Monday, January 2, 2012

Nonfiction Monday: Two Titles from OwlKids

 On an American Day vol. 1: Story voyages through history, 1750 - 1899 by Rona Arato, illustrated by Ben Shannon.

This oversized paperback volume contains historical fiction set in different areas during the 1750 - 1899 time period with further historical information about the time after each story. Each story is about fictional children in a specific time period and includes the appearance of a major historical character.

  • "A different kind of friend" tells the story of two fictional boys in Philadelphia 1765, one Irish Catholic, one Jewish, as they learn about religious tolerance. The additional information gives the historical context for religious freedom in Philadelphia, talks about Benjamin Franklin, and explains a little about Quakers and their legacy, including the Underground Railroad.
  • "A recipe for victory" looks at Valley Forge from the perspective of a young Oneida girl, Polly Cooper (an actual historical figure). The additional information talks about Valley Forge and the Oneida's heritage and continued fight for their rights.
  • "A new way to see" introduces a girl named Emma, being sent to the Perkins School for the Blind in 1838 Boston. The additional information gives context for the Perkins School for the Blind and talks about Dr. Howe and Laura Bridgman.
  • "A gold nugget for Adam" is placed in Sacramento 1855 and shows a young boy named Adam trying to break his father of the gold fever and gambling and go back home to their family. The following historical section talks about the gold rush and how the US took over California.
  • "A boy with a drum" looks at the second Battle of Bull Run, in VA 1862 through the eyes of a drummer boy. The historical information talks about the importance of the battle and the place of drummer boys in the war.
  • "No more masters" is set in Berea, KY, 1867 and shows a freed girl named Cora in the specially integrated town. The historical information explains the history of the community and its involvement in human rights.
  • "The last rail" shows a 14 year old Chinese boy named Chan involved in the building of the railroad in Utah, 1869. The historical information talks about the part Chinese laborers played in the building of the transcontinental railroad - and the railroad's part in opening up the west.
  • "Finding Sarah" presents Clara Barton through the eyes of a young girl who has survived the Johnstown Flood in 1889. The historical information talks about the flood, and the part the Red Cross and the telegraph played.
  • "A new hope" is the final story and talks about two immigrant Italian orphans and their experience in Hull House in Chicago 1899.
One the one hand, the stories and historical afterwords contain a lot of interesting information. They focus on historical events and time periods from a child's point of view and include a racially and culturally diverse group of people and children. The historical information also includes photographs and spotlights on famous people and buildings.

On the other hand, I am doubtful about fictionalized stories - it seems to me it would be better to research and write the stories of real children and their lives. While the historical contexts appeared to be well-researched, there were no sources or bibliography with further information.

The stories themselves were rather poorly written, sometimes choppy, and the dialogue often seemed stilted and unreal. It seemed that many of them were staged to present certain ideas and often seemed to be more contemporary in their views of immigrants, native peoples, and tolerance although prejudice was shown as well.

Verdict: These would make an interesting introduction to the various historical time periods and some little-known events and people, but I would make sure they were not the only resource on the subject. Probably best as an additional resource in a school library

ISBN: 978-1-926818917; Published September 2011 by OwlKids; Review copy provided by the publisher

Learn to speak dance: A guide to creating, performing and promoting your moves by Ann-Marie Williams, designed and illustrated by Jeff Kulak.

Once I had gotten used to the oddly retro style of illustration, I really enjoyed this book. It walks kids through different styles of dance, learning to create moves, and finally perform and promote a show. Along the way, there are quotes from dancers, historical information, information about how people learn to dance, the importance of dance in our lives, and more.

The picture book-sized paperback may be a difficult sell, but if you have any tweens or teens interested in dance it's worth adding this to your collection and convincing them to take a look. I think the book could have been improved with photographs, instead of illustrations, of the various techniques and historical dance moves, but the modernistic illustrations were adequate and fun.

Verdict: An interesting and well-presented book with plenty of information. Recommended.

ISBN: 978-1-92681888-7; Published September 2011 by Owlkids; Review copy provided by the publisher


GatheringBooks said...

Hi, I know what you mean about the need for footnotes, end notes, bibliographical entries - to provide greater information about the material discussed - even more so if it's a fictionalized biography. Personally, I enjoy the latter - but you're right in saying that it should serve more as a supplementary material, rather than the real thing. :) Thanks for sharing these two books.

KateCoombs said...

Hey Jennifer! I received a blog award from a teen blogger today and thought I'd pass it on to you--go, librarians!

reese said...

Hi, can i ask you something? I’m looking for children books with “scary” animal illustrations like Wolf (or fox) eating pigs (or seven kids or Red Riding hood or birds in Chicken Little) or being pictured with a fat stomach. Any sort of help is appreciated. Thanks in advance. Great blog, by the way!

Jennifer said...

Thanks Kate! I never seem to have time to pass these things on, but I do appreciate it (-:)

Reese - I'm pulling a blank at the moment. Um...Wolves by Emily Gravett, Matsuoka's Footprints in the snow, Shireen's Good little wolf - you might also try looking at European versions of classic fairy tales, NorthSouth publishers for example. In my experience, the European versions tend to be more true to the original story and less likely to water down the violence.

Perogyo said...

Learn to speak dance looks amazing- and just what I need as my daughter is into dance and I am clueless. I love that retro style of illustration.