Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation: The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad

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IRON RAILS, IRON MEN, AND THE RACE TO LINK THE NATION
The Story of the Transcontinental Railroad
Written by Martin W. Sandler
(Candlewick Press; $22.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

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Prepare to not want to put down this fascinating nonfiction book called Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation by Emmy Award and Pulitzer prize winning historian, Martin W. Sandler.

In the early nineteenth century it took six months to travel coast to coast by horse and wagon. Rugged terrain and violent weather made the journey difficult and dangerous. The alternative, sailing around Cape Horn, took at least six months and was equally dangerous.

Dreams of a transcontinental railroad had great promise: quicker travel time, new communities, and improved opportunities for trade and commerce. It took years to advocate and raise money for this massive project. When President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, two companies, the Central Pacific, laying tracks eastward, and the Union Pacific, laying tracks westwards, raced to complete the job.

The work required staggering feats of engineering, which award-winning historian MartinW. Sandler effectively demonstrates using period photos and weaving mind-blowing facts into the narrative. Workers had to blast through mountains to build tunnels and erected some of the highest bridges known. Supplies had to be hauled over mountains on horseback or cart to the workers. Conditions were grueling: prairie fires, cattle stampedes, severe weather, and Native American attacks. Each job had its physical challenges: imagine graders who hauled tons of dirt away or track layers who lifted and placed rails that weighed 500 to 700 pounds!

Sandler critically examines more controversial issues such as corruption, discrimination against the highly efficient Chinese workers, and the severe impact on the life and culture of the Plains Indians.

When the two rails finally met, tens of thousands of workers had laid over 18,000 miles of track and joined the two coasts of a rugged continent. Travel time, coast to coast, was reduced to one week.

The author has made dramatic use of archival photographs to enhance the engaging and informative text, all accompanied by easy to follow maps. A fascinating final chapter discusses what happened to the main personalities. Educators and parents should check out the publisher’s great teacher’s guide and audio excerpt. Highly recommended for teachers and librarians serving grades 5 and up and a great resource for 19th century United States history and train enthusiasts.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro


Best Election Day Books for Children

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A Roundup of Election Voting-Themed Books for Kids

 

presidential-pets-cvrPresidential Pets: The Weird, Wacky, Little, Big, Scary,
Strange Animals That Have Lived in the White House 
Written by Julia Moberg

Illustrated by Jeff Albrecht Studios
(Charlesbridge Publishing; $14.95, Ages 3-7)

A not-to-be-missed book for Election Day 2016 and beyond, Presidential Pets is ideal for schools and homes alike. From Abraham Lincoln to Zachary Taylor, these American presidents all have one thing in common, a plethora of noteworthy pets. With intros in rhyme, this 95-page non-fiction picture book is filled with funny facts about presidents, their families, their pets as well as their career accomplishments. Did you know that Andrew Jackson had a cussing pet parrot who had to be removed from his funeral for her foul language? Or that Herbert Hoover’s son Allan Henry had alligators “that roamed through the grounds” of the White House? Or lastly, that Grover Cleveland, the “only president to serve two terms that weren’t back-to-back,” had a virtual menagerie of animals during his presidency including Foxhounds, Dachshunds and chickens?
Moberg has done her homework brilliantly choosing an engaging and entertaining subject that brings to light all the humorous details kids and parents will love about the variety of animals and owners who once called the White House home. The cartoon-style artwork from Jeff Albrecht Studios is a whimsical addition to each presidential pet profile and is sure to bring a smile to many faces this election season.

around-america-to-win-the-voteAround America to Win The Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles
Written by Mara Rockliff
Illustrated by Hadley Hooper
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 5-8)

One hundred years ago, “On April 6, 1916, a little yellow car set out from New York City.” The car’s occupants were Nell Richardson, Alice Burke, and a little black kitten. These courageous ladies were on a mission. Together they would drive around the USA to campaign for women’s right to vote. Throughout their journey, they encountered people from all walks of life, and situations that might have derailed other less dedicated individuals. Whether facing blizzards or getting stuck in the mud held them up, these were just temporary setbacks. Nothing would curtail Richardson and Burke from cruising across the country for this important cause. Nope. Not blocked roads or getting lost for days. Onwards they drove, getting invited to fancy dinners and local schools. They joined a circus parade and attended a tea party, all the while spreading their message, “Votes for Women.” Finally, after ten thousand miles, Richardson needed a rest, but Alice felt motivated to cover more ground. This time, however, she chose to travel by train!

In the interesting back matter, Mara Rockliff shares four pages of useful information that even parents will find enlightening. She explains about the car Richardson and Burke used for their Votes for Women adventure, and how uncommon it was to travel by auto in 1916. Readers learn how, as far back as 1776, First Lady Abigail Adams urged her husband John “to remember the ladies.” We know what came of that request. Also included  are sources and recommended reading on this timely topic. Rockliff has done a fabulous job of making the suffrage movement accessible to hong readers with her upbeat approach and language. The story of Richardson and Burke was one I’d never heard about so I’m glad I had a chance to step back in time with these two inspirational women. Hooper’s illustrations complemented the text and theme, allowing us to feel the exuberance of the journey along with the book’s history-making heroines.

Isabella: Girl in Chargeisabella-girl-in-charge
Written by Jennifer Fosberry
Illustrated by Mike Litwin
(Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky; $16.99, Ages 4 and up)

Isabella’s back, this time visiting Washington, D.C. with her parents. But why, you may ask? She’s channeling and celebrating five trailblazing women in the U.S. government culminating with her attending the first female president’s inauguration, and she simply cannot wait. Fosberry builds up to this momentous event by highlighting women throughout our political history who were firsts in their field and who opened doors for themselves and future generations that, up until that time, had been closed to them.

You’ll meet Susanna Madora Salter, the first female mayor, in Argonia, Kansas. Incidentally, I had no idea that Kansas had given women the right to vote back in 1887, although Wyoming allowed women to vote as early as 1869. Isabella also introduces readers to Jeannette Rankin, a truly independent and colorful character who, in 1916, beat seven men to get elected as the first woman in Congress. In 1925, Nellie Tayloe Ross broke the glass ceiling by being elected the first female governor of Wyoming following the death of her governor husband, William, while still in office. She also was named first female Director of the Federal Mint by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Another woman to whom we owe a great debt is Frances Perkins. She, too, served under FDR, and had numerous appointments, in her lifetime, the most famous being “the first woman to serve on the Cabinet and be in line of succession to the presidency! Last, but not least is Sandra Day O’Connor who in 1981 was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court only after another first as the State Majority Leader in the Arizona State Senate. How’s that for accomplished women? Fosberry’s chosen to highlight these women with their varied backgrounds and experience to serve as role models for young girls everywhere who aspire to reach their true potential.

There’s lots of fun wordplay (“Let’s vote on breakfast.” “Capital idea!”) and cheerful artwork throughout this delightful, empowering picture book, ending with a time line and bios for each of these amazing women. Isabella: Girl in Charge will also be available on Put Me in The Story, the #1 personalized book platform in America.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Additional Highly Recommended Reads:

Buddy For President
Written and illustrated by Hans Wilhelm
(HarperCollins; $17.99, Ages 4-8)


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Pedro For President

Written by Fran Manushkin
Illustrated by Tammie Lyon
(Picture Window Books; $5.95, Ages 5-8)

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The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller

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THE HOLE STORY OF THE DOUGHNUT
Written by Pat Miller
Illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $17.99, Ages 6-9)

 

The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller book cover

In The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller, the beloved doughnut’s history is traced back to 1847. Hanson Crockett Gregory, an American born in Maine, was only thirteen years old when he went to sea. At age sixteen, while working as a cook’s assistant on the Ivanhoe, Gregory decided to try something new. Their typical breakfast of sweet fried dough was known as “sinkers” because the middles remained raw and heavy with grease, making them “drop like cannonballs” in the stomach. Using the lid of a pepper can, Gregory cut holes from the center of the dough. By lightening them up, they emerged from the bubbling lard fully cooked, browned, and sweet.

 

Interior spread of first doughnut invention from The Hole Story of The Doughnut

Interior artwork from The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2016.

 

These new treats became known as “holey cakes;” Gregory’s mother sold large batches of them on the docks to hungry sailors. To offset the simple origins of the doughnut, sailors invented wild tales about how Captain Gregory’s invention occurred while he was wrestling with stormy seas or rescuing sailors who had fallen overboard.

 

Interior spread of sailors eating doughnuts from The Hole Story of The Doughnut

Interior artwork from The Hole Story of The Doughnut by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ©2016.

 

The colorful pages of The Hole Story of the Doughnut utilize a doughnut-shaped theme and lively illustrations to depict historical scenes with interest and humor. The tale brings us full-circle in Gregory’s life. In an interview with Gregory at age sixty-nine, he seemed amazed at the fuss over his now world-famous invention claiming he had merely invented “the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes.” A hole which has made a mighty impression.

Both children and adults should find this history of the doughnut to be a fun and interesting read. The next time I eat a “holey cake,” I’ll think back upon the story of Captain Gregory and be thankful we’re not still eating “sinkers.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Co-editor of and writer for SCBWI’s Kite Tales https://SCBWIKiteTales.wordpress.com/


Best Board Books For Ages 1-5

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THIS YEAR’S BEST BOARD BOOKS 
FOR AGES 1-5

Making a List and Checking it Twice
courtesy of bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber – 

GRWRCoveted Bookseller Award
Looking for a great book for a young child in your life? Still have that hard to buy for niece, nephew or grandchild on your list? No worries! As a children’s bookseller I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see a lot of children’s books all year long. So, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite board books from the 2015 publishing year to help you with your last minute shopping.

For Ages 1-5

StarWarsEpicYarnsEmpireStar Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi by Jack  & Holman Wang
(Chronicle Books; $9.95, Ages 1-4)

With the new Star Wars movie coming out soon what better way to indoctrinate or err…teach a new generation. Each soft, needle felted scene is a recreation appropriate for learning first words. Princess Leia teaches the word “princess,” Luke Skywalker is our example of the word “learn,” and so on. Each scene is so lovingly recreated that every page is of the utmost quality.

WhenIGrowUpcvrWhen I Grow Up by Tad Carpenter
(Sterling Children’s Books; $7.95, Ages 1-3)

This gem of a board book takes toddlers through several occupations from firefighter to teacher that they might aspire to in the future in a lift-the-flap format. By listening closely to the text, your little one may be able to guess the job of the person behind the flap. These are all people in your community as well, so it’s a nice roundup of all the people who help us!

Color Dogcolor-dog-cvr.jpg by Matthew Van Fleet with photographs by Brian Stanton
(Paula Wiseman Books; $19.99, Ages 1 and up)

This is an adorable book! Perfect for a one-year-old or early two this lift-the-flap, tactile book uses pictures of pups to teach colors. Pull out tabs through out the book make the dogs move (even the dog on the cover pulls on the shoe string in his mouth if you pull the red tab). Rhyming text, and a chunky, durable cover make this a great gift.

SharkvsTrainShark vs Train by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $6.99, Ages 2-5)

The ultimate battle! Two boys meet. One has a shark toy and the other has a toy train. A hilarious imaginative battle ensues Of course if the battle is underwater then Shark is going to win, but if it’s on land then Train is going to have the upper hand! What about a visit to a library? Right, neither of them would win that one! Witty, funny, and it combines sharks and trains in one book. That’s a sure winner right there.

Red Light, Green Light by Yumi HeoRedLightGreenLightcvr
(Cartwheel Books/Scholastic; $6.99, Ages 3-5 )

Yumi Heo writes and illustrates such wonderful books! Red Light, Green Light is no exception. This board book has been one of my favorites to recommend this year because it’s both interesting and straightforward. Lift-the-flap elements combine with rhyming text about all the signs that youngsters can see on the road in the car while being driven around town. This book is perfect for the little transportation enthusiast in your life, and great for both girls and boys.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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All Aboard! California, All Aboard! New York & All Aboard! Paris by Kevin & Haily Meyers

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ALL ABOARD! CALIFORNIA: A LANDSCAPE PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! NEW YORK: A CITY PRIMER,
ALL ABOARD! PARIS: A FRENCH PRIMER
Written by Kevin & Haily Meyers
Illustrated by Haily Meyers
(Gibbs Smith; $9.99 each, Ages 0-3)

 

AllAboardCaliforniacvr

From the folks that gave us the irresistible BabyLit® Books comes a new series that promises to be another hit. It’s never too early to share the delights of our world with little ones whether that be via personal stories, songs, photos, books, TV, film or travel.

This attractively designed board book primer series introduces youngsters to the varied landscape of California, the stimulating sights of New York City, and the romance and allure of Paris and the French language. Each book consists of 22 matte finished pages filled with bold graphics in an array of colors that I might not ordinarily combine, but work wonderfully together. I want tote bags or tees of all the artwork, it’s just that visually rewarding!

cali-1_grande

Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

In All Aboard! California, we tour the Golden State on board a train heading from south to north, making stops in the Mojave desert, and along the coastal beaches that have beckoned sun bathers and surfers for decades. After that the train heads into the Hollywood Hills, past Orange Groves and then makes tracks through the farmlands of the Central Coast. Parents will enjoy pointing out to kids how the train fills up with surf boards, oranges and cows while cruising toward its ultimate destination, the magnificent Redwood Forest. But not before first visiting the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nappa’s vineyards and one other popular tourist attraction, San Francisco. The book ends with a helpful map and the official California State Flag.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! California written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardNewYorkcvrNext, with All Aboard! New York, we’re visiting the Big Apple and traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey into Manhattan, something I’ve done countless times (and even once got stuck in the tunnel when my car conked out!). We wind our way around Central Park and head over to take in the sights of Times Square (NOTE: Make sure to check out all the billboards as there’s lots of fun things to discover), but not before getting seated front row center at a Broadway show. What’s a trip to New York without skyscraper spotting including the one and only Empire State Building, a not-to-be-missed landmark of the Manhattan skyline? This trip also includes a ride to lower Manhattan to see the new Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial as well as a glimpse of the NYSE on Wall Street. Two of my personal faves are featured in All Aboard! New York and those are the Staten Island Ferry for a breathtaking view of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge spanning New York’s East River. Before leaving the city, you can even help your child count how many taxis appear in book. Remember also to show them the map at the book’s end with train cars running along the bottom of the two-page spread decorated with delicious foods found throughout the boroughs such as cheesecake, pretzels and bagels.

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Interior spread from All Aboard! New York written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

paris-1_grande

Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

AllAboardPariscvrLast but not least is the City of Love as featured in All Aboard! Paris. I’m thrilled there’s such an adorable board book to not only nurture a love of the French language but of the capital city itself. It’s Bienvenue! Welcome! all around as we chug our way past the Canal de L’Ourcq and see the famous Monument at Place de la Bastille. Is that rain beginning to fall? Mais oui! It’s time to get out a Parapluie or Umbrella. The train passes close by a lovely Garden (Luxembourg perhaps) where children sail boats and lovely flowers are in abundance. Also included are Notre Dame (Cathedral), the Seine River, Sacré-Cœur atop the hill of Montmartre and the Louvre Museum. Grab a baguette and cruise on over to see the Arc de Triomphe, the Élysée Palace (or it could be Versailles – your call parents!), and 19th century iron structure we know as the Eiffel Tower. Words covered range from boy and girl to bridge and rain, and lots more, bien sûr!

paris-2_grande

Interior spread from All Aboard! Paris written by Kevin & Haily Meyers with artwork by Haily Meyers, Gibbs Smith ©2015.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Backhoe Joe by Lori Alexander

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BACKHOE JOE
Written by Lori Alexander
Illustrated by Craig Cameron
(Harper Collins Children’s Books; $15.99, Ages 4-8)

Backhoe-Joe-cvr.jpg

Taking the traditional “rescuing a lost pet” theme and turning it right on its head, debut picture book author Lori Alexander has succeeded in writing an engaging and original story about an anthropomorphic piece of excavating equipment. With a son who was wild about trucks and a new puppy to train, Alexander found inspiration along with a clever angle. She combined the two things into one fluid, funny tale that both parents and kids will adore.

Nolan, while rock collecting, meets the lost backhoe and it doesn’t take long for the little lad to realize he’s just found his new pet. “Nolan had always wanted a pet backhoe.” Shy at first, Backhoe Joe begins to enjoy his new friend’s company. Nolan knows he’s a keeper. “Look what followed me home,” Nolan says to his parents. Now he’s got to convince his mom and dad that a pet backhoe is easy to look after. But is that even possible after Backhoe Joe’s just leaked all over the driveway? It certainly seems like training this piece of bright yellow equipment is going to be a daunting task! Kids are going to love all the surprises Alexander has in store. In fact they probably won’t mind when Joe gets reunited with his owner because it’s not the last time he’ll be seeing his friend. But the best part is that there’s still yet another twist that is super satisfying even for grownups!

The illustrations are a joy to look at. Cameron’s created several scenes where the digger’s awkward movements while trying to behave like Nolan’s pet feel believable. Readers will appreciate how hard Backhoe Joe is trying to be a good, but his bulky size is prohibitive. All the while though, the colors and expressions on the characters’ faces are cheerful and optimistic. And that’s what I enjoyed most about Backhoe Joe. It’s a positive picture book with an upbeat message about friendship and responsibility that will draw youngsters in and keep them eagerly turning the pages.

Read a sample of the book here.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis

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 Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
with illustrations by Gilbert Ford
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, Ages 4-8)

* A Junior Library Guild Selection

MrFerris-Wheel-cvr.jpgBefore I read this fascinating nonfiction picture book about the history of the first Ferris Wheel, I had no idea of the backstory; the competition to find and build a structure for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that would be taller than the Eiffel Tower, the lack of financial support for its construction, the grueling work on the foundation in the dead of winter, the tight timeline in which to complete it, and the lack of faith professionals and the public had in the project. I’m thankful to Kathryn Gibbs Davis for opening my eyes to innovator, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

“George had an idea, an idea for a structure that would dazzle and move, not just stand still like the Eiffel Tower.”

What wonderful feats of engineering and willpower enabled Ferris to prove all the naysayers wrong! Over 1.5 million naysayers to be precise, the amount of people who rode on the wheel at 50 cents apiece in the “nineteen weeks” that it was in operation. And they said it couldn’t be done. Not only did Ferris change the public’s mind, but he changed history by building out of steel, what is now a staple of amusement park rides.

“George knew something the chief did not. His invention would be delicate-looking and strong. It would be both stronger and lighter than the Eiffel Tower because it would be built with an amazing new metal — steel.”

On almost every spread, Davis has managed to weave in assorted facts about the wheel’s invention in a way that will keep youngsters as engaged and enthralled as I was. The story itself flows easily and the artwork is simply lovely to look at. Ford‘s fabulous jewel-toned illustrations of 19th century Chicago took me back in time to an era in the industrial age when even electricity in homes was not yet commonplace. But as the sun set each evening, Ferris’s wheel, with is 3,000 electric light bulbs, lit up the night sky and was visible “as far away as forty miles.” I was happy to learn that after the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, in 1894 “the next Ferris wheel appeared in California on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”

How sad I was to discover in the back matter (where sources are quoted, and a bibliography along with helpful websites are provided) that a New York Times obituary says Ferris passed away on November 23, 1896 while still in his thirties. I can just imagine all the other innovative contributions he could have made to society had he lived longer. As it is, the enduring popularity of his ride is a testament to Ferris’s genius, and Davis has done a terrific job conveying that in a most readable, enjoyable way.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here for a link to a reading guide.

WIN A COPY!
Leave a comment below about your favorite carnival ride then follow us on Facebook for a chance to win a copy of this must-have picture book. No entries after 11:59p.m. PST on February 11, 2015. One lucky winner will be randomly selected on Thursday Feb. 12, 2015. If you do not leave a comment you will forfeit your chance to win.