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Sky’s the Limit

  • thI never turn down an opportunity to read non-fiction books about women who have accomplished great things, especially those pioneers who set out to do what few women attempted during the era in which they lived. There’s nothing more inspiring and motivating than learning about the great accomplishments of those who, against all odds, followed their dreams and left extraordinary marks in world history. Women Aviators: 26 Stories of Pioneer Flights, Daring Missions and Record-Setting Journeys ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) by Karen Bush Gibson, presents the important roles women played from the earliest days of flight travel.

On March 8, 1910, seven years after the first flight at Kitty Hawk, Raymonde de Laroche from France became the first woman to earn a pilot’s license. The first American woman to earn her pilot’s license (1911) was Harriet Quimby, who was also the first woman to fly 350 miles across the English Channel (1912). Neta Snook, from Illinois, was so determined to fly a plane that she applied and was accepted to a flight school and then bought a small plane that was in disrepair and fixed it herself.  In the 1920s she was approached by a woman who asked if Snook would give her flying lessons. That woman was Amelia Earheart, who was inspired by Quimby to learn to fly.  Snook taught Amelia to fly at a cost of 75¢ per minute – a lot of money at that time!  Though Earheart attempted to fly around the world in 1937, her plane disappeared, never to be found. It wasn’t until 1964 that a woman successfully flew around the world and that woman was Geraldine Mack; she flew over 29,000 miles in just over 29 days.

There are so many other fascinating women in this book, like Elinor Smith, a 17-year-old who flew her plane under New York City’s four bridges. British born, Beryl Markham took flight from England in 1936 to journey 3,500 miles across the Atlantic in 22 hours. Her aviation chart flew out of the plane shortly after her journey began, and there was no radio on board. But somehow she made it to Nova Scotia, where her fuel line froze and her aircraft began to fall at a rapid rate. Through her pilot skills, she was able to get control of the plane enough to crash safely in a peat bog, where she was rescued. In other chapters, discover the first female pilots to be hired by commercial airlines, the first female military pilots, the first female pilot to break the sound barrier, stunt flyers, air safety investigators, bush pilots and much more.

In the back of the book is a glossary of aviation terms that includes valuable information about different types of planes. There is also an extensive bibliography offering many additional sources of books, videos and websites for readers.  In addition, there are photographs of each of the female pilots featured in the book.

Reading Women Aviators not only guides young readers through the missions of the 26 women, but also showcases their strengths, expertise and great courage.  What all of these women had in common was the unfaltering desire to fly no matter what the cost or risk. It is through these pioneers’ accomplishments that readers will be inspired to set their own lofty goals, whatever they may be, and when it comes to achieving them, they too will discover that the sky’s the limit.

Note: Another excellent book I reviewed by Karen Bush Gibson is Native American History for Kids.I also highly recommend Women of the  Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller.

– Review by Debbie Glade

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Happy 200th Birthday, Verdi!

verdi_cover-1024x791As the mom of a pianist, I can tell you that my daughter loved reading about famous composers from a young age. In middle school she wrote a research paper on Beethoven and another on James P. Johnson, a jazz musician. I remember picking up and getting hooked on the books she checked out of the library about these composers. But now that I have read Verdi for Kids: His Life and Music, with 21 Activities, ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and Up) I realize just how much those other books were lacking.

Written by Helen Bauer, Verdi for Kids takes readers on a glorious journey through the life and times of Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, born in 1813. The well-written forward by renowned opera singer, Deborah Voigt will make you not only want to read the book, but also want to learn more about opera in general.

The publication of this title marks the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth. He was the shy son of an innkeeper, and by the age of seven his parents got him a well-used harpsichord.  Young Giuseppe took to the instrument so well that he mastered it quickly. Because his parents wanted to give their son the best education possible, both academically and musically, they sent him to live with a family friend in Busseto. He began to compose around the age of 13, had private music teachers and later attended the Milan Conservatory.

We learn of Verdi’s many hardships as an adult – the loss of his daughter, son and wife as illnesses plagued Italy. He worked through his grief by composing music and later traveled to Paris where he met and fell in love with a soprano named Giuseppina Strepponi. Verdi served on the first Italian Parliament and later becomes a senator, all the while still composing music.

There are wonderful activities with full instructions scattered throughout the pages of the book, such as making your own pasta, solving an opera word search, learning to read music, painting a poster to advertise an opera and even sketching a costume design for an opera. Kids will enjoy the many extraordinary old black and white photographs, drawings and offset boxes with detailed information about people and places.

This book is fascinating in that it not only details the life of a famous composer, but also gives insight into what life was like in Italy during the 1800s. I like the fact that the activities are well thought out and are both educational and fun. As with all other Chicago Review Press books, the author never talks down to the reader, rather she enlightens and inspires. Every member of the family will enjoy reading Verdi for Kids. It would make a great addition to your home library.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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Every Day is Earth Day

friends-of-the-earth-a-history-of-american-environmentalism-with-21-activities

If you are a regular reader you may have noticed that Debbie Glade is hopelessly addicted to reading science books for kids. Today she reviews a special book that is a must-have for any curious child’s library (ages 9 and up). You can buy it in time for Earth Day – April 22, 2013.

I’ve often wondered what scientists of earlier years would think about the environmental challenges we face in the world today. After reading Friends of the Earth: A History of American Environmentalism with 21 Activities ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) I learned that even scientists of long ago encountered many of the same earthly challenges we face today.

The book begins with environmental observations dating back to the very first Americans – Indians or Native Americans – who spoke about protecting forests and taking care to protect natural resources to leave the earth unharmed. I learned that Ben Franklin willed money to be used after his death (1789) to build a pipeline for fresh water for Philadelphia because polluted drinking water was the cause of great illness at the time. Did you know that the Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by John Muir and Robert Underwood?  Learned that, too! And thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, many national parks were established in our country to protect our wildlife and natural resources. The very first Earth Day was established in 1970, the same year the Clean Air Act was passed. This era marks the beginning of what is referred to as “modern environmentalism.”

Author Pat McCarthy introduces readers to 11 key people who made great contributions to the environmental movement, starting with James Audubon, whose love of painting birds helped to educate the world. His Birds of America was published in four volumes in the 1820s and 30s, featuring 497 different species of birds. The cost of printing these volumes was astronomical as each of the illustrations was engraved on copper plates. Most of the funds were raised through subscriptions. The National Audubon Society was established in 1905. Among the many other early environmentalists covered in the book are Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), who was inspired by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and who would become one of his closest friends, and Cordelia Stanwood (1865-1958), a botanist, bird lover, photographer, teacher and prolific writer.

My favorite environmentalist in the book is Marjory Stoneman Douglas whose respect for the Florida Everglades led to her penning the famous 1947 book, Everglades: River of Grass. Before her book was published, it was commonly believed that the Everglades was a meandering, worthless swamp that should be drained. Of course we now know that there is no other place on earth like the Everglades, and there is great treasure in the abundance of endemic plants and animal species found there. (Miami is my home and I will forever be amazed by the wildlife of the Everglades.) What I admire even more about Douglas than her dedication to the environment is that before 1920, she helped pass laws in Miami to make it mandatory that poor black families had toilets and bathtubs in their homes, and she also set up a fund to provide milk to babies whose families could not afford to by it.

DSC_0216© Debbie Glade

A photo I took in Everglades National Park on a hike in February, 2013

In addition to the featured environmentalists in the book, there are many side stories about other influential and fascinating people as well as 21 fantastic activities for kids to try.  From building a compost pile and journaling like Thoreau to making an organic bird feeder and turning salt water into drinking water (by use of the sun), young readers will delight in trying these activities. The last chapter of the book is entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” Author McCarthy touches upon the most pressing environmental issues of our time – global warming, deforestation and pollution. There are also many valuable resources in the back of the book.

Friends of the Earth is the highest quality educational book, one that just may inspire a young person to put his or her environmental concerns into action and pursue a quest to help save our precious planet. Not only is it the perfect resource for celebrating Earth Day, but it is ideal for any day, because we should all be Friends of The Earth and make every day Earth Day.

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Honest and Real: The Diary of an American Girl

Home Front GirlHere at Good Reads with Ronna we only review books we have read cover to cover and love. I’m thrilled to share Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America  ($19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) because it just happens to be one of those books, and I just could not put it down. I had to read every single word, and I can see myself reading this book again one day.

This hard cover book is the diary of Joan Wehlen Morrison, beginning in the pre WWII year of 1937, when she was 14 years old, through the spring of 1943 when she was 20. Joan was a witty and insightful teenager from Chicago who wrote her thoughts, dreams and experiences in her journal on a regular basis. Following her death in 2010, her children discovered her written treasures, and her daughter, Susan Morrison, set out to get them published. Home Front Girl is the glorious result of those efforts.

It was fate that I was asked to review this book because not only was I born in Chicago where Joan lived, but my family has a long history with The University of Chicago, where Joan attended school. My grandfather received his degree from UC in the 1920s, my uncle (my father’s brother) was a well known professor of Economics at UC, my cousins – his daughters – attended the Lab School where Joan went, and my brother received his MBA there in the early 1990s. And although I have lived in Miami most of my life, I am very familiar with all the Chicago places Joan writes about in her diary.

Nothing can match the raw honesty of a teenager’s diary, especially when that teenager is highly intelligent, insightful, sensitive and hopelessly optimistic. I suppose all who write in a journal write for themselves not really contemplating who will read it after they are gone, and that is what makes them so honest and real.

“By the way, I’m a genius. I found out my I.Q. rating accidentally yesterday. It’s 141. And the biology book said people with I.Q.s of 140 or more are ‘usually considered geniuses.’ Only 1 percent get that.”

Throughout the diary, readers can step inside Joan’s thoughts and read of her experiences, from the every day to the extraordinary – her latest crushes, her talents as a top student, her friendships, a tuberculosis scare, how she is always hungry and how she is perpetually late for nearly everything. Most importantly, Joan is sensitive to the pre-war atmosphere and writes with great wisdom about what is happening globally as well as what she dreads with the impending doom of America going to war looming in the air. Her WWII comments are really quite perceptive and educational.

Joan’s academic abilities led to a prestigious scholarship to attend The University of Chicago’s Junior College for her last two years of high school. Later she got her college degree in Anthropology there. Considering the time period in which her writing takes place, when women in academics were the minority, her accomplishments were quite impressive. I love that some of her actual diary pages and doodles are included in the book and footnotes are used to help the reader understand details about Joan’s entries.

What I enjoyed most about the diary is Joan’s intellectual insight about what is most important in life. In a passage about a friend’s father who passed away suddenly she writes:

“Vera’s father is dead. Gee, I came home and Mom told me. I used to play cards with him and tell jokes and I saw him last Sunday and he is dead . . . and the Spanish War is over and the Chinese War is going on and 8,000 people died in the Chile earthquake and people all over the world are eating their suppers and doing their homework (as I shall) and laughing and reading and moving about in lighted rooms and a man I know is dead.”

Other than a whole lot of wisdom about the WII era, what young readers will take away from this book is that teenagers from more than 70 years ago were not much different in most ways than teenagers of today  – minus technology of course. The fact that Joan did not have a typewriter or computer to write her diary is perhaps the very reason her written thoughts were preserved as well as discovered by her children. Computers fail over time, CD roms are almost obsolete, but pen and paper endure.

I highly ecommend this book for any young readers, particularly girls, who wish to broaden their horizons and make friends with an American girl from decades ago who was honest and real. I now feel as though I know Joan Wehlen Morrison personally, and I only wish she had written more journal entries about her life so I could read more.

I commend Susan Morrison and her brothers for sharing their mother’s private words with the world. Oh how I wish my mother or grandmothers had left me with a treasure of a diary such as this!

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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New Versions of an Old Idea

9781613741009_p0_v1_s260x420Reviewer Debbie Glade, who has always been fascinated by wind power, jumped at the chance to read and review this educational non-fiction book.

Adult Americans are all aware of the concerns associated with our energy consumption and dependency on fossil fuels – oil, coal and natural gas. The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills  ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) by Gretchen Woelfle is a fabulous fact-filled book that educates young readers on the past, present and future of windmills as an efficient form of renewable energy. This is the Second Edition of the book, as it has been revised and expanded to include the technological advances of windmill energy that have taken place since the first edition in 1997.

The author begins this thorough, 145-page book with an introduction to the history of wind power in Europe and just how wind is naturally created (by the warmth of the sun). Did you know that windmills have been around for more than 1,000 years? There are many different types and purposes of windmills, too. And in this book the author describes modern windmills as “new versions of an old idea.” Fortunately more and more of these power sources can be found throughout the USA and the rest of the world.

I was fascinated to learn about the life of windmillers and the many challenges and hazards they faced associated with running and caring for mills. Equally interesting is how these energy sources have been used on American farms. Did you know that windmills used to be sold in mail order catalogs likes Sears Roebuck? There is a lot of information about inventors and how windmills have changed over the years. From milling grain to pumping water generating electricity and other forms of energy, the windmill has been an invaluable resource throughout its history.

The book includes a nice collection of black and white photographs, many of which are historic. There are also 24 excellent activities associated with the topic of windmills. Some of the highlights include: Spend a Day Without Electricity, Make a Wind Sock and Wind Vane, Create a Windmill Paper Collage. In the back of the book are valuable resources including a list of windmills in the USA.

Understanding how wind technology has changed in just the past 40 years gives us insight into how it can help shape our future. Who knew there was so much to learn about windmills? Despite being a reliable source of energy, wind power can never be our only source of energy, mostly due to wind speeds varying greatly. But after reading The Wind at Work young readers will truly understand that we are making progress challenging our dependency on fossil fuels as renewable, efficient solutions like windmill power already exist.

As with all Chicago Review Press Kid Series books, parents and teachers can enjoy and learn from them as much as children do. These books make us all smarter, and I for one am super glad they exist.

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Women of Courage and Determination

9781883052973Debbie Glade reviews Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers (19.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 12 and up) by Brandon Marie Miller, a meaty hardcover book that recalls the lives of powerful and fascinating pioneer women of the American Wild West.

The author does an excellent job introducing readers to what life was like for pioneers from the 1840s  and beyond – the challenges of traveling via covered wagon, gathering food and cooking in rough conditions, horrific weather, illnesses, giving birth on the trail and more. Then she takes readers on a journey that makes them feel as though they are pioneers themselves with stories of 16 women who persevered with unfaltering determination during trying times of the 19th century. Some of the stories are wonderfully complemented by black and white historic photos.

Among the heroic stories in the book, I was astonished by Margaret Reed, a young widow who set out on a trail in May, 1846, with a  group of 81 people known as the Donner Party. They began their journey in Springfield, Illinois and traveled through Utah and Nevada with the goal of reaching California. But the group encountered severe weather conditions, lack of food, illness, and 36 people perished in the snow. The survival story of Margaret Reed, against all odds,  is truly phenomenal. She and her children were the only family that managed to survive without cannibalism. Though her journey was harrowing, her determination was heroic.

Many other moving stories are told throughout the book as well. Miriam Davis Colt wrote about her ill-fated expedition with her family to Kansas in 1862 that left her financially and emotionally bankrupt. Martha Dartt Maxwell, a Colorado naturalist who opposed slavery, collected and displayed animal skins and bones and eventually became a respected taxidermist, despite a lack of education. Sarah Winnemucca was a Paiute Indian from Nevada who was an outspoken activist and seeker of peace. In 1883, she became the first Native American woman to be published with a copyright. These are just a few of the great women featured in the book.

I love the fact that most of the women in these stories were not really famous, yet they overcame great obstacles and are symbols of the many courageous women throughout history who were not honored for their triumphs. What I find most interesting is the methods that author Brandon Marie Miller had to use to collect facts to write this book, including using journal entries, song lyrics and handwritten letters. Because of her impressive efforts, children can learn about those who lived before them and how they helped pave the way for the modern lives they enjoy today.

Women of the Frontier is culturally significant, and I highly recommend that all middle school and high school students read this book, both boys and girls. It is sure to open up some educational discussions about the hardships of earlier Americans and how their determination led to great things. It makes us wonder what courageous women ancestors we may have had yet don’t know about. Times certainly have changed, but what endures is the will to live and the desire to leave our mark on this world.

Note: This book is part of the Chicago Review Press Women of Action Series. One of these titles is Women Heroes of World War II, which I reviewed in October, 2011 and also highly recommend.

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A Question of Chemistry

Why-Is-Milk-White

Today’s book is reviewed by Debbie Glade who never tires of reading terrific science books for kids.

Why is Milk White? & 200 Other Curious Chemistry Questions ($14.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) is quite a sophisticated science book for kids, educating readers about the basic chemistry of products we use every day as well as the chemistry of people, animals and plants. The questions were written by 11-year-old Alexa Coelho, and the answers were written by her neighbor, a chemist and author, Simon Quellen Field.

The first question that caught my eye in Why is Milk White was “Why does Benedryl make you tired?” Being a major allergy-sufferer myself and frequently relying on Benedryl to get me through countless nights during hay fever season, I was fascinated to read about how this drug actually works and why it makes me so darn sleepy.

Ten chapters cover the topics of: 1)People and Animals; 2)Plants; 3)Household Chemistry; 4)Health and Safety; 5)Things That Catch Fire or Go Bang; 6)Things that Stink; 7) Color; 8) Chemistry in the World; 9) Chemists; and 10)Food. Under each topic is a list of fascinating questions. There is no index in the back of the book so readers must thumb through sections if they are searching for specific information.

Woven throughout the chapters are some really cool chemistry projects budding scientists can do at home, such as making oxygen and hollowing out pennies. Some of these experiments require adult supervision.

What I like about the book is that it was a collaboration between a curious child and a chemist, so it answers many questions that kids (and adults) all over the world ask. It is very well written meaning that children can understand the answers easily, without the author talking down to them.  Also, as I’ve said many times before, there is a serious shortage of scientists in our country, so we cannot have too many great science books for young readers. I can seriously see how this book could inspire a young reader to get interested in a career as a chemist.

As far as the answer to the question, “Why is milk white?” check out page 131 of the book yourself. If you’re as curious as I was to find out the answer to this question, let me give you a hint; it has something to do with light.

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Arab Americans – Our Neighbors and Friends

Here’s an instance where reviewer Debbie Glade wholeheartedly advises you to judge a book by its cover.

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This is by far my favorite cover of all the Chicago Review Press Kid’s Guides, and it really beckoned me to find out what was inside.  A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History: More than 50 Activities ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 7 and up), written by Yvonne Wakim Dennis and Maha Addasi educates us about the history of Arabs immigrating to America as well as their rich cultural traditions and accomplishments.

I’m glad this book was written because it dispels many stereotypes of Arab Americans and reminds us that being part of any culture is not only about politics and religion. And by the way, when it comes to religion, Arab Americans can be Christians, Muslims, Jews or may practice other religions – just like the countless other immigrants who have come to America over the centuries. As a country, we pride ourselves on being the melting pot of cultures, cuisines, languages and traditions that we are, and Arab Americans are an important part of that mix.

The chapters of this book take the reader through the different nations where most Arab Americans have emigrated from, sharing rich cultural traditions and facts about famous Arab Americans and their originating lands. There are more than 50 really impressive, well-thought-out activities in this book too. Among them are recipes, making musical instruments, playing games and creating original art.  (I am really looking forward to trying to make my own drum out of a dog rawhide bone and a glass vase. See page 26.) The art and architecture of the Arab world is really quite impressive as you shall soon discover by reading the book.

One of the first pages I read explains that the town of Opa Locka, Florida (just a 15-minute drive from my house) is home to the most Arab Moorish structures than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. Who knew? This and so many other facts about people and places can be found here. In the back of the book are additional valuable resources and websites for further reading. The index is quite detailed and helpful. The only suggestion I would have to make this fantastic book even better would be the addition of maps to help educate young readers about the locations of the countries Arab Americans came from.

If you learn anything from A Kid’s Guide to Arab American History, it’s that Arab Americans are our neighbors, not our enemies. They may be light skinned, dark skinned, blonde or brunette. They may attend our places of worship, they are citizens who vote, serve in our armed forces, build businesses with hard work and determination, seek higher education and want to better themselves and make America a better place to live, just like you and me.

If you like this book, you may want to check out Mirror, a very unique book about two families from two very different cultures.

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Suffrage: How Women Won the Vote

On this presidential election day, Debbie Glade reviews a book about the history of women voting in the USA.

Now is the perfect time to read Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote; 21 Activities ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) by Kerrie Logan Hollihan. Young readers will learn about the important struggles women of America faced for rights from the cradle of American history through the early 1920s when they were first allowed to vote. They will be introduced to the term, “suffrage,” the act of voting, and will become familiar with the most important figures in women’s voting history.

What I realized when I began reading this book is that there is a lot I didn’t know about the history of women’s rights in America. Sure, I was aware that women struggled for rights, but the details were always lacking in my education. I’m sure many other Americans can say the same.

This book proved to be so very inspiring for me. Women have been fighting for their rights in America since the very beginning of its history. It took great courage and resilience for them to stand up for what they believed in, in a time where their opinions were not respected. Had it not been for the efforts of: Lucy Stone, the first woman to earn a college degree in the state of Massachusetts; Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, organizers of the first women’s rights convention; Harriet Tubman, an organizer of the Underground Railroad; Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin and many other prominent female figures in the women’s rights movement, we as women would not have the rights we do today. Readers will understand more about the sacrifices our ancestors made that shaped American history and perhaps they will be grateful for their own civil rights.

As with all Chicago Review Press for Kids Series, there are 21 wonderful activities that accompany this book’s theme. Among my favorites are: crafting your own soap, which reminds us of the way women used to make their own from grease; making an oil lamp with a glass jar; staging a reader’s theater for suffrage; finding out how “comfortable” a corset may be; and making a coat hanger banner similar to those that suffragists marched with to promote their cause. In the back of the book are excellent resources for further learning – books, places to visit and websites of interest.

In October, 2011, I interviewed the author  of this book, Kerrie Logan Hollihan for her impressive Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen: Her Life and Times, 21 Activities book. She has also written, Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Theodore Roosevelt for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities. I so admire Hollihan’s dedication to writing these factual historical books on such important subjects for children which take a great deal of time and passion and I look forward to her next book.

Check out all the Chicago Review Press Kids Series books here.

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From Mechanical Engineer to Children’s Book Author: An Interview with Jerome Pohlen

After giving Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments a glowing review, Debbie Glade was thrilled when Jerome Pohlen, author and Senior Editor at Chicago Review Press, agreed to an interview with Good Reads with Ronna.

After receiving his Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Notre Dame University, Jerome joined the U.S. Peace Corps, volunteering for two years in the Republic of Benin, West Africa. Upon his return stateside, he started his career as an engineer, but soon realized he’d rather be teaching so he returned to school for a Master’s Degree in Education. That of course, led him to a teaching position and later, a job with an educational toy company where he created science kits for kids. Next he wrote a series of Oddball travel books, and most recently, Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids.

Author Jerome Pohlen

Can you tell us a little bit about your work in the U.S. Peace Corps?

I worked with a group that taught wood conservation, specifically through tree planting and efficient (and easy-to-build) mud stoves. For most villagers, who cooked on open fires, these mud stoves could cut their wood consumption in half, saving them money, time, smoke in their eyes . . . and it was pretty good for the forests, too.

What a fascinating experience that must have been. Was it that work that inspired you to write your Oddball travel books? And in any way did it influence your desire to educate or write for children?

The Oddball books came after I was a teacher. I traveled a lot for my job with the educational toy company, and started writing a self-published travel magazine about the goofy destinations I visited on the side. That magazine turned into the Oddball series.

What made you decide to get your Master’s Degree in Education and teach rather than continue in the field of mechanical engineering?

After working as an engineer for a few years, I realized that I didn’t have the passion I needed to make it a career. Engineering can be very specialized, narrowing your focus, and I was more interested in a variety of subjects, some having nothing to do with science. Plus, I wanted a job where I had more human interaction.

With your experience as a teacher, what is your opinion about the level of science education in America’s schools?

It’s pretty sad. It’s certainly understandable that the emphasis needs to be on reading and math, particularly in the early grades. But science often gets pushed to the background until students reach middle school where there are dedicated science teachers. By then, a lot of kids have written it off as something they can’t understand (which is nonsense).

As the parent of a college undergrad studying science – Geology – I am well aware of the shortage of scientists in America, and in particular women scientists. My daughter’s physics classes have been 98% men. Why do you suppose there is a shortage of American students here who want to study science and in particular, women?

Sadly, I think that there remains an underlying sexism that too often comes through peer pressure as to what should interest girls and boys. And on top of that, I think there’s an even larger anti-science bias in the general culture. A parent would NEVER say, “Don’t worry about reading—I didn’t understand it in school, either.” . . . but you hear that all the time in regard to science.

That’s sadly so true! How does one go about creating science kits for children? That must be both time consuming and challenging.

I worked for an educational toy company that wanted to develop science kits for the retail market. They could get all the components, but they needed a writer. I was the company’s science editor at the time, and when the intended author backed out, they asked me if I could write them . . . and fast. I did, and it was a lot of fun.

What inspired you to write Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids?

I’ve always loved physics and I wanted to give myself a challenge. After reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein, I was convinced that kids needed to know more about this remarkable man.

I am so glad you wrote that book! I interviewed author Kerrie Logan Hollihan, about her Queen Elizabeth I Kids Press book.  (She also wrote Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids and Theodore Roosevelt for Kids.) She informed me she was responsible for gathering all the photos and illustrations for her books. Did you do the same?

Yes, I went through the same lengthy process with my book.

How did you go about finding them?

All of the historic photos I researched and purchased online. With a subject as popular as Einstein, the question was more of cost than availability. A fair number of the photos in the book I took myself during a trip to Switzerland—the schools he attended, his homes, the train station where he waited with the red rose—they’re all still there, and look pretty much the same way today as they did when he was alive.

So you went to Switzerland for the purpose of learning more about Einstein?

Yes, I wanted to get a sense of where Einstein lived, studied, and worked, as well as visit the two Einstein museums in Switzerland. The trip helped my writing more than I expected.

That must have been an amazing experience! What was the process like, researching and then putting together copious amounts of information for the book? How long did that process take?

Start to finish it took about two years—a year and a half researching and reading, then six months writing. So much has been written about Einstein; the more I read the more inconsistencies I found. I was determined to include only those items that I could confirm with three independent sources.

I have so much respect for you for taking the time to make certain your facts were completely accurate. You have a unique and extraordinary talent of writing about a difficult topic in such a way that every reader, young or old can understand it. Your explanations of Relativity and Special Relativity are the first I’ve ever been able to totally comprehend. Does this ability come naturally to you, and do you credit your years of teaching experience?

I have to give my father credit on this one. When I was growing up my dad was working on the Viking mission, the first spacecraft to land on Mars. He would always tell me and my brothers the latest developments, even though we were still in elementary school, but he always made it understandable. The summer the spacecraft was launched, my family lived down in Florida, so we got backstage tours of Cape Canaveral. We even got to play around in the actual Apollo simulators, which by then had been mothballed in an old building. So science has been a part of my life from an early age, and I know it can be made understandable because it was made understandable to me.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about Einstein when researching this book?

I was shocked at how brave Einstein was, all through his life. As a kid, he challenged his teachers, and as an adult, he challenged physicists who could have made his career difficult, and sometimes did. He opposed World War I while living in Germany. At a very real risk to his life, he also stood up to Hitler’s followers—again, in Germany—in the lead up to World War II, and he criticized Joseph McCarthy before almost anyone else did.

After reading your book, I realized that many Americans have misconceptions about Einstein. One is that he forgot to eat at times because he was too absent-minded; in fact there was a shortage of food that kept him from eating regularly. Another is that his brain was donated to science, rather it was taken without permission. Did you come across any other misconceptions about the scientist during your research?

One popular misconception was that he was a poor student—he wasn’t. Not until his last few years in college, when he spent a lot of time on his own course of study, did his grades slip.

If you could ask Albert Einstein one question in person, what would it be?

The one question no historian seems to be able to answer: What happened to your daughter Lieserl?

I wondered about that too. What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to write science books for children?

Never talk down to kids—you may have to adjust your vocabulary, but never your tone, which should be one of intellectual respect.

When you’re not writing, what do you most like to do?

Read!

What is your next writing project?

Oddball Michigan.

Jerome, thank you for sharing your interesting background with us and especially for sharing details about the extensive process of writing a non-fiction book for children.  Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids is an extraordinary book. Best of luck with your upcoming Oddball book, and please let us know when your next children’s book is due out. I want to be the first to read it!

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Relatively Speaking

“You’re a very clever boy, Einstein, an extremely clever boy. But you have one great fault: you’ll never let yourself be told anything.”

 -Heinrich Weber, Einstein’s professor at Zurich Polytech Institute

By now, those who follow our book reviews know we are big fans of the Chicago Review Press for Kids series, as Debbie Glade has reviewed quite a few of these. Find out why Debbie feels this book about Einstein is one of the most informative and fascinating titles in the series.

I picked up my review copy of Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments, and could not put it down. It wasn’t at the top of my gigantic review pile, but I was too eager to wait to read it and happily plucked it from the middle of the stack. Lucky for me, I found distraction-free time to read it on a three-hour flight. This made it easy to savor every word of the book’s 126 pages and study the historic black and white photographs.

I’ll start by disclosing that my daughter is a college junior studying geology, requiring that she take several advanced physics classes. She has accelerated my interest in science by patiently sharing with me, in layman’s terms, some of what she has learned through her own studies. I am well aware that not all readers share my thirst for knowledge on the subject of science, but that thirst is not a requirement for thoroughly enjoying this book. Albert Einstein’s scientific contributions to the world were so great that any person, age 9 and older can greatly benefit from reading this book.

As I  finished the last page of Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids, I thought about how the general public has come to believe Einstein, a scientist with unkempt hair, who never wore socks, was a brilliant man– so brilliant that we cannot possibly understand the basics of what his scientific theories mean. Author and science teacher, Jerome Pohlen proves that all wrong. Through his clear and clever explanations, Pohlen will help children (and adults!) understand the primary elements of the equation E=mc2 and the basic principals of Special Relativity and General Relativity, as well as all of Einstein’s other scientific discoveries. Surely, explaining complicated theories on physics to children is an imposing task, so I must highly commend the author on his success.

E=mc2

“Mass and energy, different forms of the same thing.”

What your child will learn in this book is way too great for summarizing, but here is a list of some highlights:

  • Scientists all benefit from the theories, proven or not, of the scientists who were here before them and who work alongside them.
  • No matter how brilliant a man may be, success may be long coming.
  • Einstein was an independent thinker, and although he was not a good student in college, he had an unmatched ability to process mathematical and scientific information into provable theories.
  • Einstein’s personal life was not as successful as his professional life.
  • Einstein was a kind and generous man.
  • Einstein was a broad-minded thinker who was outspoken about his views.
  • Einstein’s findings were credited for the development of the atomic bomb, quite an irony to his views opposing war.

In addition to enjoying the eight excellent chapters in the book and sidebars with fascinating facts about other scientists and important figures in Einstein’s life, readers will delight in the 21 suggested activities in the book. From using a microwave and marshmallow Peeps to learn about the speed of light to driving in a car with your parents to learn about relative motion, these activities add an additional element of hands-on learning for readers.

What I love about this book is …everything! It’s fascinating, informative and essential, plus curious kids will love and understand it. Our country is greatly lacking in the number of scientists, and books like these are the best way to get children interested from an early age. If you have always wondered about Einstein’s life and his Theories of Relativity, you too will love reading this book.

Einstein changed the world of science forever, and surely there’s a child out there somewhere who will have a similar impact on the world some day. Perhaps that child is yours.

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Despair, Courage and Triumph: The Life and Times of Frederick Douglas

Once I started reading Frederick Douglas for Kids: The Life and Times with 21 Activities, ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) I couldn’t put the book down. (Even the Olympic Games could not distract me!) Douglas’ life story, as brilliantly and thoroughly told by author Nancy I. Sanders, is one of great risk and reward, despair and triumph.

Born as Frederick Augustine Washington Baily, the young slave boy from Baltimore, Maryland was taken from his mother, lived with his grandmother and then was sent into slavery at a young age.  Throughout the book we learn how he spoke out against the atrocities of slavery and took the most courageous risks through the Underground Railroad to become a free man. We also discover that his name was changed to protect his true identity. His life was one of many hardships and tragedies, yet he rose above it all to become a revered speaker against slavery, an author and a leader in the abolitionist and civil rights movements.

I really enjoyed every aspect of this book. In addition to the astounding life story of Douglas, there many excellent photographs and feature boxes with fascinating facts about other abolitionists and key figures of the era. The 21 activities in the book, such as forming a debate club, taking action in the current world slave market and making a carpet bag, are among the best I’ve seen in any of the Chicago Review Press books I’ve read.  In the back of the book are resources and a detailed index I found myself using often to cross-reference information.

Now that I’ve read this book, I am so much more knowledgeable about not only Douglas, but also slavery, the Civil War, civil rights and the abolitionist movement. Frederick Douglas will live on as one of the bravest and brightest Americans in history, and reading this book will inspire children to think about what they should stand up for – or against.  Simply put, Frederick Douglas for Kids: The Life and Times with 21 Activities an invaluable resource and a spectacular book that should be read by every American child (and parent too).

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Slithering Snake Science

Debbie Glade pursues her thirst for scientific knowledge with this great book from Chicago Review Press.

Once again, I find myself with an amazing non-fiction children’s book from Chicago Review Press on my lap that I can’t put down. Awesome Snake Science: 40 Activities for Learning About Snakes ($14.95, Chicago Review Press, ages 9 -12) by author and naturalist, Cindy Blobaum, helps children appreciate these intriguing reptiles that are so often feared.

Like all other Chicago Review Press books for kids I’ve read, parents and teachers will benefit greatly from reading this book too. Readers learn about different species of snakes, where to find them, the anatomy of them, how they survive, why and how they strike and how they defend themselves.  Even the squeamish can appreciate learning fascinating facts such as this: It is common for snake teeth to get stuck in the animal it is eating and fall out, but since snakes can grow new teeth any time they need them, this is not a problem. Or how about this one? If the temperature of a snake’s body dips below 60 degrees Fahrenheit while food is in his stomach, the food will not digest. Rather it will simply rot, which may in turn poison the snake.

In addition to becoming a young herpetologist, readers can enjoy many different activities from making a research journal and making a snake spine to seeing through a snake’s eyes and testing your own tongue. All the activities use materials that are easy to find in your home and do not require any slithering thing (such as a real snake). There are wonderful photographs and illustrations throughout the book as well.

This book is a hit in many ways, but most importantly it works because it teaches readers to think like scientists, inspiring them to seek out the true facts about snakes. In turn this may help alleviate some of the fears they have about these slithering creatures and make them want to learn more. And perhaps they will one day become scientists themselves.

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An Interview with Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan by Debbie Glade

Kerrie Logan Hollihan is the author of: The Latin American Celebrations and Festivals 4-book series; Isaac Newton and Physics for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities (For Kids series); Theodore Roosevelt for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities (For Kids series) and her latest book, Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen: Her Life and Times, 21 Activities (For Kids series).

After reviewing two of Kerrie’s fabulous nonfiction books for kids, Theodore Roosevelt for Kids and Elizabeth I, the People’s Queen, I asked her if she’d answer some questions for our curious readers. She said yes, and wow did she share some invaluable information!

Meet Author Kerrie Logan Hollihan

How did you get started writing nonfiction for children?

When I was a kid growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, I lived two blocks from an African American chemist whose home was firebombed when he moved in with his family. I did some research on him and discovered that my neighbor, Dr. Percy Lavon Julian, was the first black admitted to the National Academies of Science. He developed a plant substitute for cortisone in the 1930s — from soybeans! Dr. Julian fought racism his whole life.

So…I decided to write a middle grade biography about him. To make a long story short, the manuscript hasn’t yet found a home.

I connected with a local group from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Two nonfiction authors saw me carrying a stack of books about Isaac Newton out of the library and connected me with their editor at Chicago Review Press, and that’s how I got started.

What a great story, and now you’ve got me interested in Dr. Percy Lavon Julian!

What made you decide to choose Queen Elizabeth I for your latest biography?

I figured that the Tudors always have a following, and I pitched the idea to Chicago Review Press. Over the course of a few months, the topic was refined a bit and we ended up with “Liz” as my subject. Because we develop at least 21 themed activities to our subjects, I was sure I’d have some fun thinking about what to go with. I tried to tap into a variety of activities that relate to life in Elizabethan England.

How on earth did you sort through and organize all the information out there about Elizabeth I for your book? That must have been quite a time-consuming challenge for you.

When I start with a topic like Elizabeth I, I read several adult biographies first. I try to choose one of the “classic” biographies from earlier in the 20th century, and at least another one published since 1990. That way, I have a feel of how history’s view of her has changed over the years. I also read several examples of juvenile biography to see how other authors have presented her since the 1960s. Then I dip into general histories of the time to help with context and background. My favorite go-to resource for historical overviews and authenticating details is Britannica.com.

I develop a timeline with key events and people — always keeping in mind what I want my middle grade readers to understand about Elizabeth and the backdrop of her life, the Reformation. I have to keep things simple but still explain the historical setting in which she lived. In writing about the Reformation, I tried to show both the Protestant and Roman Catholic point of view.

I use MS OneNote to organize all my research. It’s a wonderful tool. For Elizabeth, I wrote an outline for each chapter in a section and added other information that I wanted to include. By the time I start writing, I feel fairly familiar with the information I have and it goes from there.

That is quite a process! Before writing this book, did you find the British royal family tree to be as confusing as so many others do?

Yes and no…at one time I could have told you every English/British monarch from Alfred forward to Elizabeth II. I knew about the Tudor line of course, but when I studied Elizabeth’s family tree I gleaned a lot of new information…all those aunts and uncles and cousins and the sometimes crazy stories about what happened to them.

One cool thing I always enjoyed is that Elizabeth was a direct descendent (through her grandmother Elizabeth of York) of Katherine (Kathryn) Swynford, mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt. Back in the day, Anya Seton wrote a fabulous historical novel about her entitled Katherine.

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