Archive for the ‘Stand-outs’ Category

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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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 The Light in Hidden Places, by Sharon Cameron

Monday, February 15th, 2021

The Light in Hidden Places

by Sharon Cameron

Scholastic Press, 2020. 391 pages.
Review written October 24, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 General Teen Fiction

The Light in Hidden Places is a Holocaust novel, so don’t pick it up if you want something cheery. The book tells a true story, though, which gives you hope that the main character is going to come through. In fact, if I hadn’t known it was based on a true story, there was no way I would have believed the characters survived many of the things that happened in this book. If the author had invented them, I would have said it was way over the top with the danger.

The story is of Fusia, a Catholic teenage Polish girl who gets a job in the shop of a Jewish family in 1939 while living in town with her sisters. When the Russians come and her home is bombed, she ends up living with the Jewish family. But the Germans are next, and after awhile, they send the Jewish family to the ghetto. It seems like a safe place for them, and Fusia finds ways to get them food. No one really believes the rumors when some of them get sent on trains to work camps.

As the war goes on, Fusia tries to visit her family on the farm, and finds them gone (sent to a different labor camp in Salzburg), but her young sister Helena alone there and starving. She takes Helena back to the town. And then she gets asked to hide one of the brothers from her Jewish family, for just one night. One night stretches out. She ends up hiding more people. I won’t even say how many Jews she ends up hiding because it seems impossible.

As the war goes on, the chance that Fusia and Helena will be able to keep these people hidden – while also healthy and not starving – gets worse and worse. For some of the time, there are even Nazis living under the same roof. The tension is high, and once I got more than halfway through, I couldn’t stop reading. I kept thinking they couldn’t possibly get through the next crisis.

And the story is all true. Photographs and the Author’s Note at the back give us details. But the author makes it all feel immediate and gripping. This isn’t dry and dusty history at all.

sharoncameronbooks.com
IreadYA.com
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.

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 Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Saturday, February 13th, 2021

Mañanaland

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic Press, 2020. 247 pages.
Review written March 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#11 Children’s Fiction

This lovely book tells the story of a boy growing into the legacy of his family of helping people in need.

Here’s how the book begins:

Somewhere in the Américas, many years after once-upon-a-time and long before happily-ever-after, a boy climbed the cobbled steps of an arched bridge in the tiny village of Santa Maria, in the country of the same name.

He bounced a fútbol on each stone ledge.

In the land of a hundred bridges, this was his favorite. When he was only a baby, Papá, a master stonemason and bridge builder, had carved his name on the spandrel wall for all to see

MAXIMILIANO CÓRDOBA

Max is twelve years old and ready this year to join Santa Maria’s famous fútbol team. He also ready for more responsibility and more freedom, like going to another town for a free fútbol clinic with his friends, but his Papá is overprotective and won’t let him go. Papá is also full of secrets, and never talks about Max’s mother, who left when Max was a baby.

In this book, Max discovers many family secrets and is placed in a situation where he must rise to the occasion and follow the family tradition of helping others.

I like the little blend of fantasy in this book, with a beginning like a fairy tale. The setting is fictional, but there’s a country troubled by war and oppression over the nearby border. Max and his grandfather like to tell stories, though his Papá is more of a realist and doesn’t seem to believe in happy endings any more. But Max discovers that some of the stories are hiding important truths.

I also like the tower standing over the town, a tower like a giant queen from a chessboard. The picture on the cover added to Max’s thinking of her as a giant lady watching over the town and its people.

This book had just the right blend of mystery, danger, adventure, and hope.

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 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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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 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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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 Stepping Stones, by Lucy Knisley

Sunday, February 7th, 2021

Stepping Stones

by Lucy Knisley

RH Graphic, 2020. 218 pages.
Review written July 22, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#10 Children’s Fiction

It’s a winning formula: A graphic novel about a kid navigating middle school, based on the author’s own life. After all, there’s so much material in our lives at that age for humor and pathos.

Stepping Stones doesn’t include any scenes at school, but it’s based on what the author went through at that age. Jen’s parents have split up. Jen’s mom is following her dream and moving to a farm in the country with her boyfriend. The author sets us up concisely by showing Jen in a room surrounded by boxes making a list of things she misses about the city and things she HATES about the farm.

The number one thing Jen hates is the chores. And right away we see the adults telling her how much they expect as they set up a chicken coop and get ready for their order of chicks to arrive. They’re going to be Jen’s responsibility. And at the Farmer’s Market booth, she’s expected to help – even though doing the calculations to make change is a challenge.

But things get extra interesting when Jen’s mom’s boyfriends’ two daughters start coming to the farm every weekend. Andy, the girl who’s Jen’s age, is a big know-it-all and bosses Jen around. When Jen complains, she’s called a Drama Queen.

The summer goes on and we watch a family forming before our eyes. Everyone does have their annoying quirks, but they find ways to connect and come together, and they all have contributions to make for the success of the farm.

I hope that the kids who’ve loved Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s and Jerry Craft’s books will find Lucy Knisley’s as well. It’s a warm and humorous graphic novel about farming and stepfamilies and new experiences.

lucyknisley.com
RHKidsGraphic.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 A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

A Phoenix First Must Burn

Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope

edited by Patrice Caldwell

Viking, 2020. 354 pages.
Review written December 7, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#9 Teen Speculative Fiction

I don’t usually have the patience for short stories, but I took up this collection as part of my reading for the first round of the Cybils Awards, and read a story between each full-length book I read, sort of as a way to cleanse my palate. And I ended up being delighted.

I shouldn’t have been surprised – there are some powerhouse writers included in this book. The ones I’ve read before are Elizabeth Acevedo, Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, and Ibi Zoboi, and they and the rest of the authors told stories that contained magic along with a big punch.

Here’s an extended section from editor Patrice Caldwell’s Introduction:

But whenever I went to the children’s section of the library to discover more tales, the novels featuring characters who looked like me were, more often than not, rooted in pain set amid slavery, sharecropping, or segregation. Those narratives are important, yes. But because they were the only ones offered, I started to wonder. Where is my fantasy, my future? Why don’t Black people exist in speculative worlds?

Too often media focuses on our suffering. Too often we are portrayed as victims. But in reality, we advocate for and save ourselves long before anyone else does, from heroes my parents taught me of to recent ones like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black women who founded Black Lives Matter.

Malcolm X said, “The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.” I believe this is even more true for my fellow queer siblings, and especially for those identifying as trans and as gender nonconforming. We are constantly under attack.

And yet still we rise from our own ashes.

We never accept no.

With each rebirth comes a new strength.

Black women are phoenixes.

We are given lemons and make lemonade.

So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.

These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-seeking hair-stylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.

Though some of these stories contain sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are.

This collection does not disappoint. And take it from this white lady, you don’t have to be a Black girl to thoroughly enjoy these stories in their variety, their surprise, and their magic.

patricecaldwell.com
penguinteen.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 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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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/moles.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 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.

What did you think of this book?