Review of Before Music, by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Madison Safer

Before Music

Where Instruments Come From

by Annette Bay Pimentel
illustrated by Madison Safer

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2022. 88 pages.
Review written September 7, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

I was not at all prepared for how charmed I would be by this book. Before the title page, pictures filling up oversize pages show you a boy with a drum and a woman with a stringed instrument making music. There’s a bit of text:

Music doesn’t come out of nothing.
It always starts somewhere. . .
with something. . .
with someone.

I expected to learn about the instruments of the western orchestra. But instead, the first instrument presented is a rock gong, and the next one a pututu, made from a seashell. Yes, instruments from western orchestras are included, but they’re a relatively small part of the many, many ways that humans make music.

At the back of the book, the author explains that different cultures classify musical instruments in different ways. “In writing this book, I was inspired by the ancient Chinese system, which focused on the materials instruments are made of.” Each group of instruments is presented first with a large painting and pictures of someone making an instrument of that type. Next, the book explains how that material makes music, then we see many more instruments made with that material, subdivided using the Indian and Javanese focus on how they are played.

And there are so many kinds of instruments! Leafing through the 88 pages, I see instruments made from rock, found objects, clay, gourds, strings, metal, wood, reeds, flexible sheets, and human voices. Mixed between the descriptions of instruments and how they are made are features of musical innovators, people who figured out how to make new sounds from materials already used for instruments or how to improve what was being used.

As an example of the amazing variety found here, on the gourd instruments page, I see thirteen instruments from countries all over the world, only two of which I’d ever heard of before.

This book is fascinating and beautiful. There are suggestions at the back for kids to make their own musical instruments.

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Review of Make Way for Animals! by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Bao Luu

Make Way for Animals!

A World of Wildlife Crossings

by Meeg Pincus
illustrated by Bao Luu

Millbrook Press, 2022. 32 pages.
Review written July 4, 2022, from a library book.
Starred Review

This is a simple nonfiction picture book about many different things people have constructed to help animals get across busy roadways that cut across their habitats.

I have been fascinated by animal crossings ever since seeing wooded bridges above the highways in Europe.

This book shows bridges like that in the Netherlands, but also a pipeline for penguins in New Zealand, a crossing for crabs on Christmas Island, an underpass for elephants in Kenya, a rope bridge for ringtail possums in Australia, and much more.

The book also gives details about the specific animals helped by the crossings. Notes at the back give details about specific places.

The main text is simple but fascinating. I like the variety in the different kinds of crossings featured. All of them save animals lives and help them have a wider habitat.

MeegPincus.com
lernerbooks.com

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Review of Revolution in Our Time, by Kekla Magoon

Revolution in Our Time

The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People

by Kekla Magoon

Candlewick Press, 2021. 390 pages.
Review written August 20, 2022, from my own copy, purchased at the Walter Awards and signed by the author.
2022 Printz Honor Book
2022 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award
2022 National Book Award Finalist
2022 Walter Dean Myers Honor Award
Starred Review

Revolution in Our Time is an amazing work of scholarship, telling the complete history of the Black Panther Party for young people, complete with hundreds of photographs and plenty of sidebars and analysis. It won multiple Honor awards, and the meticulous research and clear presentation make it an obvious choice, even for awards that are usually won by novelists.

I didn’t know much at all about the Black Panthers. And honestly, all my impressions of them were negative. I certainly didn’t know that much of their reason for existing was to protest the same disproportionate police violence against Black people that still exists today. But it went much further than that. They wanted to help Black people in poverty and help Black communities come together. Reading this book helped me understand the organization was much more nuanced than anything I’d heard about them.

The Panthers fought a revolution in their time, just as we are fighting one in ours. They were called troublemakers, terrorists, and branded as anti-American, but the truth of their work belies these labels. They boldly claimed their place at the vanguard of a centuries-old fight for equality, and their legacy continues to lead the way forward. The story of the Black Panther Party is one of violence and heartbreak and struggle and conviction. It is the story of a group of young people who set out to change the world around them — in very radical ways.

They came up against many obstacles — including an FBI effort to stop them. They had many successes and many failures. This book tells their complete story, and it opened my eyes.

I was especially interested to learn that especially at the beginning, they were careful to follow all laws. They “policed the police” following police actions with legally owned guns, to protect people in their neighborhoods from police violence. I’m afraid I’m not surprised this resulted in some changes to what was legal.

I like the way the last chapter focuses on how young the founders of the Black Panther Party were. There is a reason the author targeted this amazing work of scholarship to young people. Here’s a paragraph from that last chapter:

I discovered an archival video in the course of my research, with former civil rights movement leaders who were looking back in the early 2000s at their own words and convictions of the 1960s. They declared in retrospect that the biggest mistake of the civil rights era was to believe that all the problems could be solved in their lifetime, and they failed to train the next generation to take up the mantle in the necessary ways to maintain the struggle. My own life experience bears this up in a lot of ways: young people are often underestimated and excluded from challenging conversations. Whether it’s to protect the children, or due to a misguided faith in their own power to solve everything, the perennial mistake of elders is to dismiss the power and potential of youth. On the flip side, the mistake of youth is often to dismiss the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before. In their day, the Panthers didn’t make either of these mistakes. They placed the core of their emphasis on building a cadre of revolutionary youth, and they promoted empowerment through education about Black history. They were undermined and overturned at every stage, perhaps partly because of the truly systemic nature of the change they envisioned, and the fact that they made real progress in these directions in a very short time frame.

Not that the author paints a completely rosy picture of what the Black Panthers were trying to do. But whatever you know about the Black Panthers, I suspect this book will give you a fuller picture. An amazing story of people who wanted to bring about equality and were willing to fight to get it.

keklamagoon.com

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Review of Escape at 10,000 Feet, by Tom Sullivan

Unsolved Case Files

Escape at 10,000 Feet

D. B. Cooper and the Missing Money

by Tom Sullivan

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2021. 98 pages.
Review written April 19, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

This book clearly lays out for kids all the facts about the only unsolved airplane hijacking case in the United States.

It happened in 1971. A man who called himself Dan Cooper hijacked an airplane and asked for $200,000 in cash and two front and two back parachutes. He later jumped off the plane and was never heard from again – but neither was his body found.

The money he was given was marked – and it was never used. But in 1980, a child found three bundles of twenty dollar bills from the hijacking – buried in a riverbank in the general area where the man had jumped off the plane.

It’s all presented in a matter-of-fact, precise way, with eye-catching pictures on every page. Some theories are presented at the end, along with why they are probably wrong.

Metal detector screenings at airports began shortly after this episode. Kids will be amazed at how lax security was back in 1971, though still amazed at what D. B. Cooper was able to do – though they might argue whether or not he lived through it.

I don’t think of myself as interested in true crime, but I couldn’t stop reading this one. It’s especially intriguing to realize it really happened.

thomasgsullivan.com
harperalley.com

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Review of Nicky and Vera, by Peter Sis

Nicky & Vera

A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued

by Peter Sis

Norton Young Readers, 2021. 64 pages.
Review written March 1, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Nicky & Vera tells about Nicky, a young Englishman who cancelled a ski vacation and followed his friend to Prague in 1938, and ended up working to get Jewish children out of Prague while there was still time. It also tells about Vera, who was one of those children.

The story is a little sad, because although Vera survived the war, no one else in her family did.

But it does tell about the six hundred sixty-nine children that Nicky was able to save.

Nicky was a quiet hero. He didn’t tell anyone about his heroic work after the war until his wife found his records in their attic about fifty years later. Then a television show arranged for many of those children to get to thank Nicky in person.

The stories are told with illustrations in Peter Sis’s distinctive almost surreal style, full of symbolism, which adds emotional impact to the words.

After Nicky was thanked by the grown children he saved, the book ends (except the extended Author’s Note) with these words:

669 children would not have survived
if not for Nicky, who went to Prague and saved their lives.

I was not a hero, Nicky said.
I did not face any danger, as real heroes do.
I only saw what needed to be done.

A lovely and inspirational story.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Review of A Dream of Flight, by Rob Polivka and Jef Polivka, illustrations by Rob Polivka

A Dream of Flight

Alberto Santos-Dumont’s Race Around the Eiffel Tower

by Rob Polivka and Jef Polivka
illustrations by Rob Polivka

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019. 40 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 2, 2019, from a library book

Here’s a picture book about one of the pioneers of flight – and one I didn’t know anything about. Alberto Santos-Dumont, who went by Santos, dreamed of flying and worked hard to invent a machine that would fly and could be steered.

Santos made balloons, trying to make their shape facilitate steering. He added a motor to make them move even against the wind. Yes, his airships crashed. He used that as an opportunity to improve the design.

After Santos had already built five airships, a prize of 100,000 francs was announced for the first person who could pilot an airship from the Aero Club in Paris around the Eiffel Tower and back in less than 30 minutes. His first attempt failed, and Airship No. 5 was destroyed.

This book tells the dramatic story of his next attempt. He won this prize even before the Wright Brothers achieved their historic flight.

Alberto Santos-Dumont’s life and adventures make a good story. It’s dramatic and easy-to-follow – and teaches the reader that there was more to the development of flight than just the Wright Brothers or just what was happening in America. There’s a page of more facts in the back of the book.

mackids.com

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Review of I Am an American, by Martha Brockenbrough with Grace Lin, illustrated by Julia Kuo

I Am an American

The Wong Kim Ark Story

written by Martha Brockenbrough
with Grace Lin
illustrated by Julia Kuo

Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written January 14, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This nonfiction picture book simply and clearly explains an important case in the history of American immigration and citizenship.

I like the way it begins, showing a loving mother holding her son:

Long ago, a boy was born in an apartment above a shop in San Francisco.

His name was Wong Kim Ark — and he believed something that would change this country.

I am an American.

The book tells about the neighborhood in Chinatown where he lived and shows the boy growing up. It shows the community prospering. But then when hard times hit, many blamed the Chinese and laws were passed that Chinese people could not become citizens.

But Kim Ark was born in America and considered himself an American. His parents moved back to China, but the first time Kim Ark had ever been to China was when he visited them. Only seventeen, he went back to California and lived with his aunt and uncle, working as a cook.

Laws got stricter. He wanted to visit his parents again. To follow the law, he found three white witnesses to sign a document swearing he was born in California and was an American. But when he returned, authorities locked him up on a ship for more than four months. Friends had to file a lawsuit to win his freedom — and his case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The book makes this decision interesting and talks about both sides of the argument — with a happy result. The last page of the main text shows children of many different skin tones running toward the viewer with the Golden Gate Bridge behind them.

But Kim Ark’s victory means that today, every child born in the United States and its territories is an American, too…
no matter what language your parents speak,
what you look like,
or what you believe about God.

If you’re born in the United States or its territories, you belong here, and it’s your right to call yourself American.
It’s your right to call this home.
Always.

This is a lovely presentation of a complicated topic, presented in an engaging way for children.

marthabrockenbrough.com
gracelin.com
juliakuo.com

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Review of A Thousand Sisters, by Elizabeth Wein

A Thousand Sisters

The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II

by Elizabeth Wein

Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2019. 388 pages.
Review written March 18, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2019 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award Finalist

Did you know – I certainly didn’t – that during World War II (called “The Great Patriotic War” there), the Soviet Union had three entire Air Force regiments of women? This book tells their story.

Here’s part of the Prologue that tells what you’ll find here:

It’s the story of three regiments of aviators, only three out of a thousand aviation units fighting for a common cause. Along with a scattering of individual women who served in the Soviet Air Force alongside men, the young aviators in these three regiments were the only women of any nation who flew combat missions during World War II.

Some of these soldiers flew as many as eighteen combat missions in a single night.

Some of them perished in flames.

Some of them worked in the dark, feeling their way blindly, in cold so fierce their hands froze to the metal tools they held as they made sure their companions were able to fly.

Almost all of them were in their teens when they went to war.

This is the story of a generation of girls who were raised in the belief that they were as good as men, and who were raised to believe that it was their destiny to defend their nation in battle.

It’s the story of a thousand young women who grew up inspired by Marina Raskova and who were ready to follow her into the air.

It’s the story of a generation of young people who learned to work with the wind – those who soared and those who came back to earth.

This is the story of a thousand sisters fighting and flying.

This is an exciting story, though it was also a little bit bewildering. In the first place, I had a hard time keeping straight the various Russian names. The author did a good job helping by often using nicknames, but there were a lot of people to keep track of. There were many exciting and dangerous situations during the course of the war, and many of the most prominent characters died before the end of the book.

I even had trouble keeping track of the difference between the three regiments and which women were in which regiment. One regiment flew Pe-2s and another flew Po-2s, which kind of melded in my mind. It was good to give the overall picture of how the war was going, and I think the author actually did a good job explaining the differences, but the scope was so grand, I’d start to lose track.

Still, I was very surprised by how much Soviet women did during World War II – and saddened that they stopped getting chances to fly afterward. This book is full of death-defying situations and incredible hardships that these women overcame. I’ve read a lot about World War II, but I never had any idea about these stories.

The scope is grand and it is hard to grasp it all, but I still think the author did a wonderful job making the information accessible. Maybe a list of characters at the front would have helped, or more pictures of individuals. (Spoiler: The three on the cover all die before the end!) My problem may actually have been that I read it too quickly, during a day on Sick Leave during the Covid-19 crisis. I may not have been paying enough attention, because she did explain well at the beginning the differences between the three regiments and did keep mentioning which regiment she was talking about.

An epic war story – about women who fought for their country, and fought well.

elizabethwein.com

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

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Review of Give Us the Vote! by Susan Goldman Rubin

Give Us the Vote!

Over 200 Years of Fighting for the Ballot

by Susan Goldman Rubin

Holiday House, 2020. 124 pages.
Review written April 8, 2020, from a library book

Give Us the Vote! opened my eyes about the history of voting in the United States. Sure, I knew that African Americans needed a Constitutional amendment before they could vote, as did women. What I hadn’t realized is that it’s still always been a battle to have free and fair elections.

I didn’t realize, for example, that we didn’t have a secret ballot until the early 1900s. Before that, people would buy and sell votes – and they could follow up depending on how the person voted. But even after that, it was still possible to bully people at the voting booth or try to exclude people from voting.

All the way through the 1850s, people voted with their voice. (Or I should say, men voted with their voice.)

The earliest method of voting was voicing one’s choice in public. A citizen would literally stand up and say who he was voting for or raise his hand. This made intimidation easy. Around Election Day, candidates plied voters with rum, wine, and beer to win their votes, or bribed them with food and money. Since only property owners could vote, candidates often bought “freeholds,” or temporary land rights, from large landowners. They gave these rights to landless men, and returned the deeds to the real owners after the election. Sometimes corrupt candidates would even pay voters not to vote so that they could win a majority.

This book covers the battle to gain the right to vote for many different groups, as well as the many different kinds of cheating that people have used successfully over the years our country has been a nation. One popular method is getting fake people to vote or the same people voting many times. But then another technique is stealing and destroying ballots and/or replacing them with fake ones. Getting the count correct is another whole area of danger. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t until the Civil War when soldiers wanted to vote that absentee ballots were allowed, and it was a big area of controversy, including new ways of committing voter fraud.

Gerrymandering is mentioned, with both old and recent examples from both parties. The author mentions a 2019 Supreme Court case that decided that this is an issue for elected branches of government to decide, not the federal courts.

This book is geared to teens, so it includes the movement to change the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen during the Vietnam War – and the current wish of some to bring it down to age sixteen.

Many people agree that high schoolers care about local and national problems and should be allowed to vote. Studies prove that teenagers can gather and process information, weighing pros and cons as well as most adults. Research conducted by FairVote shows that sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds are as informed and engaged in political issues as older voters. If they start voting in their teens, they are more likely to make voting a lifelong habit and increase voter turnout.

Books like this will help young people realize we can’t take for granted our rights to fair and free elections.

HolidayHouse.com

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Review of Africa, Amazing Africa, by Atinuke, illustrated by Mouni Feddag

Africa, Amazing Africa

Country by Country

by Atinuke
illustrated by Mouni Feddag

Candlewick Press, 2021. First published in the United Kingdom in 2019. 78 pages.
Review written April 26, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

This wonderful oversized picture book tells the reader all about Africa. The information is arranged by region, and every single African country gets a page with colorful pictures and information about what makes that country special. The details are given with a clear fondness for the continent, and the introductory page for each region includes ways to say “Welcome!” in the many languages spoken there.

I was hoping that reading this book would make me a better Worldle player. (In Worldle, you see the outline of a country and try to guess the name. Hints tell you which direction the answer is in and how far away from your guess.) I’m not sure I remembered all the information I read, but it gave me appreciation for the wide-ranging variety of climates and landscapes and cities and people found in Africa. If I still had school-age kids, this would be a fun book to leave out for them to browse at will.

Here is a bit from the Introduction. You can get a taste of how enthusiastic the author is about Africa.

Writing this book has been an adventure. I wanted to write it so that I could share the things I find exciting about Africa. But while I was working on it, I found out a zillion more really exciting things.

Did you know that the first human beings to walk this earth were African? They went on to populate the whole planet. So we are all from Africa originally!

Did you know that Africa is gigantic? It is as big as Europe, the United States, Mexico, India, and Japan all put together! . . .

Africa is changing all the time: new countries are being created or swallowed up, old traditions are being lost and new ones developing. This book can only give an idea of what Africa is like in the moment that I am writing. So enjoy this book for what it is: a tiny glimpse into this wonderful continent.

I could not squeeze everything that I know and love about Africa into this book. There is room to say only two or three things about each country. But I hope this book will make you want to find out more about the most amazing continent on the planet!

I learned so much reading this book about modern Africa!

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