bible to church, but she still couldn’t read it.

Mary had her three sons to read to her. But they died before she did. Her eldest son died when he was ninety-four, and Mary was alone at 114 years old.

So Mary learned to read.

She went to a class in her building, and at 116 years old received a certificate that she could read. The US Department of Education heard about her and declared her the nation’s oldest student.

Mary felt complete. She still missed her sons, but whenever she was lonely, she read from her Bible or looked out her window and read the words in the street below.

From then on, Chattanoogans honored Mary’s achievement with yearly birthday parties. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent well wishes on Mary’s 118th birthday, and in 1969, President Richard Nixon did the same. Mary was now 121 years old.

I love the way the book finishes, with an illustration of a friendly crowd clustered around Mary:

Each year, before her birthday celebration came to an end, someone would whisper, “Let’s listen to Miss Mary.”

The shuffling and movement would fade away until not a sound was heard.

Then Mary would stand on her old, old legs, clear her old, old throat, and read from her Bible or her schoolbook in a voice that was clear and strong.

When she finished, she would gently close her book and say,

“You’re never too old to learn.”

The endpapers show photos of Mary after she’d learned to read. The whole book is full of the wonderful Oge Mora’s joyful cut-paper illustrations. I’m amazed at how she conveys so much personality with simple shapes.

This book is a delight. There’s even a picture of Mary’s first airplane ride. A whole lot changed during her lifetime! And the message is clear: You’re never too old to learn.

ritahubbard.com
ogemora.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/oldest_student.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

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

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

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Review of Geometry Is As Easy As Pie, by Katie Coppens

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

Geometry Is As Easy As Pie

by Katie Coppens

Tumblehome, 2019. 62 pages.
Review written April 17, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

What a fun book! It covers simple geometry topics such as symmetry, tessellations, polygons, angles, parallel and perpendicular lines, and relates them all to pie.

With every single concept covered, we get the question, “How does this relate to pie?” Here’s an example:

How Does Radius Relate to Pie?

When it comes to serving only one piece of pie, the first cut is typically from the center point of the pie to the crust. This cut represents the radius of the pie. That cut, like the radius, could be made in any direction to the circumference, as long as it is from the center point of the pie to the crust.

Here’s another such question with an especially good answer:

How Do Geometric Formulas Relate to Pie?

Suppose someone asks you how to make a pie and you just read them a recipe out of this book. Will you really understand pie-making as well as if you’d actually made the pie yourself? In the same way, rather than just memorizing geometric formulas, it’s important to work with and understand the mathematical ideas behind the formulas. In this book, the thinking behind mathematical concepts is explained first, before we give you formulas. In the same way, we hope you actually try to make the pies you read about in this book!

The book is illustrated with many, many photos of luscious-looking pies, and yes, a variety of recipes are included. I’m a little ashamed to say I did not try any of them out. But I may have drooled over the photos.

katiecoppens.com
tumblehomebooks.org

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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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