Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Books Nominations

 Picture yourself writing poetry: Using photos to inspire writing by Laura Salas

This book combines explanations of poetry with ideas for writing your own poem. The first spread introduces the beauty of poetry and how photographs can help inspire creativity and offers a five step writing process; prewrite, draft, revise, edit, publish. The following “chapters” (each chapter is about 3 pages long) encourage readers to get ideas from photos. Chapter one, explains some mechanics of writing, like adding sensory details and metaphors. Chapter two covers word choices – nouns, verbs, and more. The third chapter addresses characters and the final chapter discusses word arrangement. The book also includes a glossary, further resources, internet resources, and index.

Verdict: If you have a lot of kids interested in writing, specifically poetry, this would be a good additional purchase. It’s full of photographs and practical writing advice. If you mostly have kids who would rather die than set pen to page, save this title for the school library, as it will make a good resource for teachers.

ISBN: 978-1429672092; Published August 2011 by Capstone; Review copy provided by the publisher for Cybils

 In the bag: Margaret Knight wraps it up by Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins

The Text: Simple paragraphs and brisk, cheerful dialogue tell the story of Mattie Knight, from her work in factories as a young girl to her first invention and successful court defense of her patent. After her family fell on hard times, Margaret Knight worked in a mill with her siblings. But she stuck to her love of machinery and invented devices to make the factory safer. She continued to work on her inventions until she created her first patented machine, which folded and glued paper bags. A man at the machine shop where she took her invention to have a model made tried to steal it, but she successfully defended her patent in court.

The Illustrations: Parkins’ illustrations are cheerful caricatures, showing long-nosed faces, historical clothing, and Mattie’s determination and struggles to pursue her career. The illustrations focus on people and characters and their reaction to and relationships with Knight. Knight’s clothing, often in bright reds and blues, stands out against the gray and brown-hued world around her.

The Extras: A brief note adds more information about Margaret Knight’s life and patents.

Verdict: A lively and interesting story, but sadly lacking in sources or further information. Did the author fictionalize the exchanges between Mattie and her contemporaries? Or are these actual quotes? There’s no way of knowing. An additional purchase if you need a lot of inventor biographies.

ISBN: 978-1770492394; Published October 2011 by Tundra; Review copy provided by publisher

Animal Fights by Catherine Ham

I can see making a book about animal fights, but…in poetry? Bad poetry, at that? Each page features a fight between two animals with a label, “Camel Fights” (just in case we couldn’t figure it out) and a single exclamation, “Bash!” etc. A photograph of the two animals and a colored outline around the accompanying poem completes the offering. The poetry…well, here’s a sample: “Rhinos are massive and lumpy/And really most horribly grumpy/They’ll fight for their space/With that horn on their face/Making all those around them quite jumpy.” That’s one of the better ones.

Additional animals fighting are pictured at the end as well as an index.

Verdict: The photographs are attractive and the layout bright and colorful, but the choice of poetry was just…weird. And the poetry is pretty bland and obviously forced to rhyme. Not recommended. 

ISBN: 978-0983201403; Published July 2011 by Early Light Books; Review copy provided by the publisher

 Wild Women of the Wild West by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Susan Guevara

This book explores some of the legendary women of the Wild West, some well-known, others more obscure. The book is illustrated with pen and ink caricatures and watercolor portraits of the various women. The introduction explains the history of the “Wild West”  and talks a little about some of the women we read about in the book. The book covers famous women like Calamity Jane, Mary Fields (Stagecoach Mary), Annie Oakley, Belle Starr, Sarah Winnemucca, Carry Nation, as well as more obscure women. Activists, public speakers, and warriors like Mary Lease, The-Other-Magpie, and Esther Hobart McQuigg Slack Morris. Entertainers, including Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree, and businesswomen such as Dona Maria Gertrudis “La Tules” Barcelo, Polly Pry, Nellie Cashman, and Mary Ellen Pleasant. The book finishes with a time line, map, bibliography, and illustrator’s note.

This was a fascinating read, although some of the text was a bit uneven. Some of the stories read more like fiction, with a strong narrative swing, while others sound more like factual history.

Verdict: An interesting look at a wide variety of women in the Wild West with a good variety of occupations, ethnicities, and stories. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-0823416011; Published October 2011 by Holiday House; Review copy provided by publisher; Added to the library's wishlist

J. R. R. Tolkien by Alexandra Wallner, illustrated by John Wallner

Cartoonish drawings in pastels cover the pages of this biography of Tolkien, intended for young readers. The book covers his early life in South Africa and rural England, schooling in Birmingham, courtship of Edith Bratt, career in the army, family and professorship at Oxford. All throughout his life he was interested in writing stories and exploring imagination, but it was not until later in his life that he finally began to write the tales that would make him famous. The book ends with a time line, bibliography, and source notes.

The art is arranged like a game board, with various events highlighted with game cards, but this layout is never explained; does it reference something in Tolkien’s life, or did the illustrator just think it would be interesting?

Verdict: The book is a basic introduction to Tolkien, but the art and text has a very childish feel. I’m not sure what the audience for this would be; kids young enough not to be turned off by the cartoon illustrations and rather bland text would be too young even for Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Kids old enough to appreciate The Hobbit and his other works aren’t going to be interested in this picture book.

ISBN: 978-0823419517; Published August 2011 by Holiday House; Review copy provided by publisher

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