Review of Tu Youyou’s Discovery, by Songju Ma Daemicke, illustrated by Lin

Tu Youyou’s Discovery

Finding a Cure for Malaria

by Songju Ma Daemicke
illustrated by Lin

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021. 32 pages.
Review written November 29, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Tu Youyou’s Discovery is a picture book that tells the story of how a Chinese lady born in 1930 studied Chinese Traditional Medicine in her modern research lab, and through much hard work discovered a cure for malaria. In 2015, she received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, becoming the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize of any kind.

The story of her life and work is simply told in understandable terms. It tells about her research and stories in traditional medicine of an herbal remedy that sounded promising – but how it didn’t work in her many lab trials.

I like this part, told over four pages with simple illustrations:

Still, the experiments kept failing – more than one hundred with no success.

Some male researchers began to question Youyou’s leadership and doubt the direction of her research. Western countries with advanced technologies hadn’t found a cure. Was using herbal medicine to cure malaria an impossible goal?

But Youyou was stubborn. Her faith in traditional Chinese medicine was unshakable. She kept working and testing.

Then something incredible happened.

After 190 unsuccessful experiments, the test result of sample 191 stunned the team. The qinghao extract prepared at a temperature of only 94 degrees Fahrenheit had killed the parasites completely!

The note at the back tells us that this new therapy saved 6.8 million lives between 2001 and 2015. At the back, there’s also a section “Tu Youyou and the Scientific Method” listing the steps of the Scientific Method and how they were used by Tu Youyou’s team.

A lovely story of a remarkable female scientist.

songjumadaemicke.com
albertwhitman.com

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Review of Punching Bag, by Rex Ogle

Punching Bag

by Rex Ogle

Norton Young Readers, 2021. 207 pages.
Review written January 6, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review

In Punching Bag, Rex Ogle continues to tell about his life. Free Lunch</em> told about the difficulty of being poor when he was in middle school. In Punching Bag, he’s in high school and his family is no longer desperately poor, but he gets frequently beaten by both his mother and his stepfather.

The book is framed with a story about coming home from a summer away when he was seven years old. His mother tells him a baby sister was born while he was gone. But she died. She tells Rex that it’s his fault because he left.

Then we flash to high school. When things get rough, Rex imagines his sister watching him, helping him cope.

Meanwhile, he’s got his actual little brother with him, to help, to entertain, and to try to protect. Rex doesn’t want to turn to violence like his mother and Sam do, but sometimes it all wells up inside him.

There’s lots of humor in this terribly sad book. His style gives us a taste of how surreal the situation must have been for a teen and how trapped he must have felt. The book is powerful, but painful. I’m so glad I read it.

Let me pass along the Author’s Note at the front of the book:

This is a true story. This is my story. It happened to me.

And as painful as it was for me to write, it may be equally or more painful for you to read – especially if you’ve lived through something similar.

If you’re not ready to read this, then don’t. Please, go enjoy some sunshine, watch a funny movie, or buy yourself an ice cream. This book will be waiting for you when you are ready.

But know this: I lived this, I survived. You survived your past too, or you wouldn’t be here reading this. We are both alive. We may have a few more scars than we’d like – inside or out – but we made it through. No matter how dark the past, or even the present, the sun will always come up tomorrow. There is hope.

This story (and that ice cream) are waiting . . . whenever you’re ready.

nortonyoungreaders.com

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Review of Sharice’s Big Voice, by Sharice Davids, with Nancy K. Mays, illustrated by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

Sharice’s Big Voice

A Native Kid Becomes a Congresswoman

by Sharice Davids
with Nancy K. Mays
illustrations by Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley

Harper (HarperCollins), 2021. 40 pages.
Review written July 10, 2021, from a library book

Sharice’s Big Voice is a standard picture book biography, but it did convince me that Sharice Davids is a remarkable woman and that kids will be inspired to hear her story.

Sharice tells her own story and tells us that from the start, she liked to talk. I especially like a small story about how she got an upset classmate to return to the classroom by listening to him, and how she made friends that way.

Then she talks about how she’s part of the Ho-Chunk Nation, who call themselves People of the Big Voice. “(Which obviously fits me well!)”

She tells the story of the example of her single mother and her own interest in martial arts. She worked hard and became a lawyer, even though she didn’t know any other Native people who were lawyers. Then after working to help people on a reservation, she decided to run for U. S. Congress – and became one of the first Native American women in Congress.

Here are the lessons she pulls from her story:

Be open to challenges.
Work hard and you’ll learn a lot.
Listen to people. (But not the doubters!)
Use your big voice to fight for your beliefs.

And always remember:
You deserve to be seen – and heard.

It’s exciting that kids can read a picture book of someone alive today who’s young and already making a difference, despite odds against her.

joshuamangeshig.com
harpercollinschildrens.com

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Review of We Wait for the Sun, by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe, pictures by Raissa Figueroa

We Wait for the Sun

The Story of Young Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Her Grandmother’s Enduring Love

by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe
pictures by Raissa Figueroa

Roaring Brook Press, 2021. 36 pages.
Review written April 7, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2022 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book

We Wait for the Sun is not a traditional picture book biography, but it is a lovely picture book story about a little girl going berry-picking with her grandmother and friends before the sun comes up. The illustrations catch the dawning light so beautifully. The text gives you the feeling of fresh, sweet, juicy berries in your mouth.

But then the wonderful part, in both text and illustrations, is when the sun comes up. Grandma stops everything and watches the sun rise with Dovey Mae.

Again and again, Grandma reaches low or stands tiptoe to pluck berries. And then, suddenly, in the middle of her rush, she stops.

“Look, Dovey Mae,” she whispers. “Over yonder.”

Slowly, slowly, the horizon pinkens.

“Here she comes!” Grandma whispers. She draws me to her, and together we watch the pink turn to red, the red to gold.

Then, all at once, as if at my grandmother’s command, the orange ball that is the sun shows its face.

It rises up over the edge of the world, and as it does, Grandma rises, too, and stands, just looking, her face shining in the light.

It’s a beautiful story of community, family, and sweetness. Then at the back in a four-page author’s note, we learn about Dovey Johnson Roundtree and the remarkable life she lived, breaking boundaries in the military, law, and the ministry. This story came from the autobiography she wrote with the help of Katie McCabe before she died.

It’s a lovely story for children that comes from a remarkable woman who spent her life shining like the sun.

rizzyfig.com
mackids.com

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Review of Fly, Girl, Fly! by Nancy Roe Pimm, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Fly, Girl, Fly!

Shaesta Waiz Soars Around the World

by Nancy Roe Pimm
illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Beaming Books, Minneapolis, 2020. 44 pages.
Review written November 14, 2020, from a library book

This picture book biography tells the story of Shaesta Waiz, who was born in Afghanistan and came to America as a refugee with her family when she was a little girl. As a child, she had a lot of fears, including a fear of riding in an airplane. But after overcoming that fear on a trip to see her cousin in Florida, Shaesta decided to become a pilot.

Shaesta went on to fly solo around the world. But she made her trip distinctive by making many stops along the way to speak to girls about all that they can grow up to accomplish, including a stop in her native Afghanistan.

Shaesta decided she would not just fly all the way around the world. She’d also meet with young people everywhere. She’d get them excited about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math to chase down dreams of their own!

Shaesta ended up being the first woman from Afghanistan and the youngest woman in history to fly a single-engine aircraft around the world.

This is a fascinating and inspiring story about someone I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. It’s great to read about a refugee girl who followed her dreams and did something big.

beamingbooks.com

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Review of The Incredible Yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, by Volker Mehnert, illustrated by Claudia Lieb

The Incredible yet True Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt

The Greatest Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer Who Ever Lived

by Volker Mehnert
illustrated by Claudia Lieb
translated by Becky L. Crook

The Experiment, New York, 2019. First published in Germany in 2018. 112 pages.
Review written April 30, 2020, from a library book

The format of this book seems odd, since the trim size is large like a picture book, but the print is small and at a higher level of understanding, so this is a book for upper elementary and middle school kids, but it looks like a picture book at first glance. When I realized it is the translation of a German book, that made more sense, as they probably have some different conventions. I think it might find more of an audience if it were the size of a chapter book, but I did appreciate the large paintings illustrating the travels of this explorer.

I was also surprised that I hadn’t heard of Alexander von Humboldt, when I’m told that he was a huge celebrity in the 19th century. The title claims he was the greatest Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer who ever lived. Was he the only Inventor-Naturalist-Scientist-Explorer?

But the story of his life is indeed fascinating. Most of his fame came through one expedition through South America – but that one expedition lasted years. He was so full of curiosity, he’d keep on changing plans to see the next amazing thing. When he got near volcanoes, for example, he felt compelled to climb them and even go inside the crater where possible. He climbed most of the way up what were then thought to be the tallest mountains in the world without any modern climbing equipment.

Why haven’t I heard of this explorer before? He studied geology, botany, ocean currents, mining operations, and so much more. His lectures in Paris and Berlin after his travels attracted crowds and his books were bestsellers. I suspect part of the reason is that he was Prussian, and the books he wrote were written in German. So I’m glad this book got translated so I could read his story.

theexperimentpublishing.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 Classified, by Traci Sorell, illustrations by Natasha Donovan

Classified

The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer

by Traci Sorell
illustrations by Natasha Donovan

Millbrook Press, 2021. 32 pages.
Review written January 5, 2022, from a library book
Starred Review
2022 Mathical Book Prize Honor Book, Grades 3-5
2022 American Indian Youth Literature Award Honor Book, Picture Books

I’m so happy about a recent burst of picture book biographies of distinguished women mathematicians and engineers! They would have inspired me as a child, and they inspire me as an adult.

This book tells the story of Mary Golda Ross, a member of the Cherokee nation, who excelled in math, even though she was surrounded by boys in her classes. The book portrays her as always learning. She became a teacher after graduating from college, but during World War II got a job working on fighter jets for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. That job led her to take engineering classes at a local university to become Lockheed’s first female engineer. After the war, she worked in a classified group developing space travel and satellites.

I like the way Cherokee values are introduced at the beginning and throughout the text we’re told how she demonstrated them: “gaining skills in all areas of life, working cooperatively with others, remaining humble when others recognize your talents, and helping ensure equal education and opportunity for all.”

A whole spread at the end is devoted to Mary’s work helping others not have to face the barriers she did:

Although her work was classified, Mary still had much to share. She never stopped recruiting American Indians and young women to study math and science and helping support them to become engineers.

Mary’s work and her legacy of service have helped many others become trailblazers, too.

I learned in the timeline at the back that she helped found the Los Angeles section of the Society of Women Engineers and later a scholarship was established in her name.

A lovely book about a remarkable woman I’m glad to now know about.

tracisorell.com
natashadonovan.com

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Review of Buzzing with Questions, by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

Buzzing with Questions

The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner

by Janice N. Harrington
illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

Calkins Creek (Highlights), 2019. 48 pages.
Review written August 27, 2020, from a library book

Buzzing with Questions is a picture book biography about African American scientist Charles Henry Turner, who was born in 1867 in Ohio, when it was unusual for an African American to be a scientist. I like the way the author portrays him from boyhood as a kid with lots of questions.

Charles Henry Turner asked so many questions that his teacher urged him to “go and find out.”

And Charles did.

What I really thought was wonderful about this biography was that it described the creative experiments Charles did with insects. He put spiders in different environments to see if their web construction changed. For multiple times, he knocked down a spider’s web made in one place, and eventually the spider gave up and moved, thus showing that it could learn and adapt.

He performed many experiments to find how ants find their way back to their nests. He showed that bees have a sense of time by putting out jam for them at breakfast, lunch, and dinner – but then changing it to only breakfast. Then he did more experiments to determine that bees can see color. He taught cockroaches to find their way through a maze, and later watched caterpillars find their way in a vertical maze.

I like the way this book talks about a scientist who worked hard to answer questions by doing experiments – and tells kids enough about the experiments to capture their imagination. Science is about finding out – and Charles Henry Turner’s life illustrates doing exactly that.

janiceharrington.com
theodore3.com
calkinscreekbooks.com

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Review of Just Like Beverly, by Vicki Conrad, illustrated by David Hohn

Just Like Beverly

A Biography of Beverly Cleary

by Vicki Conrad
illustrated by David Hohn

Little Bigfoot (Sasquatch Books), 2019. 52 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s a delightful picture book biography of Beverly Cleary. I’ve read her own story of her life, and this book does a great job of pulling out details that would be interesting to children.

I love the way the illustrator makes Beverly look very much like Ramona.

The book focuses on Beverly’s childhood. She struggled with reading, because she had smallpox while the other children in her class were learning to read. But then a wonderful teacher came along and helped Beverly catch up, and she discovered the joy of reading. Later teachers encouraged her in her writing ability.

Beverly studied to become a children’s librarian, and eventually worked to write stories especially for the boys who came into her library. They wanted stories about “kids like us” – exactly what Beverly had wanted when she was their age. The book points out how she used her own childhood experiences in her books.

There are eight pages of back matter, where I found a listing of some of her accomplishments and honors, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, the Newbery Medal, the National Book Award, and the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress. National Drop Everything and Read Day was established in her honor on her ninetieth birthday, and there’s a Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Portland, Oregon, where she grew up. Beverly Cleary is still alive, though the book wisely doesn’t make much of this fact, and simply mentions that she celebrated her hundredth birthday on April 12, 2016. ***Note: Beverly Cleary has died since I wrote this review. She lived to be 104. I think I wrote this review in 2019 and decided to finally just post it!

This book is a wonderful tribute to a great author, written at the level of children ready for her books.

beverlycleary.com
sasquatchbooks.com

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Review of The Genius Under the Table, by Eugene Yelchin

The Genius Under the Table

Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

by Eugene Yelchin

Candlewick Press, 2021. 201 pages.
Review written December 2, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review
2022 Capitol Choices selection
2022 Sidney Taylor Honor Book

Eugene Yelchin tells us his story of growing up in Leningrad under the Soviet regime. The characters in his story are larger than life, whom we meet on the first page, loudly complaining about American tourists cutting in front of them in the line to get into Lenin’s mausoleum.

Yevgeny was only six years old in that incident and was somewhat overwhelmed by seeing Lenin’s mummy. Their family lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment and the only place for Yevgeny to sleep was under his grandma’s big table. He liked the private space under the table, and used the bottom of the table to draw pictures.

His mother worked for the Vaganova Ballet Academy, and was obsessed with Mikhail Barishnikov, the academy’s most famous graduate. This obsession gets woven through the book, as his mother wishes Yevgeny had talent like Misha. And their family’s discussion of the likelihood of him defecting gets their own building’s spy appointed to accompany him on his trip to Canada.

Yevgeny’s big brother Victor has talent – he’s a champion figure skater. But what can Yevgeny do? He fakes interest in ballet to please his mother, but that’s not going to work out very well.

Then propaganda starts coming on the radio and even among their neighbors against Jews. Eugene’s child’s perspective of all these events is both funny and poignant. And all of it is illustrated with his drawings – which he tried to reproduce from what he drew under his grandma’s table.

The book ends rather abruptly, after a very sad event. He tries to make it hopeful, and I know he ended up leaving Soviet Russia, but I wish the book had given a hint of how he got there.

Overall, this book is packed with humor and insight. A fun look for kids at a different world – behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

candlewick.com

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