Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations: History

I feel better with a frog in my throat: History’s strangest cures by Carlyn Beccia

The Text: In a quiz format, Beccia introduces us to the weird, wacky, and just plain gross medical cures throughout history. The book shows cures for a disease, for example “History’s strangest cures for Sore throats” gives “A frog down the throat/A necklace made of earthworms/A dirty sock tied around the neck” then the reader turns the pages to see a more information on which cures actually worked and why people thought they would.

The Illustrations: Beccia’s medieval caricatures are the perfect fit for her gruesome text, showing reluctant children and adults trying out the often disgusting cures given to them.

The Extras: An author’s note explains the difficulty of tracking the exact origin of many old cures and gives a selected bibliography.

Verdict: A fascinating, funny, and icky book. Packed full of well-organized information, this will be a hit with kids who like history and the gross and weird. Beccia’s Raucous Royals has been a huge hit at my library, even for kids who aren’t history buffs, and this title will be even more popular. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 978-0547225708; Published October 2010 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library

 Franklin and Winston: A Christmas that changed the world by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Barry Moser

The Text: Wood introduces the two key players in this excerpt from history, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, with quotes and a brief description of the events that led them to become powerful world leaders, set to save the Allied nations from the Axis in December 1941. Churchill made the dangerous trip to America to meet with the president. Churchill charmed the press and staff, although he was often an eccentric and difficult guest. Together Churchill and Roosevelt built an alliance and a friendship that had far-reaching impact on the world.

The Illustrations: Moser’s lush watercolor illustrations show the world of 1941 as well as the characters of Roosevelt and Churchill. Their friendship is an overarching theme through the illustrations of meetings, speeches, meals and daily life during Churchill’s visit. The illustrations were based on photographs, giving them a realistic style while still allowing the artist to add depth and emotion to the characters.
The Extras: An afterword lists the important accomplishments of Churchill and Roosevelt during their visit and an author’s note mentions the personal connections of World War II for Douglas Wood. An extensive bibliography and information on the art and typeface is also included.

Verdict: This is a beautiful and well-written book, focusing on an interesting aspect of World War II. However, I think it would be best used in a school library setting, where it could offer supplementary material to students studying World War II. The picture book format and lack of action make it unlikely to be a browsing choice in a public library.

ISBN: 978-0763633837; Published September 2011 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

 Big Wig: A little history of hair by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Peter Malone

The Text: Kathleen Krull traces hair from prehistory, when people groomed each other, to wigs in Egypt, hair dyes in 16th century Venice, elaborate wigs in Versailles, to present day styles made popular by celebrities.

The Illustrations: The kooky illustrations match the tongue-in-cheek text, showing prehistory punk Scotchmen scaring proper Englishmen in bowlers with their chalked hair, ancient Greeks battling over cures for baldness, and a slyly smiling French courtier shooting a miniature cannon in her elaborate wig towards her friend’s matching bird in a cage embedded in her hair.

The Extras: An author’s note begins the story, explaining Krull’s interest in the history of hair. “Big Wig Hair Extensions” gives a timeline of additional information about hairstyles through the ages and their connections to history. A list of sources, marked with the best pictures and best for young readers, is also included.

Verdict: This is a weird and interesting book with a sly sense of humor. While I would have liked to see more sources and less speculation, it’s all in good fun and kids who like wacky facts will scoop this one up right away.

ISBN: 978-0439676403; Published August 2011 by Arthur A. Levine Books; Borrowed from the library

 Basketball Belles: How two teams and one scrappy player put women’s hoops on the map by Sue Macy, illustrated by Matt Collins

The Text: The beginning of women’s basketball is told through the eyes of Agnes Morley, one of the first players. From her childhood on a ranch, Morley went to college at Stanford, where she was introduced to basketball. The story then focuses on a play by play recounting of the first basketball game played between two women’s teams, Berkeley and Stanford.

The Illustrations: The paintings are slick and glossy and focus on the movement and interaction of the players throughout the game. I didn’t quite get the feeling of movement and excitement from them that I expected; the players barely seem to be mussed at all, even in the final spread when it says “Our hair is messy. Our bloomers are torn. Our faces are streaked with sweat.” all I see is a little loose hair. The artist did do a good job of showing the various plays and ways the older basketball rules differed from today in the way the players move around the court.

The Extras: An author’s note explains why Macy chose to use Morley as the narrator of the story and gives more details about her life. A timeline of women’s basketball and resources, books, museums and websites, are also included.

Verdict: I felt that the scope of the book was too limited. After only two spreads on Agnes Morley’s early life, the rest of the book is a play by play account of the game. The story doesn’t really explain the subtitle “How two teams and one scrappy player put women’s hoops on the map” since it ends with Agnes’ excitement about winning the game. The additional information expanded on the story a great deal, but I would have liked to see all of it incorporated in a longer book for older children. It’s hard to interest children or adults in historical sports titles and including more history about women’s basketball up to the present would have made it easier to interest patrons in this book.

ISBN: 978-0823421633; Published April 2011 by Holiday House; Borrowed from the library

 Mali under the night sky: A Lao story of home by Youme Landowne

The Text: A little girl named Mali loves her peaceful, happy home in Laos. She loves her family, climbing trees, and celebrating together. But war is coming closer and nothing is safe or happy anymore. So Mali and her family run through the night, cross the great river in a small boat, and escape. When they arrive in a new country, they are put in jail “for not having a home.” Mali keeps her memories and stories close though, knowing they will stay with her through the journey to a new home.

The Illustrations: The pictures have a simple, childlike quality. Mali and her family and the world they live in are shown in swirling colors. The illustrated spreads are bordered with colored patterns, making each picture stand out like a separate glimpse into Mali’s life.

The Extras: Malichansouk Kouanchao has included a message about her experiences and her belief in the power of creativity and stories. One of her pieces of art, Self Portrait, is also included. An additional message from author and artist Thavisouk Phrasavath is also included.

Verdict: The simple text and illustrations do a good job of expressing the story of a refugee from a child’s point of view. However, I would have liked more background information and framing for the story. I couldn’t figure out what Phrasavath had to do with the story and there isn’t any information about the events in Laos/Thailand. We don’t even know the names of the countries from the stories, only from the publisher’s flap copy. Is there some significance to the patterns in the borders? How did Mali get from Thailand (presumably the country where her family was imprisoned) to the US? Did Youme collaborate with Mali to write this story? Too many questions are left unanswered.

ISBN: 978-1933693682; Published October 2010 by Cinco Puntos Press; Borrowed from the library

 Right where you are now by Lisa Montierth, illustrated by Ashley Burke

The Text: The author looks at prehistory, showing how “right where you are now” the landscape was very different, with volcanoes, prehistoric animals, jungles, and oceans.

The Illustrations: The pictures and wild and colorful, but difficult to identify even with the visual dictionary at the end of the story. Some of them are odd and creepy and don’t seem to fit into the story, like the ending spread showing children and a dog imagining what might be there in the future; something that looks like a Pacman with massive teeth, a bone with a ribbon, and a flying rabbit?

The Extras: A visual dictionary identifies most of the animals and a few geographical events introduced in the book.

Verdict: Some of the pictures were attractive and it’s a good basic concept, but the art was uneven and there weren’t enough sources and information about the massive amounts of information condensed into the book. I didn’t like the vagueness of “right where you are now” which makes it sound like there were volcanoes, jungles, floods, and prehistoric animals all in the same place. Also, when I saw the author list her favorite dinosaur as a brontosaurus, that made the rest of the information suspect to me and I wanted to see a bibliography and sources and maps. Not recommended.

ISBN: 978-0984442225; Published September 2011 by Craigmore Creations; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

 Underground: Finding the light to freedom by Shane W. Evans

The Text: Brief, powerful words and short sentences accompany the illustrations, showing the emotional impact of escaping on the Underground Railway. The main focus of this story, for example the first three pages’ text reads, “The darkness/The escape/We are quiet”

The Illustrations: The illustrations are rough images in the dark, showing the fear and tense atmosphere of the journey on the Underground Railroad, until the passengers arrived at the light and freedom and the pictures blossom into flaming gold , yellow and orange.

The Extras: An author’s note explains briefly how he came to write this story and expands on a modern person who helps the homeless, Pastor Alice, to whose organization a portion of the book’s proceeds are given.

Verdict: This is a powerful and beautiful book, but there are so many titles on the Underground Railroad and the information in this title is extremely sparse. I would only recommend purchasing this if you are a large library with the budget for and interest in extended/additional purchases in this area.

ISBN: 978-1596435384; Published January 2011 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from the library

Unforgettable season: the story of Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and the record-setting summer of ’41 by Phil Bildner, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

The Text: Bildner tells the story of Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams record-setting streaks in the summer of 1941 in excited, breathless sentences. The story alternates between the two men, showing their initial unpopularity among fans and the slow build of enthusiasm as people watched their hitting streaks continue.

The Illustrations: The art is watercolor, ink and gouache and focuses on the faces and attitudes of the players and fans. There are small touches of advertisements, clothing, and furniture, bringing the reader into the time period of the 1940s. The enthusiasm and cheerfulness of the text is shown in the faces of the players and fans.

The Extras: Some additional baseball statistics are included at the back of the book. Sources are included in the copyright information at the beginning of the book.

Verdict: I’m generally reluctant to purchase historical sports books, but this is a nice introduction to two very famous players for younger children. The writing has a brisk pace, the illustrations are attractive, and overall I would recommend this title for any library collection.

ISBN: 978-0399255014; Published March 2011 by Putnam; Borrowed from the library

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