Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations: Geography

This next installment of Cybils nominations are all roughly geographical, centered around places both modern and historical.

Orani: My father’s village by Claire Nivola

The Text: In lush, breathtaking prose, Nivola presents the Sardinian village where her father was born and grew up and which she visited often as a child. Her childhood memories form the bulk of the book, as she visits cousins and experiences all the life of the small village, including the small businesses, often owned by family, the festivals, and all the warmth and excitement of summer.

The Illustrations: Nivola’s lovely illustrations capture the life and color of the small village, as well as the wilderness of the surrounding mountains and hills. The vibrant colors and and simple houses combine to perfectly show the simple, happy life she experienced as a child.

The Extras: A lengthy author’s note talks about her childhood and family’s experiences in leaving Orani and her own feelings about the small village when she returned. The endpapers contain drawn maps of the Mediterranean and the island of Sardinia.

Verdict: This is a lovely book, but I have trouble seeing an audience for it. It is a somewhat idealized vision of a child’s memories of life in a small, rural town. Some children may be interested in the exotic feel of the very different experiences and the illustrations are attractive, but it’s appeal to the children in general is limited. It will be of more interest to adults, especially those who immigrated as children from similar small towns.

ISBN: 978-0374356576; Published July 2011 by Farrar Straus Giroux; Borrowed from the library

T is for Taj Mahal: An India alphabet by Varsha Bajaj, illustrated by Robert Crawford

The Text: This is the latest addition to Sleeping Bear’s Discover the World series. Framed by the alphabet, the reader is introduced to 26 people, places, events and general concepts in India. Each page has a somewhat forced poem presenting the subject, for example “A is for Aryans/Ancient history tells us/the Aryans came to stay./The Vedas tell us stories/about life in their day.” The concept is further explored in a few paragraphs. The book includes the following: Aryans, Bollywood, Cricket, Dress, Epics, Festivals, Gandhi, Himalayas, Independent India, Jewelry, Kathak, Languages, Music, Neighbors, Ocean, Prime Minister, Qutab Minar, Religion, Spices, Taj Mahal, Urban Centers, Villages, Wildlife, eXports, Yoga, and Zero.

The Illustrations: Crawford’s illustrations show a variety of historical and contemporary people, places, and concepts, from a richly decorated Kathak dancer, with stylized facial features and large eyes, to a simple set of flashcards showing various words that have been adopted into English. The landscapes are broadly painted with panoramas of oceans, skyscrapers and more. The pictures focusing on people are richly colored and decorated, showing the vibrant life and color of the various groups in India.

The Extras: A detailed map of India is placed at the beginning of the book.

Verdict: India has a wide variety of ethnic groups and it appeared to me that only the lighter-skinned groups were depicted. Some of the skin colors are indeterminate, being closer to gray, but most are uniformly light. One boy in the picture depicting “Independent India” has darker skin and appears to have slightly curly hair. I was disappointed that none of the people shown had the rich, dark skin I’ve seen in many of my own friends from India. The facial depictions vary wildly from unrealistically stylized,with large curved eyes, to more realistic expressions. The information about India is interesting, but the short poems are clunky and the alphabet device seems overworn to me – the lengthy information about the subjects is directed at children who are certainly beyond alphabet books. It’s an interesting concept, but one I don’t see a place for in my library.

ISBN: 978-1585365043; Published March 2011 by Sleeping Bear Press; Borrowed from the library

 Arlington: The story of our nation’s cemetery by Chris Demarest

The Text: Chris Demarest follows the history of Arlington from the construction of Arlington House in 1802 to the rules and regulations that govern it as Arlington Cemetery today. Arlington House was built by George Washington Parke Custis and filled with paintings and memorabilia of George Washington. In 1831, his daughter Mary married Robert E. Lee and the two lived in Arlington House until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, when Lee resigned from the army and went to lead the Southern troops. In 1864, Arlington was turned into a military cemetery for Northern soldiers. Over the years, soldiers from the Revolutionary war, Spanish-American conflict, World War I, and every other war were buried in Arlington. Demarest explains some of the special monuments and people in Arlington, including the Tomb of the Unknowns and presidents Kennedy and Taft. Throughout the timeline of the history of Arlington, Demarest includes information on the rituals and ceremonies associated with Arlington and the design and maintenance of the grounds.

The Illustrations: Demarest is an official artist for the Coast Guard and his paintings capture the cemetery during many historical periods. One of the most interesting things about the illustrations are the carefully researched views of Arlington from a variety of angles. Demarest also includes some interesting notes, like an oak tree that begins as a sapling in the first illustration and continues to grow throughout the history of the cemetery, finally being surrounded by new saplings.

The Extras: A few black and white photos, timeline, partial list of memorials, and a brief section on Freedman’s Village, where slaves from the Arlington estate and some freed slaves from the south lived for many years during and after the Civil War. An author’s note discusses the significance of Arlington Cemetery and the illustrations. Acknowledgements, recommended reading, and websites are also included.

Verdict: This title will not have a wide audience, but fills a niche, especially if you have military families in your community. It’s also a useful title for people planning to visit Arlington. Recommended for purchase.

ISBN: 1596435178; Published October 2011 by Flash Point; Borrowed from the library; Added to my library's wishlist

 Celebritrees: Historic and famous trees of the world by Marji Preus, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon

The Text: After a brief introduction, the reader is shown a wide variety of famous trees around the world. Each tree has a name or title, species, location, and estimated age with a few paragraphs about the history of the tree. The history includes explanations of some of the things that make the tree special For example, the section on Methuselah explains that it is the oldest known living thing on earth with an age estimated at 4,800 years, mentions the age of Methuselah during some major events, and notes the name comes from the Biblical character who was said to have lived 900 years. Trees from around the world are included; the tallest and biggest Redwoods in California, the thickest trees, a Chestnut and Cypress in Italy and Mexico, the famous Bodhi tree sacred to Buddhists, The Chapel Oak in France, The Major Oak in England, The Boab Prison Tree in Australia, a variety of trees with historical significance in America, and trees planted on the moon.

The Illustrations: The pictures are cheerful and colorful, with many small touches of humor and interest. Faces are usually smiling and have an almost doll-like quality. Some of the illustrations are anthropomorphized, like the smiling moon.

The Extras: Further information about the trees is given in the section following the main portion of the book, adding details about the trees’ species and history. Ecological information to help trees grow and thrive is included and a bibliography and list of websites.

Verdict: This is an interesting book with cheerful illustrations on a unique topic. I think the illustrations would have been better suited to a picture book; I enjoyed them, but found it frustrating that I couldn’t really identify the trees because of the style of the paintings, for example the Tule Tree in Mexico is supposed to have unusual bark formations, but the illustration just shows a mass of brown with finer line scrawls across it. However, I did enjoy this book on the whole and would recommend it for purchase.

ISBN: 978-0805078299; Published March 2011 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library

 Cursed Grounds by Steven L. Stern

The Text: The author presents eleven reputedly cursed places in the world, beginning with the cursed city of Bhangarh in India, and ending with the Billy Goat curse on Wrigley Field in Chicago. Other cursed places include the Devil’s Pool in Australia, the Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and various towns in the USA. Evidence on both sides is presented for the scary phenomena.

The Illustrations: A variety of paragraphs are included throughout the story. The backgrounds and edges of the pages show a spider’s web of tree branches and the creepy cobweb effect is continued down over some of the photographs. Other photographs show reconstructions of historical places as well as photographs of skeletons, mummies, and the frightening places where they were found.

The Extras: Small captions appear throughout the book identifying various images and information. A map of the places discussed in the book, glossary, short bibliography, suggested reading, and link to more information on Bearport’s website are also included.

Verdict: The creepy photographs and stories will make this a hit with kids who like scary nonfiction. This is one of the newest additions to Bearport’s Scary Places series and this series is a good choice for filling in your 133 sections. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-1617721472; Published January 2011 by Bearport; Borrowed from the library

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino

The Text: A mother and her daughter go on a trip through London, visiting famous landmarks and places. They start in Westminster, hearing the sound of Big Ben, visit St. James’s Park, watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, travel through Trafalgar Square, eat and watch the performers in Covent Garden Piazza, then enter the oldest part of the London, the City or Square Mile. They visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bank of England’s museum, see The Monument commemorating the Great Fire of London, and finally end their tour with a trip to the Tower of London and a ferry journey on the Thames. Throughout the story, which is told through simple dialogue between the mother and daughter, detailed captions explain various landmarks, historical events, and give facts about monuments and geographical information.

The Illustrations: Rubbino’s mixed media illustrations charmingly capture the bustle and excitement of the city, emphasizing the many historical landmarks. His sharp-nosed characters peer excitedly around corners and up at buildings, showing a variety of activities centered around the various places visited in the story.
The Extras: The endpapers show a map with the route followed by the main characters show in red arrows and souvenirs of their trip scattered about.

Verdict: I don’t think I would put this title in the nonfiction section of the library, because of the fictionalized dialogue that composes the story, but I’d definitely add it to the picture book collection. Children will enjoy poring over the detailed pictures and following the mother and daughter on their journey throughout the city.

ISBN: 978-0763652722; Published March 2011 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

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