Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dead end in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Jack's life has gone down the drain. Everything seemed like it was going great - school was out, his dad wasn't there to see Jack sneak his Japanese war souvenirs, and he's all set for a summer of playing baseball with Bunny, the closest thing he has to a friend. The only drawback is his constant nosebleeds.

Then his mom hires him out to assist the elderly Miss Volker, his dad comes back with some crazy ideas and everything is out of control. Before Jack knows it, he's mixed up with dead bodies, melting wax, airplanes, and he's gotten grounded for the whole summer.

Filled with people that range from the mildly eccentric to the completely insane, Jack Gantos' newest novel is packed with strange characters, odd reflections, and throughout the whole story runs the theme of history and how it affects us and we affect it. By the end of the story, Jack may not be much better off or even sadder but wiser although he's learned a few lessons, but he's had one unbelievable summer.

I was feeling a little doubtful about reading this book because Jack Gantos leans heavily on the "quirky and not in a good way" type of characters, but I found myself snickering throughout most of the first half of the book. Then staring at the pages in disbelief, then reading insanely, unable to stop until I found out What Happened Next.

Now, I'm not sure how I feel about this title. Is it well-written? Yes. The characters are consistent, the prose is addictive, the historical sections are seamlessly blended into the plot and dialogue. Is it interesting? Well, it definitely held my attention throughout. Does it have kid-appeal? I don't know. I can certainly see myself booktalking it "Jack has a whole summer ahead of him...unfortunately, his mom has volunteered him to write obituaries, the town is dying - literally - and his dad is hatching one crazy scheme after another." Or, "This book is about melting wax, blood, death, and history." But will kids read past the first couple chapters and get involved in the quirky characters, historical meanderings, and oddly depressing atmosphere of life in a dying small town in the 1960s?

I'm not sure how I feel about the cover. It certainly represents the book well, but will kids pick it up? Gantos' other works aren't hugely popular at our library, although I've had one or two kids ask for Joey Pigza. I can see this title winning awards - historical fiction always seems popular with the committees, but I don't see it becoming a popular favorite.

Verdict: If you have enough budget to speculate, purchase it. I don't, so I'll wait to see if any kids ask for it or if it wins an award. Meanwhile, I'll pass out the arc to some selected test subjects and see what they think.

ISBN: 9780374379933; Published September 2011 by Farrar Straus Giroux; ARC provided by publisher

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations


Eliza’s Cherry Trees: Japan’s gift to America by Andrea Zimmerman, illustrated by Ju Hong Chen

The Text: In short, brisk sentences, Zimmerman tells the story of the life of Eliza Scidmore, traveler and journalist, and of her long quest to plant cherry trees in Washington D.C. Eliza was the first woman “to have an important job” at the National Geographic Society and she traveled to many places most people had never seen, certainly not the average American woman – Alaska, Russia, Japan, and more. Her interest in Japan and its culture encouraged her to take on the task of convincing Washington park keepers to plant cherry trees. It took over twenty years for her to convince them it was a good idea, but although Eliza is mostly forgotten, her cherry trees are a symbol of Washington D. C.


The Illustrations: Ju Hong Chen’s illustrations are mixtures of brilliant color, like Eliza’s first meeting with the parks keeper in a blaze of orange, and surrealistic landscapes as in Eliza’s introduction to cherry trees, where cherry blossoms float in giant cotton candy blobs above a flat green and blue background.


The Extras: A timeline of Eliza Scidmore’s life is included


The Verdict: This is not one of Andrea Zimmerman’s better efforts. The language sounds bland and choppy “She worked hard and made good money.” “Eliza was very happy” and is often vague, as when we are told Eliza has “an important job” with the National Geographic Society…doing what, exactly? The illustrations were uninspired and often had a flat, lifeless quality. Eliza’s life is interesting, but the text is too long for the average picture book – or preschooler - and the illustrations will not hold the attention of older children. I would have liked to have seen a chapter book of her life with more discussion of her travels and life in general and more original documents.

ISBN: 978-1589809543; Published March 2011 by Pelican; Borrowed from the library



Olivia's Birds: Saving the Gulf by Olivia Bouler


11-year-old Olivia Bouler was very upset when she heard about the Gulf oil spill. She'd always loved birds and wanted to help, so she started an online fundraiser with her bird art. In this book, she combines her pictures of birds around the world with facts and information about the amazing world of birds. The book ends with Olivia's story of her efforts to aid conservation, the plight of birds in the Gulf oil spill and in other areas, what she would do if she were president, and how kids can help.


Verdict: Kids will be interested to see a real book written by one of their peers. There's nothing particularly outstanding about the art or text, but if you're looking for books to inspire kids to get involved and make a difference, this is a good choice.

ISBN: 978-1402786655; Published April 2011 by Sterling; Borrowed from the library

A place for fish by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Higgins Bond


Stewart follows the formula of her other "place" books, mixing a few simple sentences about the various threats to fishes' well-being with a sidebar of facts about a specific species of fish and how they are in danger. The simple sentences give environmental information including the danger of over-fishing, pollution, capturing rare fish for pets, and invasive species, among other threats. The sidebar information includes species such as hammerhead sharks, smallmouth bass, lined seahorses, Atlantic salmon, and more.
Bond's acrylic illustrations are photographic with intense detail in the landscapes and fish.

Extras: There is a list of simple things kids can do in the last sidebar, as well as additional fish facts, bibliography, suggested websites, and the endpapers contain maps showing the location of the various species highlighted throughout the book


Verdict: This series seems to be popular among librarians, but I've never quite gotten the point of it (although I love Melissa Stewart's Under the Snow and similar books). In this particular volume, the simple sentences seem aimed at a younger audience, but what purpose does telling kids "When people find other ways to make electricity, fish can live and grow" serve? The suggestions for kids to get involved are ok, but these books are basically a list of all the things that are killing fish; very few of them are things kids can affect, and the "solutions" are so vague and general they don't offer much hope. I would rather have practical books about ways kids can recycle and help the environment, concrete examples of how scientists and activists are making changes, and books about fish that are just...books about fish. Feel free to try to change my mind and explain how you use these books!


ISBN: 978-1561455621; Published March 2011 by Peachtree; Borrowed from the library


About hummingbirds: A guide for children by Cathryn and John Sill

Sill's "About" series pairs simple facts with exquisite watercolors detailing species, habitats, and details of the featured animals.
This title focuses on hummingbirds and Sill talks about their feeding habits, different species of hummingbird, reproduction, and more. The illustrations are, as always, beautifully detailed and perfectly illustrate the simple sentences.

Extras: The afterword includes extensive details on each color plate and the hummingbird or aspect of hummingbirds it features. There is also a glossary, further reading, sources, and information about the authors and their other titles.

Verdict: This is a popular series which I use frequently in story time as it works well with young children. The text in this particularly title felt a little bland in comparison with some of their other titles, but this is still an excellent addition and one I recommend for any library.

ISBN: 978-1561455881; Published July 2011 by Peachtree; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Bring on the Birds by Susan Stockdale

The Text: Susan Stockdale’s simple rhymes introduce young children to a variety of birds and their special attributes. “Swooping birds/ whooping birds/birds with puffy chests/dancing birds/diving birds/birds with fluffy crests.” The rhythm of the text is perfect for chanting aloud. A guide at the end of the story identifies each bird and explains a little more about their special ability from the rhyme.

The Illustrations: Stockdale’s colorful acrylic illustrations are simple enough to be easily seen by a large group of children, but detailed enough to identify the birds. Each picture is set within a simple red border and the colors are carefully harmonized to make the birds show up brilliantly against their surroundings.

The Extras: In addition to the identification guide and information about the birds mentioned above, further resources/sources on birds are also included.

Verdict: This title, like Stockdale’s Fabulous Fishes, is a perfect nonfiction read aloud for story time. You can read it straight through, have the kids echo the lines to chant along, or read it with the kids identifying the birds (with help from the guide as needed) or all three! Highly recommended, especially for preschool and kindergarten.

ISBN: 978-1561455607; Published February 2011 by Peachtree; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Off to Class by Susan Hughes

Hughes explores schools around the world from a green school in Canada to an orphanage for street children in Honduras, from schools in caves to schools on water. Every school has one thing in common; working to help children grow, learn, and have a better life.

Teachers and students at these schools often face incredible challenges; poverty, weather, culture, and funding. The schools in this book are divided into three chapters, "Working with the environment" which showcases schools that face environmental challenges or focus on environmental concerns, "No school? No way!" which talks about schools that serve children who didn't previously have a school or are disadvantaged by poverty, gender, or tradition and "One size doesn't fit all" showing alternative schools that adapt to non-Western cultures, or unconventional philosophies.

Some of the interesting schools show in this book include:

Boat schools in Bangladesh that bring education to children in areas with frequent flooding.

Arthur Ashe charter school in New Orleans, which offers an edible schoolyard, and environmental education on caring for wetlands.

The Stung Mean Chey Center in Cambodia, which offers free schooling, school supplies, and a small amount of money and rice to the children who live in the slums around the dump, Stung Mean Chey.

The Dongzhong Primary School, serving some of the Miao people in China - and housed in a cave!

A school in Siberia that follows the nomadic Evenk people and teaches children to deal with the modern world as well as retain their heritage.

An unschooling family in the US who has school in a treehouse.

A specially designed school for the children with sensory impairments in Hazelwood, Scotland.

The text is written clearly and in short, readable sections with plenty of photographs and interesting facts. This is a great look at how children go to school around the world and well worth adding to your nonfiction collection.

Verdict: It's easy to be fascinated by other children's lives when they're as interesting as this book! Kids and parents will enjoy reading about the variety of school around the world and the excellent layout of the book makes it accessible and intruiging. Recommended.


ISBN: 978-1-9268863; Published August 2011 by OwlKids; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Saturday, November 26, 2011

This week at the library; or, how could a 3 day week have so much aggravation?

No programs this week, instead we are interviewing for our cataloguer position and I am desperately searching for a car, since I have no transportation and need something by Dec. 1 when I have outreach visits...also had a committee meeting and a scheduling meeting with Miss Pattie.

Also planning next year's programs and sorting summer reading books and walking back and forth across town looking for a car...

No car! No internet! Argh!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Anna Hibiscus' Song by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia

Anna Hibiscus stars in her own picture book! After several great beginning chapter books, the team of Atinuke and Lauren Tobia have created a lovely and joyous picture book.

Anna Hibiscus is happy, so so happy! She goes to each member of her family in turn, asking what they do when they are happy and is invited to join in squeezing hands, pounding yams, turning somersaults, dancing and more. Anna Hibiscus' joy grows until she finds her own special happiness activity - singing!

The simple, joyful text celebrates the everyday happiness of life, while Lauren Tobia's illustrations show an exciting world very different from that of American children, but still full of special places to go and things to do, and loving families.

Children and parents will want to think about their own happy things to do and explore the simple, uncomplicated happy things in life like spending time with family, singing and dancing, after reading this exuberant tribute to family.

Verdict: This picture book is a great introduction to the wonderful world of Anna Hisbiscus. Kane Miller is now a subsidiary of Usborne, so librarians and parents will want to either order direct from Usborne or Kane Miller, or purchase a like-new copy on Amazon, since this book may not be available through your usual vendor. Definitely worth a little extra effort though!

ISBN: 9781610670401; Published August 2011 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

Tiger Rose loves her happy, peaceful home. She loves all the beautiful things in her world. But she's old and tired and her body hurts. She says goodbye to the animals that have been her friends, and the animals she has chased, to the parents who have fed her and the children who have loved her. She says goodbye to everything and then curls up to sleep and in her sleep makes one last jump into the sky and becomes part of everything around her.

Jane Yolen has written a beautiful, poetic text which is joined by Jim LaMarche's soft pastel illustrations to create a comforting story about the natural cycle of life and death. Depending on your beliefs about death, for humans and/or animals, this is a gentle and reassuring story for children dealing with the death of a pet.

I wouldn't recommend putting this into the general picture book collection, since most parents will want to review it before reading it to their children, but it's a good addition to your parenting or tough topics collection.

Verdict: This is one of the better children's books about death, especially of a pet, and if you have a suitable place for it in your collection, I recommend purchasing it for parents looking for a general "it's all natural" approach to death and grieving.


ISBN: 9780375866630; Published May 2011 by Random House; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Arcadia Kids city/state guides by Kate Boehm Jerome

 This series is a nice mixture of local history and tourist destinations kids will find fun as well as educational. I even learned a few things about my own hometown, Austin!

Each book starts out with a spotlight on the city, including population, sports teams, and one interesting fact about the city. More fun numbers follow, then an overview of the city through the senses; sound, smell, sight, and more. Other sections include Strange but True, Marvelous Monikers (interesting names and the places they represent), past historical events. The second half of the book is an exploration of the whole state by geographical features, then by historical events, and finally through the people, environment, and local features like celebrations and jobs. The book ends with more facts and photographs and further resources.

This won't be useful for parents looking for a travel guide to a specific city, but it's great for a family planning to visit a city in a new state and wanting an overview. It's easy to pick out interesting destinations from the facts and stories offered throughout the books as well. The set I was given to review included:

Austin:  I completely missed the renaming of Town Lake; it's now Lady Bird Lake, but everybody I know still calls it Town Lake, so it's doesn't really seem to have "taken." The other facts and highlights are accurate, although I wouldn't have highlighted Keep Austin Weird Fest instead of Austin City Limits or SXSW. The book does a good job of including a little bit of everything about a state with a lot of variety.

Philadelphia: I don't know that I would have included coal mining in the "Creating Jobs" section. Right after the protecting the environment section and right before local celebrations. Of course, not living in PA, all I see are the news stories about the coal industries effect on the environment, school propaganda, and coal miners trapped and dying. Is PA really a huge agriculture state? I've just been reading some statistics on the history of agriculture in the United States and it doesn't seem like enough people are actually still employed on farms to merit it being included as a major part of workforce economy.

I also looked at Boston and Richmond. All of the titles claim that people of the state love to be outdoors...well, I guess it could be true. They also each have a note in the jobs section "Pennsylvanians have a great respect for all the brave men and women who serve our country." Or Texans, or whatever...Reading a large stack of series nonfiction simultaneously may be a bad idea, huh? By about the third book it all kind of sounds the same.


Verdict: If you want an affordable series that combines state and tourist information, this would be a perfectly acceptable choice. It doesn't offer enough information to replace your State books, if you have a lot of school assignments calling for them, and they aren't designed to be travel guides (but there aren't many travel guides for kids, except for the Kidding Around series anyways). If there's not much call for these subjects, I'd recommend this series to efficiently do the job of two expensive nonfiction series. A bit repetitive, but what nonfiction series isn't?

ISBN: 9781439600887; Published May 2011 by Arcadia; Review copies provided by the publisher through Raab Associates.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

This week at the library; or, The secret to teen programming

Monday was Monday. I was happy Miss Pattie was able to do evening storytime after all, so I didn't have to come back tonight.

Tuesday. I have discovered the secret to teen programming - having someone other than me doing it. We had about 14 people at our Twilight party, evenly divided between adult and teen fans. Fun! And our Friend Katie did most of the work!

Wednesday. HUGE preschool interactive! I think at least 35 people, maybe 40! Small Lego Building Club.

Thursday. Came in late to work, spent the morning and early part of the afternoon getting my friend Sara The Librarian to drive me back and forth trying to junk my wrecked car. Ended up having to buy a replacement title because I couldn't find mine.

Friday. My internet provider goes out of business. Why can nobody offer simple, affordable internet service? This is my THIRD ip in three years.

Can I pleeeeease skip November next year?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bloomswell Diaries by Louis Buitendag

Ben is a little worried about going to America to stay with his mysterious uncle, but it's more exciting than getting left behind by his parents yet again. But when Ben arrives something mysterious is happening and he makes a horrible discovery; his parents are missing, presumed dead.

Or are they? The newspaper accounts can't be right; they were alive and with him on the date they went missing. Then his uncle mysterious disappears and terrifying men take him prisoner, men who include one of the strange and frightening tinmen. Ben finds himself locked up in a Dickensian orphanage/school with cruel boys and a possibly insane headmaster.

Desperate to find out the truth about his parents and uncle, and even more worried about his sister, at a boarding school in Switzerland, Ben manages to escape with the help of another imprisoned boy named Mackenzie.

Will Ben make it to Switzerland before the mysterious criminals capture his sister? Where is the rest of his family? And who is the sinister figure following Ben everywhere he goes?

This is a fast-paced adventure story with a flavor of steampunk and a definite Dickensian touch a la Joan Aiken. I read it quite breathlessly, eager to find out what happened at the end - and was sadly disappointed that it is, of course, a series. However, when I thought about it some more afterwards, I wasn't quite as happy with the story. It's strung out unnecessarily in my opinion. I would have skipped the entire school sequence and a large number of the mysterious hints and packed the whole story into one volume instead of dragging it out into sequel(s). This is a first novel, so hopefully the author will tighten his plots a little more in future writings. Although the plot could have been refined and some of the plot points tightened, and a little less of the constant shifts in friends/enemies cleared up, this was overall a fun adventure story with exciting pace and interesting characters.

Verdict: An additional purchase if you have kids who are fans of Lemony Snicket and are willing to read more stories with the Dickensian flavor. Sadly, I haven't met any middle grade  fans of Joan Aiken or steampunk, but if you have them you'll want this fun adventure.


ISBN: 9781935279822; Published March 2011 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by the publisher

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations: Biographies

When Bob met Woody: The story of the young Bob Dylan by Gary Golio, illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.


The Text: Golio introduces us to Bob Dylan's early life up until his meeting with Woody Guthrie and the influences that shaped his later life and music. Each stage in Dylan's life is told in simple language and with many quotations from Dylan and his friends.

The Illustrations: Burckhardt's style has a 1950s feel, with simple, clean lines and images. The backgrounds of the art have a crackled look, as though they were illustrations pulled out of an old box of memories. The text is framed in smaller illustrations and borders facing the larger paintings of scenes from young Bob Dylan's life.

The Extras: The afterword lists some of Bob Dylan's accomplishments and notes his storytelling propensities. This is followed by a list of sources and resources; books, audio, video, and websites. The author's note talks about how difficult it is to separate fact from fiction in a biography, especially with someone like Bob Dylan. A list of quotation notes are also included.

Verdict: This is a more accessible biography than Golio's earlier picture book on Jimi Hendrix. It has an open, pleasant feel and would make a good longer read-aloud for elementary ages, and will also be appreciated by older fans of Bob Dylan. Pair this with the picture book version of Dylan's God Gave Names To All The Animals, illustrated by Jim Arnosky.


ISBN: 978-0316112994; Published May 2011 by Little, Brown; Borrowed from the library


The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy


The Text: McCarthy tells the well-known story of Balto, the sled dog who saved the citizens of Nome by bringing diphtheria serum. But do we really know the story? Careful research reveals Balto as the inexperienced dog, surprisingly chosen to lead the team on the last leg of the race to Nome. Balto became famous, a statue was erected to him in Central Park, he met celebrities, a movie was made about him...but then Balto was sold. He was abused and shown as a sideshow freak until a businessman named George Kimble put together a fundraising campaign to purchase the famous Balto and his sled dog team. Balto spent the rest of his life happily at the Brookside Zoo in Chicago.

The Illustrations: Meghan McCarthy's pop-eyed illustrations show the people and places that Balto encountered throughout his tumultuous life. The paintings are in subdued shades of brown and blue and include paintings of photographs and newspaper articles.

The Extras: The author includes a "Detective Work" section, where she talks about her research, looking for the real story of Balto and what happened after his famous trek. Information on the other dogs and sled drivers is included, and there are quotations from them. She examined photographs and descriptions to determine Balto's actual appearance and coloring. Activities on researching past events are included and a bibliography of books and newspaper articles (and one radio show). The end papers are illustrated with a map of the area covered by the sled dogs.

Verdict: It's interesting to see an account of Balto that attempts to set the record straight on this confusing historical event. However, there's a lot of confusing speculation in the book - the contrast between the presentation of "facts" in the story and the author's discussion of how unreliable those facts are is jarring. While I enjoyed McCarthy's illustrations in Pop! The Invention of Bubblegum, they really didn't fit this story; when it is so focused on finding the truth behind the story, seeing the artist's imagined pictures of how things might have looked is incongruous. A good idea, but too many discordant elements.


ISBN: 978-0375844607; Published August 2009 by Knopf; Borrowed from the library

The Quite Contrary Man: A true American tale by Patricia Rusch Hyatt, illustrated by Kathryn Brown.


The Text: This is the weird but true story of Joseph Palmer, who stubbornly insisted on growing a beard despite his neighbors' horror. He eventually landed in jail, where he insisted on keeping his tremendous beard - and writing letters about the miserable treatment of prisoners. Palmer was finally released, still sticking to his principles, and his beard.

The illustrations: Brown's illustrations are a combination of watercolor and pen and ink sketches that give a homey, folksy feel to this story. Her people are caricatures with big noses and wildly flapping arms - and beard. Each section of text is framed in a drawn border of wood and vines.

The Extras: A historical note confirms the truth of the story and briefly discusses the way fashion changed to make beards so unfashionable. A brief note on the future life of Palmer and his family and some speculation on the motives behind the townspeople's persecution of his whiskers is also included.

Verdict: I would have liked a little more from his family's point of view - his wife is quoted as saying "Even though he is stubborn, I know he is right. He should be free to keep his beard." Did she really say this? How did she feel about supporting their family while her husband was in jail? Meandering even more into my personal bias, I'd like to see fewer biographies about people like Palmer and more biographies about the long-suffering wives and families who cared for children, kept house, and supported the family while their husbands and friends were indulging their eccentricities and standing up for their principles. Ok, personal bias aside, this is an amusing tall tale, but without any source notes or research shown, I wouldn't purchase it and it remains in the no-man's land between fiction and non-fiction.


ISBN: 978-0810940659; Published May 2011 by Abrams; Borrowed from the library


The Watcher: Jane Goodall's life with the chimps by Jeannette Winter.


The Text: In simple language and short sentences, Winter tells the story of Jane Goodall. She begins with her childhood, when Jane excelled at listening and watching animals and moves on to her first trip to Africa, to Kenya. There she met Louis Leakey and travelled to Gombe in Tanzania, which would become the heart of her research. Jane Goodall waited and watched and gradually the chimps in Gombe accepted her. As she watched and watched, she learned things about Chimps no one had ever discovered. Eventually, Jane left to become an advocate for the chimpanzees and their disappearing habitat.

The Illustrations: Jeannette Winter's simple illustrations add depth to the lyrical text and show Jane as a child, in her first year's of research, and as an older woman traveling around the world. She shows the vast landscapes and the individual behavior of the various chimpanzees with simple colors and shapes.

Extras: An author's note explained how the author refined Jane Goodall's life to the basic essentials in order to introduce her story to young children, adds some details about Goodall, and mentions some further resources. A note at the beginning of the story says the quotes within the text were taken from Goodall's autobiographies.

Verdict: This is a perfect picture book biography. Simple enough in text and illustration to be read aloud to children, but containing plenty of facts and information. There are few truly readable nonfiction picture books for younger children and this is a stellar example and one I look forward to reading aloud in storytime.


ISBN: 978-0375867743; Published April 2011 by Schwartz & Wade; Borrowed from the library


Tillie the terrible Swede: How one woman, a sewing needle, and a bicycle changed history by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy


The Text: In exuberant, exciting language, Stauffacher tells the story of Tillie Anderson, a young Swedish immigrant, who embraced the bicycling fervor of the 1890s and became a famous racer and female cyclist.

The Illustrations: The illustrations were created in gouache, hand-painted paper collage and black india ink. They are awash with colors, most of the illustrations are painted primarily contrasting colors.When Tillie dreams of cycling, her bright yellow dress clashes cheerfully with her mother's purple gown and dainty parlor. There are few details of faces, all of the characters are drawn as fleshed-out stick figures, with Tillie's wooden doll smile and blonde hair beaming steadily throughout the pictures.

The Extras: The back endpapers contain a timeline of Tillie's cycling victories and record breakers as well as an author's note that briefly explains the cycling craze and how it liberated women around the turn of the century. Additional resources are given in the acknowledgements at the beginning of the book.

Verdict: The illustrations are bright and cheery, but without depth or emotion. I would have liked to see actual photographs and reproductions instead of the stylistic drawings. The additional information could have been arranged more helpfully for readers. This is a fun picture book, but I would recommend Wheels of Change if you're looking for a title on this topic.


ISBN: 978-0375844423; Published January 2011 by Knopf; Borrowed from the library

The House Baba Built: An Artist's Childhood in China by Ed Young with Libby Koponen


The Text and Illustrations: The story and illustrations in this book simply cannot be separated; they are completely interwoven in an intimate portrait of Ed Young's childhood before and during World War II in the house his father built in Shanghai. Photographs, paintings, line drawings, collage, cut paper, and more are used to tell the story of the house built by Ed Young's father, which became home not only to their family, but also to relatives and refugees. We see the war as it impacts a child; brief glimpses of rationing, a few moments of fear, thoughts about their refugee neighbors. Young simply presents his memories in a simple kaleidoscope; celebrating the New Year, raising silk worms, fighting crickets, swimming, roller skating, reading adventure stories, and struggling through Japanese lessons. Every page is a work of art, a symphony of colors, shapes, and language. In his author's note, Ed Young explains his struggle to write the book coherently and how it came to it's present shape; gives photos, maps, and timelines, and shows blueprints of the house Baba built.

Verdict: This won't be an instant popular bestseller, but every child and adult who pulls it off the shelf, intrigued by the elaborate cover, will be drawn into the story and memories and will leave the book a little richer in mind than they came to it.


ISBN: 978-0316076289; Published October 2011 by Little, Brown; Borrowed from the library

Henrietta King: Loving the Land by Mary Dodson Wade, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth


Short, clipped sentences briefly tell the story of Henrietta King, wife of rancher Richard King, who eventually ran the ranch after his death. Oil paintings illustrate the various events in Henrietta King's life.

I didn't feel the story really explained who Henrietta King was; it mentioned frequently that she "loved the land" but didn't say why or what she did that showed it. It says "she used her money to do good things" but the section at the end simply says "Henrietta gave land and money for hospitals, schools, and a railroad. She took care of the people who worked for her. She gave land to build the new town of Kingsville and owned many companies there." The book talks about her wealth and the land she owned, but says her son-in-law, Robert Kleburg, actually ran the ranch.

A timeline, glossary, and further resources are included.

Verdict: This book could supplement a unit on Texas history and Henrietta King, but on its own the lack of information is frustrating and the short, bland sentences are not interesting, although the lush oil paintings are beautiful.


ISBN: 978-1-933979-64-9; Published September 2011 by Bright Sky Press; Review copy provided by publisher

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Food Fight: A graphic guide adventure by Liam O’Donnell, illustrated by Mike Deas

This graphic novel didn’t really work for me. Just so you know.

Devin is stuck at a stupid summer camp for babies for two whole weeks. His mom has just gotten a special research grant; his sister is excited to be a counselor, so it’s just Devin who’s suffering. Reluctantly, he helps out with gardening and tries to get away as often as possible, until suddenly his own worries and resentment are forgotten; somebody is sabotaging his mom’s research project and he has to figure out who it is – or she could lose her grant and her job!

The art is attractive and cleanly drawn with a clear progression between the panels. There are some good moments of adventure and Devin is a realistic enough character to interest kids. However, I have two complaints about this book. First, the story will be popping along, and suddenly, wham, we stop for a page of information. Now some of the information is ok and kind of fits into the story, like the page and a half on how to plant beans in a garden. But…um...the whole page on how to properly wash your hands? Seriously? Then we’re suddenly reading food labels and discussing healthy eating. For two pages. Now, you can skip these sections; they don’t add anything to the story and that’s probably what most kids will do. But, they break the story up badly and they are extremely…juvenile. Exactly what age is this book intended for? It’s my understanding that Orca specializes in publishing for reluctant readers. This particular graphic novel appears to be recommended for ages 8 – 12. However, the type is extremely small, a perennial complaint of mine; kids will not read graphic novels with small type! and while the overall mystery is older, the sudden drops into lecturing on washing hands and proper nutrition are not something a tween is going to want to hear.

Finally, the story is just…too convoluted for the projected audience and all the other stuff that’s been dumped into it. Devin’s mom is involved in plant research and an Evil Corporation thinks that since they are funding the research they should get to test their Environmentally Damaging Pesticides. Various groups have been protesting this, as well as genetically altered foods. Devin’s mom’s lab gets broken into and her experiments damaged and she’s framed for the plot. Turns out, the Evil Corporation is going to force their own special fertilizer on farmers, a fertilizer which will make farmers dependent on the company for more fertilizer. But, they’re not the ones damaging the labs or experiments; that’s just a jealous colleague. The Evil Corporation is discredited on the internet and has to withdraw their fertilizer and Devin’s mom keeps her job and finishes her experiments (no information on where the money came from after their sponsor presumably withdrew).

Verdict: It was a good idea and there are some “educational” comics that are fun as well, but this is just too complicated and the info dumps are too jarring. I think some of the other titles in this series might be better, there are several sports ones and I think kids would like fact sections in those, so while I don’t recommend this specific book, the format might work well for some of the other titles.

ISBN: 9781554690671; Published April 2010 by Orca; Borrowed from the library

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book Nominations: Biographies


Pablo Neruda: Poet of the people by Monica Brown, illustrated by Julie Paschkis.

The Text: Pablo Neruda's love of words is celebrated through a litany of the subjects of his poems; stones and markets, people and forests. This celebration is framed by a few simple facts about his life.

The Illustrations: Paschkis' illustrations show Neruda's love of words with Spanish and English words incorporated into each spread, swirling on the streets, marching across ferns, and spread in ribbons across the sky.

The Extras: An author's note adds a few facts about Neruda's life. Additional resources include a list of his poetry, a few books about Neruda's life, and some websites.

Verdict: This is a lovely book, but without substance. Although this purports to be a biography of the poet, not a single line of his poetry is included. The story sounds pretty, but additional rereading reveals few actual facts about his life and those given have no critical depth - Neruda is consistently presented as a wonderful, perfect person and even the mention of the soldiers coming after him and his flight sounds cheerful. Teachers doing a unit on Pablo Neruda may find this an interesting supplemental resource, but without any of Neruda's poetry included and only basic facts, this book is really nothing more than a beautifully written and illustrated fan letter. 

ISBN: 978-0805091984; Published March 2011 by Henry Holt; Borrowed from the library


Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg


The Text: Van Allsburg tells the story of Annie Taylor, a sixty-two-year old widow and teacher. Forced to close her charm school for lack of students interested in learning dance and manners, Taylor hit upon the idea of a wild stunt that would ensure her fame and fortune for her declining years. After much argument and many problems, she finally achieved her goal: In 1901 she became the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrell. Unfortunately, her feat was quickly forgotten and the little money and acclaim she managed to get was taken by her unscrupulous agent and others. She eventually ended up selling souvenirs at the Falls and largely forgotten although she remains the only woman to ever go over the Falls alone.

The Illustrations: Van Allsburg's trademark illustrations in shades of gray give a fantastical flavor to the story, focusing on the faces of the various characters as they alternate between shock, surprise, amazement, and excitement. The illustrations seem like captured black and white photos, freezing moments in time in the story.

The Extras: A brief author's note explains how the author came to write the story of Annie Taylor, gives a list of successful barrel riders, and a brief bibliography.

Verdict: It's hard to adjust from Van Allsburg's fantasies to a nonfiction title. He says in his author's note that the story took on a fantastical flavor and it definitely does become more surreal as the tale progresses. However, the pictures don't really have the movement and excitement needed to hold the interest of listeners throughout the lengthy text. I would have liked to see this as a chapter book with Van Allsburg's illustrations inset like photographs. If you have a lot of Van Allsburg fans, this could be a popular title, but as a stand-alone nonfiction title, it's readership will be limited.


ISBN: 978-0547315812; Published April 2011 by Houghton Mifflin; Borrowed from the library


She loved baseball: The Effa Manley story by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Don Tate.


The Text: Vernick introduces the story of Effa Manley with her childhood separated from her darker-skinned siblings, then the excitement of Philadelphia and New York in the early 1900s, her marriage to Abe Manley and involvement in a movement to desegragate the businesses in predominantly black Harlem. Finally, she became the business manager for the Brooklyn Eagles, a team in the new Negro National League of baseball. After baseball was desegragated and the Negro National League ended, Effa Manley determined to keep their history - and the legacy of her deceased husband - alive. Throughout the rest of her life, she worked to see the players in her team and the league honored in the Baseball Hall of Fame. After her death in 1981, her players continued to be honored until in 2006 she became the first woman to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The Illustrations: Tate's elongated illustrations show the excitement and energy Effa Manley and the players and people she loved. He moves from crowd scenes to close-ups, showing Manley's interactions with her players and the various people involved in baseball.

The Extras: No extras.

Verdict: It's hard to interest children in historical sports - anything other than last year's most popular player and this year's scores seems hopelessly outdated. This biography isn't really about baseball, but about the life of Effa Manley. It's interesting, but I have trouble seeing an audience for it in a public library. The illustrations look like caricatures and seem to fall short of expressing the emotions of the characters they are portraying. Useful in a school environment, where you would have a captive audience for obscure sports history, but I wouldn't recommend it for a public library collection. There are several longer chapter books that kids are more likely to pick up for a report or free reading.


ISBN: 978-0061349201; Published October 2010 by Collins; Borrowed from the library


Sarah Emma Edmonds was a great pretender: The  true story of a Civil War spy by Carrie Jones, illustrated by Mark Oldroyd.


Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War hero by Marissa Moss, illustrated by John Hendrix.


The Text: Both of these biographies focus on the life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, who passed as a man named Frank Thompson, first to make a living and then to join the Civil War. She fought in battle, worked as a nurse, and then masqueraded as a spy - a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman!
Eventually, she fell ill and was forced to leave the army for fear of being discovered. She eventually married, wrote a memoir, and donated the proceeds to help African Americans and veterans. Jones' biography focuses on Sarah's masquerades, from passing as a boy to escape her father's temper to her escapades in the war. Jones' emphasizes Edmonds' possible feelings throughout her story and has a confidential, casual tone. Moss' biography deals specifically with Edmonds' war years, writing crisply and briskly about her time as a spy and her work with wounded soldiers.

The Illustrations: Oldroyd's illustrations are hazy pastels. The cover is the clearest picture, with most of the spreads showing swirling, scratchy textures. Edmonds' face is the only clear one, peering through the mist of colors. John Hendrix' illustrations are more clear-cut caricatures, with brisk, definite lines and a variety of typefaces and designs to show off Moss' more dialogue-focused text.

The Extras: Carrie Jones' biography includes a brief author's note which speculates on Edmond's motivations in addition to offering some additional information about her life and a brief bibliography. Marissa Moss' biography includes a lengthy author's note on her writing methods and an extended history of Edmond's life after the Civil War. John Hendrix includes an artist's note that explains how he researched the drawings and has additional information about the hand-drawn typography. Moss' biography also includes an extensive glossary, two bibliographies, and index.

Verdict: Carrie Jones' biography of Sarah Edmonds has a lively tone, but the illustrations are uninspired and the information is more speculative. Marissa Moss' biography and John Hendrix' illustrations are altogether more brisk, and have an enthusiastic clarity and movement that will attract a wider readership. I recommend the latter biography for the library collection.

Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender
ISBN: 978-0761353997; Published April 2011 by Carolrhoda Books; Borrowed from the library

Nurse, Soldier, Spy
ISBN: 978-0810997356; Published March 2011 by Abrams; Borrowed from the library

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Build your own fort, igloo, and other hangouts by Tammy Enz

 This series, Build it yourself, seems like a great idea. I'm always looking for books that will inspire kids to DO SOMETHING other than just "hang out". Of course there was the required warning to have an adult help with "saws and sharp knives" but I was excited when I saw the "gather your gear" section that instructed readers to gather tools ranging from pencils and tape measures to drills, metal snips, sandpaper, and pliers.

Then I read the book. Oh, the disappointment. Duct tape is really the only tool used. Nothing, heaven forbid, "dangerous" is actually employed.

The projects are "soda box brick fort" which uses soda boxes and duct tape. Kids are instructed to wear rubber gloves for the Tie-dye tepee. You do get to pound in a couple nails for the edible garden fort, but readers are tipped to put an old rug inside the fort to keep their clothes clean. Umbrella tent? Ooo, scissors. Leafy hut? Well, it's not mentioned but I suppose you could cut the branches rather than just mysteriously find "6 straight, clean branches" but make sure you wear gloves to protect your hands from the wire. Colorful snow castle? Make sure adults help you lift the heavier buckets of snow. Glowing igloo? Don't forget that battery-powered candle. Fire is dangerous!

Of course I don't want kids to be hurt. But what's wrong with a little dirt or a few scratches? These books are recommended for ages 9-12; a nine year old should be able to get his or her clothes dirty, use a hammer, pound in nails, use a saw, pliers, drill...basically all those tools they gathered at the beginning and NEVER USED. There's really only two structures in this book anyways, the tee-pee and the block building. All can be built with some tape and string and are the kind of fort a six year old would think was cool.

When I was a tween, we built precarious forts in trees, that were basically planks across branches. We built forts out of old logs that creaked alarmingly when you walked on them. We cut down thorn vines to make play spaces. Without supervision. Hey, guess what? I'm still alive and so are all my siblings.

Verdict: As a sample of today's over-protective culture that bleeds the life out of children's play, this is a perfect book. I won't be buying it though; I'll be looking for a book that shows kids how to actually make something with real tools.

ISBN: 9781429654364; Published January 2011 by Capstone; Borrowed from the library

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This week at the library; or, recovering from last week

I finished off the Week From Hell by having a car accident, so... Yay.

No programs Monday. Went home early because I was miserably sick and had to call insurance people.

Tuesday, Make it and Take it - 5 kids came and painted butterflies. Yep, this program is dead.

Wednesday, Preschool Interactive - it's hard to do storytime when you can barely croak. I forgot about an expected school visit, but it was ok since it was just a small group - the local special education school - and we read some stories and made butterfly masks. Then I croaked my way through a few hours at the desk and Messy Art Club. Our Messy Art Club theme was "What can you do with a leaf?" I had bags of leaves (I paid our middle schoolers in candy to collect them for me), crayons, paper, sandpaper, scissors, and glue. I put out various books and print outs to spark ideas - Look what I did with a leaf! by Sohi, Leaf Man by Ehlert, and ideas from Pink and Green Mama and MaryAnn Kohl. We had a decent showing - about 25 - despite the sudden appearance of snow. Having music playing cheered things up a bit as well.

No programs Thursday. Croaked and coughed my way through meetings and desk time.

No programs Friday. Cough.

(Ok, technically there are programs, but I'm not doing them so...)