Writing Reviews, Posting Reviews

I have a problem. It’s a good problem. I am way behind on reviews I have written but haven’t posted. Right now there are 97 of them.

Partly, this problem came from the solution to an earlier problem: I was way behind on books I’d read but hadn’t reviewed. I decided to solve that problem by spending 30 minutes per day writing reviews. Some time ago, I’d tried and succeeded — for an entire year — to write 30 minutes a day on my book. For now, I’m putting my book-writing on hold. I went to the William Morris Seminar in January to learn about ALSC’s Book Evaluation Committees. It’s seen as conflict of interest to have a book being published when you are evaluating books for a committee (like the Newbery), so I decided I haven’t gotten published in all this time, why not wait a little longer and see if I can get on a committee first? Surely I can write in the meantime — just not try to find a publisher. Well, I decided that, and then got more and more lazy about my 30 minutes per day goal. When I saw how behind I was on books to be reviewed, I decided to let myself spend that time on review writing. And I’ve caught up!

Or, I’ve sort of caught up. There’s a problem. If I write one review per day but don’t post one review per day, I will never catch up. The fact is, I need to be much, much more choosy about which books I review. Right now I’ve got four books sitting here that I liked very much and want to recommend, but I think I will discipline myself and not review them.

Or, how about this: I’ll give a mini-review here and now, but won’t make a full-on page with links on my main site.

Here are four excellent books. First two picture books.

Rabbit’s Snow Dance, as told by James and Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Jeff Newman, tells a folk tale about how rabbit got his short tail. The book would make a wonderful read-aloud, with chants like “I will make it snow, AZIKANAPO!” and a longer chant in a circle that begs for the listeners to act out. Rabbit has a nice comeuppance at the end, or, well, comedownance, and that’s how he loses his long tail. Joseph and James Bruchac are storytellers, and this story definitely wants to be told.

Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, is one I got fresh appreciation for when I heard people talk about it at Capitol Choices. This is a deceptively simple bedtime story. A little girl is not sleepy at bedtime, and her parents tell her she doesn’t have to go to sleep, but she does have to put on her pajamas… and so on. Along the way, they talk about how different animals sleep. The pictures show the animals, like a tiger, in their habitat, while in alternate spreads the little girl settles into her bed with her stuffed animals and toys. In the end, she settles down like the animals do. This is a cozy and lovely bedtime book.

Then, two books of children’s nonfiction, both about birds:

Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird, by Stephanie Spinner, illustrated by Meilo So, is another picture book, but tells a true story. It includes short chapters, but there is no table of contents and this is definitely suitable for younger kids. The story is about an African Grey Parrot and his owner, Irene Pepperberg. She used Alex to show that parrots possess true intelligence. The book talks about Alex’s progress and how he was tested and matched three-year-old children.

Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95, by Phillip Hoose, is much longer. It covers science, nature, the environment and what you can do to help. Moonbird tells the story of a rufa red knot banded with the number B95 in the year 1995 who has been spotted since. These birds are some of the greatest distance travelers on earth, and B95 is the oldest known such bird. The book goes into detail about what physiological changes and athletic feats go into his journey. The author interviewed many scientists all interested in helping the red knots and other shorebirds continue to survive.

So there you have it — Four more excellent books. Some day, I will catch up…. Meanwhile, keep reading!

Review of The Mighty Mars Rovers, by Elizabeth Rusch

The Mighty Mars Rovers

The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity

by Elizabeth Rusch

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Boston, 2012. 80 pages.
Starred Review

This book is part of the Scientists in the Field, and focuses on a particular scientist behind the project to first send rovers onto Mars. The book is riveting, informative, and of course, timely. Though it went to press before Curiosity reached Mars, it tells about the planned landing and will make readers want to find out more, and what’s going on right now.

The scientist whose dream is the focus of this book is Steven Squyres. In a brief introductory chapter, they tell about his career that brought him to the Mars Rover mission. He actually thought for awhile of becoming a geologist — which led directly to his interest in having a robot on the ground in Mars to study the planet directly.

He ended up writing proposals for a Mars rover for eight years and for eight years got refused. But he didn’t give up, and was eventually given three years to build two rovers to send to Mars.

The book tells about every step of the mission, with a multitude of photographs or artist’s renderings along the way. It’s all explained clearly. Here’s an example:

Steve and Pete considered how each decision would affect every other. For example, the scientists wanted to put as many instruments on the rover as possible: cameras, microscopes, drills, and a weather station. Engineers had to design solar panels large enough to power all the instruments. But if the rover got too big, it wouldn’t fit in the lander (the case that would protect the rover during landing). Even worse, if the rover and the lander got too heavy, the whole spacecraft would crash.

Steve and his team added instruments and cut instruments. Engineers redesigned solar panels again and again. As the parts were built, engineers tested them. Too often, parts failed. Electronics malfunctioned. Cable cutters designed to set the rovers free from their landers didn’t work properly. Parachutes responsible for slowing the rovers down as they careened toward the surface fluttered in the wind and ripped to shreds. Airbags that were supposed to cushion the fall of the rovers onto the surface of Mars tore.

If the parts didn’t work, how would the team ever get the rovers to work?

The book goes through the missions to Mars and how each rover landed in a different spot. Elizabeth Rusch explains how the rovers were operated once they landed on Mars and the many different obstacles they faced. She explains the process the scientists went through trying to decide if Opportunity could climb down into a crater and how they worked to rescue the rovers when they got stuck in the Martian sand.

The author beautifully communicates the stunning accomplishments of the Mars rover mission team. She sums up in her final chapter:

Steve and his team of scientists and engineers expected the rovers to last three months, tops. Spirit and opportunity endured for more than six years — and scientists are still counting. These little machines explored a record-breaking 25 miles (44 km) of Mars’s surface and snapped more than a quarter of a million photos there, including 360-degree views of hills, plains, and craters. They became so much more than rovers. They did the work of geologists, meteorologists, chemists, photographers, mountain climbers, and crater trekkers. . . .

“What connects all this for me is that I simply love to explore,” Steve said. “I love doing something nobody else has done, going someplace no one has ever been, discovering stuff no one has ever seen.”

This book communicates the magnificence of human endeavor in science, along with nitty-gritty details. It shows how real people can do what it takes to learn things humans never knew before.


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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/mighty_mars_rovers.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Review of Swirl by Swirl, by Joyce Sidman, pictures by Beth Krommes

Swirl by Swirl

Spirals in Nature

by Joyce Sidman
pictures by Beth Krommes

Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. 36 pages.

This is a gentle and soothing picture book that rewards reading and examining again and again. The text is unrhymed poetry, with only a few lines on a page, and very large print.

You could read this book to very young children with a short attention span, but it will also work with older children, who can notice new details on each page.

The beautiful pictures were created by Beth Krommes, Caldecott medalist for The House in the Night. She uses the same scratchboard technique here, with more colors. The technique works well for showing spirals, since the lines are distinct and clear.

Here’s the first page. It says:

“A spiral is a snuggling shape.
It fits neatly in small places.
Coiled tight, warm and safe, it waits . . .”

We’ve got a snow scene, but most of the picture is taken up with what’s underground. We see several animals curled up in their nests for the winter, and small print labels them: a bull snake, harvest mouse, eastern chipmunk, and woodchuck. All the animals are resting in a coiled shape.

The next page shows those same animals emerging into a springtime landscape, but the sharp reader will still spot some spirals.

The book goes on, gently and soothingly, showing seashells, ferns, ram’s horns, coiled tails and trunks, spiderwebs, and even gets much bigger in waves, whirlpools, and tornadoes. The climax takes us all the way out to galaxies, and then back to the cozy winter landscape again.

There are even two pages at the back that give some of the science (and math!) behind spirals.

This was one of the books we discussed at the Bill Morris Seminar in January, and my fellow attendees made me appreciate it all the more. It’s the sort of book into which you can delve much deeper than initially meets the eye, a book you and your children will want to look at and read again and again.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/swirl_by_swirl.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely 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.

Review of The Mind’s Eye, by Oliver Sacks

The Mind’s Eye

by Oliver Sacks
read by Oliver Sacks and Richard Davidson

Random House Audio, 2010. 8 hours, 30 minutes on 7 discs.
Starred Review

This was perhaps not the best thing to listen to after having had a stroke, since it told me things that could have happened to me and made me hyperaware of new symptoms. However, this book was completely fascinating, and I found myself talking about it to people the whole time I was listening to it.

Richard Davidson read most of the audiobook, but Oliver Sacks gave introductions to each chapter, and completely read the chapter about his own experience with vision problems and the tumor he had growing on one eye. Both narrators were excellent, though I was a little jarred when Oliver Sacks’ section ended. I would have preferred that to be the final section, though he did follow a logical progression from vision difficulties on to complete blindness.

The book talks about vision and the brain. He begins describing cases where people suddenly lost their ability to read, because of a brain injury. They can still recognize letters of the alphabet, but not put them together as words unless they spell them out or write them out. Many of these people can still write, but they cannot read. Oliver Sacks delves into several different cases and how the people found ways to cope.

He progresses to people with face blindness, who can’t recognize people or places. I was very surprised to learn that Oliver Sacks himself has a certain amount of face blindness. He has, on occasion, failed to recognize himself when passing a mirror. I thought it was even more striking that one time he looked through a window, saw a tall man with a beard, and started trying to groom his beard, thinking it was a mirror. He talked about people with much worse disability in this area, who had to figure out how to cope without being able to recognize commonplace objects by looking at them.

And there’s more. He talks about several different variations of problems in the visual cortex. When he had cancer and lost vision in one eye, he said it wasn’t just as if half his visual field were cut off; it was as if people who went into his large blindspot actually disappeared.

The final section on blindness was also fascinating. Some people get extra good at visualizing, including an engineer who could now visualize going inside an engine to repair it. Another person lost the ability to visualize at all, but gained an enhanced ability to sense things in other ways.

This entire book is fascinating. The mind is amazing, and we can learn much about how it works by seeing how people cope when a small part is damaged. This is a fascinating look at vision and perception and the way we relate to the world around us.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/minds_eye.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 audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Just a Second, by Steve Jenkins

Just a Second

A Different Way to Look at Time

by Steve Jenkins

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 2011
Starred Review

I think this is the first time I’ve read a book by Steve Jenkins where I pored over the words without noticing the exquisite art the first time through. Make no mistake, his cut-paper art is as detailed and amazing as ever. It’s so realistic, I’m not sure I noticed at first that it was his usual cut-paper art and not drawings.

But the text! This is a practical way to explain time. He mentions where seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years came from (most being a long-time-ago invention of man). Then he tells some things that happen in each amount of time.

Did you know that in one second “A peregrine falcon in a dive, or stoop, plunges more than 300 feet”?

Did you know that in one week “Moose antlers, the fastest-growing tissue of any mammal, can add 6 inches to their length”?

Did you know that in one year “More than 2,000,000 people are killed by mosquito-borne diseases”? “Humans cut down 4,000,000,000 trees”?

The book is full of facts like that: some fascinating, some surprising, some disturbing. Some, like “In one year an estimated 50 people are killed by sharks,” may be included because the accompanying illustrations are so much fun.

This book definitely succeeds as a “Different Way to Look at Time.” Good for children learning about time, as well as for science buffs, as well as for the simply curious.


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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/just_a_second.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Charles and Emma, by Deborah Heiligman

Charles and Emma

The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2009. 268 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Winner YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award
2009 National Book Award Finalist
2010 Printz Honor Book

Okay, when this book first came out, I wasn’t too interested. I grew up in a conservative Christian family, and didn’t exactly see Charles Darwin as a hero. Then the book kept winning awards, and got strong comments from the judges in School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books. I thought I really should read it. Then I met Deborah Heiligman at the 2010 ALA Annual Conference. When I found out why she wrote it, I knew I had to read it. I purchased a book and got her signature. However, it still took me until this year, when I was taking a class on the Printz Award, to finally get it read.

Deborah explains in the Acknowledgments at the back of the book how her husband got her interested in the story that would become this book:

“Jon’s been writing about science and evolution since we met. I had just graduated from college with a major in religious studies. We started talking immediately — about science and religion and writing and pretty much everything else — and we haven’t stopped since.

“One day, about seven years ago, Jon said to me, ‘You know, Charles Darwin’s wife was religious.’ I looked at him. He continued, ‘And they loved each other very much. She was afraid he would go to hell and they wouldn’t be together for eternity.'”

Evolution is supposed to be opposed to Christianity, right? So how is it possible that Charles Darwin’s wife was deeply religious — and yet the two were very much in love.

Deborah Heiligman tells the love story of Charles and Emma Darwin beautifully. It’s clearly a work of nonfiction — she relies heavily on letters and journals and notebooks written by the two of them — but it reads like a novel. Of course, in a story book, the marriage probably wouldn’t have worked. I found it especially interesting that Charles’ father advised him not to tell his new wife about his doubts about religion. But Charles couldn’t hide them from her. And she loved him anyway and even edited his books, including The Origin of Species.

This book tells the story of how Charles Darwin’s scientific theories developed, but it especially shows us the man who loved his wife and children very much. And whatever your views, you can’t help but fall for the man presented here, and the wife who provided exactly what he needed to be such a distinguished scientist.

This book is wonderfully presented. I like the quotations at the head of each chapter and the way Deborah Heiligman has arranged the facts in such an interesting manner. This book presents a compelling story that is all the more amazing because it’s true.

“You will be forming theories about me & if I am cross or out of temper you will only consider ‘What does that prove.’ Which will be a very grand & philosophical way of considering it. — Emma to Charles, January 23, 1839”


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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/charles_and_emma.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 my own book, purchased at ALA Annual Conference and signed by the author.

Review of The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

The Periodic Table

Elements with Style!

Created by Basher
written by Adrian Dingle

Kingfisher, New York, 2007. 128 pages.

Why is learning so much more fun when it’s done with cartoons? In this book, the elements introduce themselves, in groups, with cartoon pictures of the key elements. I found myself reading the whole thing, even though I took Chemistry so long ago, I don’t remember much of anything about it.

This is a fun introduction to the periodic table, told in a way that’s likely to stick!

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/periodic_table.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Hatch! by Roxie Munro


by Roxie Munro

Marshall Cavendish Children, 2011. 40 pages.

The title of this book definitely caught my eye! You see, my maiden name is Hatch. In fact, I decided that someone in my family who still bore the name would have to own this book, and I sent it to my sister for her birthday.

The book itself, besides its delightful name, is a nice introduction to various kinds of birds. It reminds me of The Bird Alphabet Book, by Jerry Pallotta, which my son spent hours looking over when he was small. It was one of the first picture books he memorized all the words to, we read it to him so many times. I can easily imagine a small child being just as fascinated with this book.

The format is a nice predictable one. First, some eggs are shown and the text tells some facts about the type of bird that laid them. The caption asks, “Can you guess whose eggs these are?” Older kids may well be able to guess some of them. Then, as you turn the page, you see the birds with a nest of hatchlings in their native habitat. The text tells the name of the birds and more interesting tidbits about them. On each habitat page, there is a list of several other critters “also on this page.” So it will give some fun to younger children to spot the other animals.

My one complaint with the book is that I wish the eggs were drawn to scale. The ostrich and hummingbird eggs are drawn at similar sizes. The description tells how big and how small they are, but I think it would be much more effective to show that. That might perhaps interfere with putting the text in an egg shape, but maybe in the initial drawing of the eggs, they could at least make them actual size.

Other than that little quibble, I think this book will set many children off on a fascination with birds. Interesting and beautifully done.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/hatch.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of Radioactive, by Lauren Redness


Marie & Pierre Curie

A Tale of Love and Fallout

by Lauren Redniss

!t Books (HarperCollins), 2011. 205 pages.
Starred Review

This book is amazing, and like no book I’ve ever read before. It’s a biography, a record of love and scientific discovery, but it’s also a work of art.

There are striking images on almost every page. The artist used cyanotype printing, which she explains in a note at the back.

“Using this process to create the images in this book made sense to me for a number of reasons. First, the negative of an image gives an impression of an internal light, a sense of glowing that I felt captured what Marie Curie called radium’s ‘spontaneous luminosity.’ Indeed, the light that radium emits is a cyan-like, faint blue. Second, because photographic imaging was central to the discovery both of X-rays and of radioactivity, it seemed fitting to use a process based on the idea of exposure. Last, I later learned, Prussian blue capsules are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a “safe and effective” treatment for internal contamination by radioactive cesium and radioactive thallium. (After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, cyanotype ingredients were spread on the grass in North Wales to safeguard grazing animals.)”

The story told in the book is also fascinating. She tells how Marie met Pierre Curie and their progress in science together. She tells about Pierre Curie’s tragic death and Marie’s life afterward and continued distinguished work. Throughout the story, she provides images and clips and stories about things that happened with radioactivity later, such as Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.

I had no idea how radium was touted and marvelled over when it was first developed. The Curies did not patent their findings, but others were not so scrupulous.

“A fictitious Dr. Alfred Curie was hatched to shill Tho-Radia face cream. Radium-laced toothpaste, condoms, suppositories, chocolates, pillows, bath salts, and cigarettes were marketed as bestowers of longevity, virility, and an all-over salubrious flush.

“Radium was also touted as a replacement for electric lighting. Early electric light was both brilliant and blinding. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, ‘Such a light as this should shine only on murders and public crime, or along the corridors of lunatic asylums, a horror to heighten horror.’ Even after the development of softer, incandescent bulbs, some lamented that electric light would ‘never allow us to dream the dreams that the light of the living oil lamp conjured up.’ The fragile glow of radium, on the other hand, offered a retreat into forgiving shadows and candlelit intimacy. Radium let the wistful romantic pose as champion of scientific advance. A chemist named Sabin von Sochocky concocted a luminous goulash of radium and zinc sulphide, with dashes of lead, copper, uranium, manganese, thallium (a neurotoxin discovered by chemist and Spiritualist William Crookes), and arsenic, and sold it to the public as ‘Undark Paint.’ Undark was marketed for use on flashlights, doorbells, even ‘the buckles of bedroom slippers.’ ‘The time will doubtless come,’ von Sochocky declared, ‘when you will have in your own house a room lighted entirely by radium. The light thrown off by radium paint on walls and ceilings would in color and tone be like soft moonlight.'”

The story is fascinating and surprising. The images are stunning and memorable. This book is definitely not for children, but if it were, I would think this was a sure winner of the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book providing a visual experience. Spend a little time gazing at the pages of this book, and you will be amazed. Spend a little time reading the pages of this book, and you will be intrigued.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/radioactive.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.

Review of I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird, by Robert B. Haas

I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird

My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals from a Helicopter

by Robert B. Haas

National Geographic, Washington, DC, 2010. 64 pages.
Starred Review

This book is a delight to look at. Robert Haas is an aerial photographer. In this book, he tells the story of getting his stunning images — and he also includes the images.

He tells about his methods; it sounds much more difficult than I ever would have guessed. He usually flies with the door off the helicopter and not one, but two, safety harnesses. It’s very cold up there with the door off, so he wears many layers of clothes.

In this book, he focuses on some images that have a story behind them, like the time he saw a herd of African buffalos being hunted by lions. Another time, he found a bear in Alaska just coming out of its den from a winter’s hibernation. He also does amazing photography of sea creatures, and once the pilot almost lost control right over a large group of sharks.

My favorite image, though, is the one that goes with this description:

“One of the most beautiful sights from the air is a large flock of flamingos moving around in shallow water. The flock forms one shape after another and leaves different patterns as it sweeps across the water. One time off the coast of Mexico, I came across a large flock of flamingos that changed its shape every few seconds, and I kept shooting and shooting for a very long time. And then, when I was just about to leave, I noticed something that was simply unbelievable — the hundreds of flamingos in the flock had actually formed the shape of a flamingo! I was able to capture that shot, and it has become one of my best known photos.”

I’m taking a class on the Caldecott Medal, and we have been discussing whether a photographer will ever win for the most distinguished picture book. I hope last year’s committee gave this book consideration, since the images are truly stunning. This book will be enjoyed and marvelled over by children and adults alike.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/flying_like_a_bird.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 the Fairfax County Public Library.