Shreeve impressively chronicles life on Earth from its beginning until present. Yet, for such an intricate topic, her kid-friendly text is easy to follow. Readers wanting more data can reference the time periods (noted at the bottom) or learn from the notes accompanying various creatures. The back matter includes sources and further reading.
The illustrations by Frann Preston-Gannon add drama and dimension showing lava-flowing eruptions and the starkness of what scientists call the Great Dying when temperatures soared and life perished. However, most of the art depicts brightly colored celebrations of the wonderful creatures that have inhabited our planet. I like how sketches are used in the sidebar to demonstrate, for example, the size of a prehistoric dragonfly in comparison to a human. (These insects grew huge because of the abundant oxygen levels.)
Information is conveyed in an exciting manner, encouraging page turns to discover the changes of life on Earth while also learning the answer to the opening question. This comprehensive reference book will engage curious young readers.
THE NIGHT FLOWER: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus By Lara Hawthorne (Big Picture Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)
The Sonoran desert is busy with all sorts of activity. Lara Hawthorne’s 32-page nonfiction picture book, The Night Flower: The Blooming of the Saguaro Cactus invites the reader to explore this lively world. The book’s rhyming lines are upbeat and evocative: “Around the saguaro, in the shining moonlight, the desert is festive and thriving tonight.”
Facts bookend the text, deepening a reader’s understanding about the wonderful saguaro cactus’s spectacular bloom which occurs only one night each year. “During this short period, their strong scent and brilliant white petals attract rare pollinators, including bats, moths, and doves.” For a few hours in the morning, the pollen’s shared with day creatures such as birds and bees.
Kids will like the “Did you spot . . .?” section at the end which encourages them to connect the descriptions of ten animals back to the story. The colorfully illustrated saguaro life cycle and glossary are in kid-friendly language to engage even the youngest child. I enjoyed the fresh perspective on animals such as the grasshopper mouse, a “fierce, furry hunter” which is “known to stand on its hind legs and howl at night.”
Hawthorne’s watercolor images introduce whimsy and beauty. This glimpse at something rare is educational and fun. I may have missed the saguaro’s amazing bloom, but, if our travels take us to the desert, I’ll keep a lookout for the gorgeous rainbow grasshopper.
The wonderful thing about nonfiction biographies is that, when done well, they will take us on a journey full of facts, stories, and struggles that will not only enlighten us but also keep us glued to the page, even when we know the outcome. The following books we’ve selected to share for Women’s History Month are excellent examples of recent biographies about extraordinary, trailblazing women whose legacies are enduring and whose contributions remain invaluable serving as powerful role models for generations to come. Find out more about Hedy Lamarr, Susan B. Anthony and Ada Byron Lovelace below.
Wallmark’s chosen a fascinating woman to profile in her illuminating picture book biography of Hedy Lamarr. The Hollywood legend was more than dazzlingly beautiful actress, she was a secret inventor whose “greatest invention was the technology known as frequency-hopping spread spectrum” which has played a crucial role in keeping “our cell phone messages private” and keeping our computers hack-free. Although she knew she was more than just her looks, Lamarr chose to hide this talent from public and didn’t sell her inventions.
Born in Austria in 1920 (100 years after Susan B. Anthony), Hedy was a curious child who, when other kids would likely be out playing, was pre-occupied with how things worked. Her father encouraged her interest in science and technology which no doubt had a positive impact on the young girl. She also had a love of cinema and pretending so it was no surprise she gravitated towards a career in the movies. “I acted all the time … I was a little living copybook. I wrote people down on me.” Eventually doors opened for Hedy when a famous film producer offered her a seven-year film contract. She left her homeland for the bright lights of Hollywood, had her name changed to Hedy Lamarr from Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler and went on to star in films with some of the industry’s most popular leading men including Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable.
With her wondering mind at work all the time, even after a day of filming, Lamarr always was thinking about a way to improve on things already in existence or to create something new. That was especially true during WWII. So when she met composer George Antheil, a former weapons inspector, she learned from him that the U.S. Navy, like the European ones, had trouble with the enemy jamming their weapons’ radio signals. Hedy wondered if there was a way to counter this. With the piano as the impetus for a new idea, Hedy thought there might be a way to change frequencies like playing the same keys on a piano in different octaves, and by doing so build a secure torpedo guidance system. And so, after a lot of hard work, they did. Together with Antheil they shared their invention and were told it was “red-hot” but it still needed more work to operate effectively. While the pair eventually received their patent, the Navy “refused to develop” this ground-breaking technology and even classified it as secret so no one else could use the idea. Ultimately they never earned a penny from this breakthrough.
Undeterred by her thwarted efforts to help her adopted homeland, Hedy found success by getting behind the war bond effort, selling millions. Lamarr also took time to meet with servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen and pitched in any way she could. She retired From the movie business in the late 50s and only in the last twenty years has been earning the recognition long overdue. Wu’s artwork is just the right amount of subject and space, and pulls us into every illustration, my favorite being the one where Lamarr and Antheil first meet at a dinner party. Her simple depictions of Lamarr’s big green eyes, sculpted nose and brown hair are terrific. Wallmark’s added a “Timeline” and “Secrets of the Secret Communications System” in the back matter for young readers to learn more about “jam-proofing” technology. I love how even the endpapers are filled with artwork and details about Lamarr. Plus readers will find a “Selected Bibliography,” “Additional Reading About Other Women in Stem” and a list of “Hedy Lamarr’s Films.” Award-winning author Wallmark’s also written picture book biographies about Ada Byron Lovelace and Grace Hopper. Add Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life to the list of must-read biographies.
Prepare to be impressed by the tireless commitment and inroads Susan B. Anthony made for women’s suffrage as detailed by Teri Kanefield in Susan B. Anthony: The Making of America, book #4 in this inspiring series in which each volume “tells the story of an American leader who helped shaped the United States” that we know today. My review copy is so dog-eared to mark the countless passages I wanted to return to. What Kanefield successfully does from the Prologue forward is thoughtfully convey the most important aspects of Anthony’s life so kids will see the evolution of her beliefs beginning with her Quaker upbringing, her teaching years and all the way through to her time lecturing across America as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
What comes across to the reader is that Anthony, born in 1820, prior to the Victorian era, from an early age held strong convictions that everyone should be treated as equals. At that time in our country’s history women were supposed to raise families and keep their noses out of politics and practically everything else unless it concerned homemaking. They were only allowed to work in a limited amount of jobs: teacher, seamstress or nanny. They were prohibited from owning property and, in the case of estrangement in a marriage, the man gained custody of the children. In fact, it was not uncommon for a man to have his wife committed to an insane asylum if he wanted out of the marriage.
The immoral slave trade was the most divisive issue, even among Quakers at that time. To Anthony, people of color as well as women were not second class citizens, destined to remain subservient to white men. This was considered a radical idea in the early 19th century and she did not have an easy path as she tried, along with her friend and fellow activist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to bring about change and a new amendment to the Constitution giving women the vote. Frederick Douglass was a friend with whom she worked to help first abolish slavery and then gain constitutional protection for free slaves. However, before slavery was abolished and even after, prominent politicians and leaders cautioned her to put her agenda for women’s rights on hold. This was unacceptable. Anthony, along with her friend and staunchest ally, Stanton, challenged the notion that women had to forgo their wants and needs and remained determined “to ride roughshod over obstacles, ignore critics, and take help wherever they could get it.” The support of Anthony’s large family was a constant throughout her life and I wonder how she’d have managed without them during the numerous times she was broke or in debt. Her intelligence and quick wit made her the ideal person to speak on behalf of the suffrage movement but it’s worth noting that she also gravitated towards defending anyone whose rights were being abused.
This well-researched biography is filled with maps, photos, flyers, posters and advertisements that help paint a picture of American society during Anthony’s life. Even something like a lady’s corset could be symbolic of the self-imposed restrictions 19th century women placed upon themselves due to societal norms that a woman should have an hourglass figure. “Girls as young as seven were laced into overly tight corsets.” Also included are Notes, a Time Line, Selected Writings of Susan B. Anthony, a Bibliography, Acknowledgments and an Index.
By the time she died at age 86, four states allowed women to vote but it wasn’t until President Woodrow Wilson and the start of WWI that an amendment to give women the vote would gain traction, ultimately becoming the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also called the Susan B. Anthony amendment, in 1920, fourteen years after her death. Kanefield’s invaluable biography paints a portrait of an American hero whose convictions changed the course of American history
I told everyone about Ada Byron Lovelace after finishing Dreaming in Code. I had heard her name in regards to code but it ended there. I knew nothing of the back story that led to this brilliant woman’s presaging today’s computer era almost two centuries ago!
Ada Byron Lovelace was born in England at the end of 1815, just five years before Susan B. Anthony. Augusta Ada Byron, was the daughter of the celebrated poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his “prim, religious” wife, Anne Isabella Noel, called Annabella, a woman of wealth and intelligence. The couple did not remain together due to his philandering and squandering of money among other things so Ada, as she became known, was raised by a single mother. Annabella was a self-centered hypochondriac yet quite philanthropic at the same time and left it to nannies, governesses and tutors to raise her child while she spent time away visiting her newly inherited holdings and helping the coal miners under her employ. McCully engagingly details how Ada flourished from her education although she remained removed from society until her mother deemed it necessary to find her a husband.
Around this time Ada met Charles Babbage, “famous inventor, philosopher (as scientists were then called) and mathematician” who held Isaac Newton’s chair at Cambridge University. Theirs was to be a long and intense, though completely platonic, relationship as they discussed big ideas since both were passionate about math and science. Their friendship provided Ada with the outlet she needed for stimulation. However things grew complicated when she married William, Lord King who became the Earl of Lovelace and soon became a mother. Though not as cold as her own mother, Ada, too, found it difficult to parent when her loyalties lay elsewhere. These chapters were some of the most fascinating ones yet sad at the same time. She often felt ill and, as was common in the early 19th century, was prescribed Laudanum, a tincture of opium viewed as a cure-all. That addiction had to have contributed to her early death at age 37.
As Countess of Lovelace, Ada mixed with a cross-section of society and attended talks on science given by brilliant minds of the era such as Michael Faraday. Ada also wanted to help Babbage and his Analytical Engine and at the same time make her own mark in the science and math fields. Here’s where her genius shone through. While Babbage saw his invention as “arithmetical and numerical, rather than algebraical and analytical,” Ada believed the machine could do more than compute … “that numbers were symbols and could represent other concepts, is what makes Babbage’s engine a prototype-computer.” Sadly, Lovelace lived in era when women were overshadowed by men and women’s freedoms were limited. We can only begin to imagine what miraculous achievements she’d have made had she only lived longer.
With the very readable Dreaming in Code highlighting her meticulous research, McCully has shed light on Ada Byron Lovelace, an important historical figure whose contributions to the field of STEM are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I recommend this young adult nonfiction book for anyone seeking to get a better understanding of the era in which Lovelace lived and how she was inspired to think outside the box.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Read about the friendship of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass here. Read another book, Dare The Wind, illustrated Emily Arnold McCully here.
OUT OF THIS WORLD: THE SURREAL ART OF LEONORA CARRINGTON Written by Michelle Markel Illustrated by Amanda Hall (Balzer + Bray; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
★Starred Review – Booklist
Named as one of Amazon’s Best Nonfiction Books for January 2019, Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington engages us from the opening lines where we’re told that “Leonora’s parents wanted her to be like every other well-bred English girl. But she was not.” Carrington’s amazing history unfolds with her love of drawing at age four. In the early 1900s, women were expected to be proper ladies then wives. Yet even with few opportunities, Carrington boldly forged a life which allowed her imaginative spirit to flourish.
This is the second picture-book collaboration between Michelle Markel and illustrator Amanda Hall. (The first, also about a significant figure from art history, was award-winning and critically acclaimed The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau). Once again, Hall’s art infuses vibrant color and lively images. She succeeds in conveying “the spirit, themes, and sensibility [Carrington] explored in her creative output without attempting to re-create any of her actual imagery.”
This book introduces surrealism to kids in a fun manner, yet Carrington’s plight is also understood. Instead of conforming to her society’s ideas about a woman’s place in the world, Carrington’s paintings, sculptures, and writings shaped a path that brought wide recognition in her lifetime. Additional, fascinating details are summarized in the back matter.
The book tells the true tale of folk artist Nek Chand. In the small village where Chand is born, recycling and repurposing objects is a way of life. Dented buckets become scarecrow hats. Scraps of fabric become blankets. Sticks become toy rafts. And woven throughout the texture of daily life, there are stories. Stories of kings and goddesses, geese and monkeys, jungles and temples fill Chand’s imagination until one day, using sand and sticks and rocks, he builds the world of his imagination on the banks of a river. When partition splits India into two countries, however, Chand and his family are forced to leave their village behind for the cold concrete of India’s first planned city, Chandigarh. Nivola’s watercolor and gouache illustrations show the stark contrast between the colorful village of Chand’s childhood and his life in the city, where variations of beige reign.
Chand feels he doesn’t belong in the city, but then, he claims a patch of unused jungle on the outskirts of town. Over many years, using found objects and half-dead plants, he builds a secret kingdom of walkways, sculptures, arches, flowering plants, and trees. It’s a place where stories come to life, where castaway items are reborn, and where Chand, at last, belongs. Though his garden comes to cover many acres, Chand’s creation remains a secret for 15 years. When it’s finally discovered, government forces threaten demolition, but the people of Chandigarh step in. Chand’s secret kingdom comes to be known as “The Rock Garden of Chandigarh” and, to this day, draws visitors in the thousands from all over the world.
Rosenstock’s text paints a vivid picture of Chand’s life in India as he battles “clouds of mosquitoes and slithering cobras,” walks past “plowmen singing behind oxen” and gathers “broken glass bangles in red, blue, and green.” With the added visual of Nivola’s illustrations, this story of a man who, quietly and with determination, created the world he imagined–simply because it brought him joy–truly comes to life.
Fascinated by reptiles from an early age, Joan Procter followed her childhood passion for slithery, scaly, unusual animals to an internationally renowned career at London’s Zoo and the Natural History Museum. Valdez introduces us to young, curious Joan, holding tea parties with reptiles while her peers preferred dolls. As Joan grew, her interest did not wane, so at 16 years old she received a pet crocodile as a birthday gift!
In due time, Joan chatted up the director of Natural History museum about his work with reptiles. She began working there, surveying the museum’s vast collections, publishing research papers, and creating detailed, realistic models and drawings for the reptile exhibits. Given her enthusiasm, experience and extensive knowledge, Joan eventually became the Curator, an unusual role for a female scientist at the time.
When invited to re-design the London Zoo Reptile House, Joan fell in love with a new and exotic creature, the Komodo dragon. This so-called fierce, man-eating lizard was “rumored to be…Thirty feet long! Faster than a motorcar! Stronger than an ox!” Joan, undeterred, could not wait to study the dragons first-hand. Her deep connection with one Komodo called Sumbawa led to some of the most stunning and innovative work of her career.
Valdez keeps the paces of this fascinating story lively by introducing wonderful vocabulary woven carefully and completely within a child-friendly framework and perspective. She highlights her heroine’s passion and determination in an understated yet direct manner, giving Joan relevance and timeliness that transcend her time period. Joan Procter, Dragon Doctoris an essential addition for collections on women in STEM fields, with the broad appeal of reptiles and science for many young readers boosts this title to the top.
Salas illustrates dramatically, choosing with vibrant, rich colors for the settings, the tropical plants, and the starring-role reptiles. Joan is elegant yet serious, portrayed close to and interacting with her creatures, focused on them with great intensity, delight and passion. The reptiles themselves are marvelously textured and stylized, creeping, curving and twisting with dignified realism. Throughout the story, Salas provides tantalizing glimpses of early 20th century London through architecture and fashions of the era.
Valdez includes additional biographical information on Procter as well as on Komodo Dragons. A bibliography with primary and secondary sources is a helpful resource for young readers who wish to explore more. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about this impressive scientist, her beloved ‘dragons’ and her trailblazing career in a book that is as beautiful and brilliant as it is important.
Where obtained: I reviewed an advanced reader copy from the publisher and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.
ABOUT JOAN PROCTER, DRAGON DOCTOR
For fans of Ada Twist: Scientist comes a fascinating picture book biography of a pioneering female scientist–who loved reptiles!
Back in the days of long skirts and afternoon teas, young Joan Procter entertained the most unusual party guests: slithery and scaly ones, who turned over teacups and crawled past the crumpets…. While other girls played with dolls, Joan preferred the company of reptiles. She carried her favorite lizard with her everywhere–she even brought a crocodile to school!
When Joan grew older, she became the Curator of Reptiles at the British Museum. She went on to design the Reptile House at the London Zoo, including a home for the rumored-to-be-vicious Komodo dragons. There, just like when she was a little girl, Joan hosted children’s tea parties–with her Komodo dragon as the guest of honor.
With a lively text and vibrant illustrations, scientist and writer Patricia Valdez and illustrator Felicita Sala bring to life Joan Procter’s inspiring story of passion and determination.
★Starred Reviews: Booklist, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
We’re thrilled to once again participate in #MCBD2018 by sharing a review of42 Is Not Just a Number,a fantastic middle grade biography by award-winning author, Doreen Rappaport, focusing on the life of legendary athlete, Jackie Robinson.
It’s hard to believe I live less than 10 miles away from places in Pasadena that played such an important role in Jackie Robinson’s life, yet I never knew all their significance. After reading Rappaport’s 42 Is Not Just a Number, kids will understand why Jackie Robinson was destined to help break down the color barriers that existed in his lifetime, and is considered an American hero and champion of civil rights. Who knows when African-Americans would have been allowed in Major League Baseball had it not been for Robinson’s courage and determination? In fact, this past summer was the 70th anniversary of that sport’s desegregation, but it was not an easy feat to accomplish in the Jim Crow era with its rampant racism, segregation and discrimination.
In this meticulously researched biography packed with eye-opening stories and quotes, Rappaport takes us from Jack “Jackie” Robinson’s childhood through his college and military years to his baseball career, and concludes with his early death at age 53. The chapters flow easily and Rappaport shares just the right amount and choice of information to engage young readers, whether they’re sports fans or not.
Robinson, born in 1919, was raised by a single mom along with his four siblings. One of them, Mack, became a track and field silver medalist in the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin when another black man, Jesse Owens, took home gold. Mama or Maillie, Robinson’s mother, moved the family from Georgia to Southern California when Jackie was just a one-year-old in hopes of giving her family a better life. The racial climate of Pasadena at that time, though not as restrictive and oppressive as the Jim Crow South, was still segregated, something that young Jackie could not tolerate. He was quick to lose his temper at the injustice he saw and got into trouble a lot. However, with the positive guidance of Reverand Karl Downs, Jackie, who excelled in all sports, learned to channel his frustration and anger in other ways. No matter what sport he played, his speed, skill and quick learning brought accolades. But despite his talent, there was no chance to pursue a career if playing on a team meant integrating with whites. It just wasn’t done or accepted by many. After serving in WWII, Jackie joined the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Baseball League and was scouted by the Montreal Royals, a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers. That’s how Jackie’s abilities were recognized and within a year the trailblazing Dodgers’ manager, Branch Rickey, signed him with the Dodgers, shirt #42! However Jackie had to steer clear of controversy. “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back,” Rickey told Jackie upon bringing him onboard the team. Jackie knew the manager was right and that if he was going to effect change, Rickey’s advice had to be heeded although at times it was almost impossible.
Jackie’s star was rising and Black Americans from hundreds of miles away traveled to see this amazing talent steal bases, hit home runs and shine. Despite all the acclaim, Jackie continued to face prejudice at every turn. Ultimately it was Jackie’s spirit and convictions that won over fans’ hearts across the country. “In a nationwide contest of the most respected men in America, Jackie was ahead of President Truman and WWII heroes General Dwight D. Eisenhower and General Douglas MacArthur …” 42 Is Not Just a Number deftly chroniclesthis inspirational man’s impact not only upon his sport but also upon his era. I am confident young readers will agree.
Review by Ronna Mandel
ABOUT MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S BOOK DAY:
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2018 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Current Sponsors: MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.
THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy Written by HP Newquist (Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
The Book of Chocolate is a 160-page mouthwatering nonfiction book for middle-grade readers. Fourteen chapters divide the contents into categories including chocolate’s history, chocolate makers, and the process “from bean to bar.” Side anecdotes offset the text, such as a modern-day recipe for the drink Xocolatl. This ancient beverage dates to 600 BC where the Mayans of the Yucatán mixed powdered cacao beans with water and spices then served it frothy, cool, and unsweetened—they did not have sugar.
Kids will enjoy guessing the Top Ten most popular chocolates in the US (M&M’s is first) or discovering what happens at the factory. The mystery of how a Kit Kat bar remains crisp while being enrobed in chocolate is also revealed.
Adults may like learning that Alfred Hitchcock’s famous black-and-white movie Psycho used Bosco’s chocolate syrup as the blood flowing down the drain. Another fun fact: countries with the highest chocolate consumption also have the most Nobel Prize winners relative to the size of their population. Switzerland, where 26 pounds of chocolate are consumed per person annually, ranks first with 32 Nobel Prize winners per 10 million people. Americans eat 11 pounds per year, producing 10 Nobel Prize winners per 10 million people.
HP Newquist’sThe Book of Chocolate is interesting reading for tweens with longer attention spans and a handy reference for school reports. Most pages have accompanying color images, providing additional material.
THEY JUST KNOW: ANIMAL INSTINCTS Written by Robin Yardi Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein (Arbordale Publishing; $17.95 hardcover, $9.95 paperback, Ages 4-8)
Kids are curious. They wonder about everything they see in nature, especially about living creatures. So if your child has ever asked you how animals know what to do in any given situation, it’s the perfect time to introduce the concepts of instinct and learned behaviors with They Just Know: Animal Instincts, a terrific nonfiction picture book.When those questions start you’ll definitely want to have a copy of this helpful resource on hand not just for your kids but as a refresher for you parents and caregivers
While gently teaching about instinct versus learned behaviors, life cycles and metamorphosis, the young and their parents, They Just Know shows children that throughout the animal kingdom, all kinds of creatures are growing and changing, learning and succeeding and ultimately making it on their own.
Just like no one tells a baby when to cry, “no one reminds a caterpillar to eat her leaves, or to make a chrysalis when she’s old enough. Caterpillars just know.” Using this and other excellent animal examples, author Robin Yardi, and illustrator Laurie Allen Klein, introduce us to black swallowtails, horn sharks, king snakes, ladybugs, loggerhead sea turtles and spring peepers. The light-hearted artwork that anthropomorphizes the animals, imagines them in humorous situations preparing and studying for what actually comes naturally. Kids will find these depictions so funny. My favorite is the illustration of the horn shark sitting in his inflatable wading pool, wearing a float which, in all its contrariness, captures the text, “Nobody tells a horn shark to stay in the shallow end until he can swim.”
The book’s back matter includes four pages of learning activities in a section entitled For Creative Minds and it’s also a great conversation starter for the youngest of readers. Make sure to spend some time reading They Just Know: Animal Instincts before your next visit to the aquarium or zoo and I’m sure some enjoyable and entertaining discussions are bound to happen.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Find author Robin Yardi here. Find illustrator Laurie Allen Klein here. Click here for They Just Know teaching activities. They Just Know is also available in Spanish Paperback, Ebook, and Spanish EBook
Can food facts be fun? Sure they can … here’s a few examples: Ever heard of borborygmi? Sure you have, it’s the rumbling sound your stomach makes (p. 38). Did you know that 16,000,000 jelly beans are produced at Easter? Red is the most popular color (p. 103). If you’re dieting you may not want to know that by the time you’re 80 years old you will have eaten about 87,660 meals (p. 7).
However, No Way …Way! is not limited to food for humans. Animal eating habits are also included: Guess what the vampire finch eats … or rather, sucks? (blood from other birds, p. 161). You don’t want to know what a naked mole rat eats (it’s own poop to aid digestion, p. 187).
No Way …Way!is neatly organized into sections that cover the history of food, holiday meals, unusual dishes (like chocolate-covered cicadas, p. 89), where people eat (imagine eating where Julius Caesar was assassinated, p. 120), what not to eat (raw lima beans become cyanide in your body, p. 202), and more. Short, humorous facts, colorful illustrations, and eye-popping designs (plus a little gross-out factor) make this a fun book to browse. Recommended as “cool,” “awesome,” “humorous,” and “interesting” by my second and third graders. One of my fourth graders told me she “had to have it!” A great book for beginning and reluctant readers as well as for children who like to browse through books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records.
Budding young astronauts and space aficionados will love these engaging early reader books. Each is succinctly and clearly written and accompanied by great photographs.
The Moon Written by James Buckley, Jr. (Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers; $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)
The moon has fascinated people throughout history and across many cultures, from worship of the moon in ancient times to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing and beyond. Buckley leads young readers through the history of moon exploration separating fact from fiction (there’s no old man living there). My second graders enjoyed this book for its’ accessible text and striking photographs. The book also contains a handy table of contents and glossary.
What is the International Space Station? Who lives there? What’s life like miles above earth? How difficult is it to eat and dress in zero gravity? How do you use the toilet in space? Buckley helps children understand daily life at the ISS. A “great book …” commented my third grade Star Wars fans.
A fascinating and well-researched look at the different parts of the body and how people throughout history have devised ways to repair or replace non-functioning body parts. From ancient surgical practices to relieve headaches (pp 80-81) to inventions of machines to see inside the body (magnetic resonance imaging), Newquist examines the reasons for and the history behind their design. He takes a peek inside our medicine chests and explains what’s inside it and concludes with the development of vaccines to curb the staggering rates of death from diseases like smallpox.
Although the engaging narrative is written for an older reader, the vivid and well-captioned illustrations (yes, there’s a little gross out factor here) will engage younger and reluctant readers who enjoy browsing through Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. My third graders found it “cool and interesting.”
Would you like to work in a zoo? Meet some of the many people who take care of the 18,000 animals at the National Zoo (Washington, D. C.). These include veterinarians, animal keepers, and nutritionists, whose work includes wellness check-ups, handling emergencies, preparing food, creating “enrichment activities” to keep the animals engaged (like art activities and chew toys) and more. Wonderful, nicely captioned color photographs allow young readers to visualize what they learn in the narrative. More advanced vocabulary is highlighted in yellow and defined in the book’s glossary. Perfect for individual readers as well as for kindergarteners learning about the roles of people in their community.
Oceans Doodle Book Written by Karen Romano Young (Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $12.99, Ages 8-12)
The Smithsonian’s marine experts have come up with a collection of fun and creative activities to help educate children about the ocean environment. Youngsters are challenged to use a variety of skills with the many activities available in the book. Creativity and imagination are needed for some activities such as designing and drawing a sea monster (“Sea Monsters, Ahoy!” pp. 24-25). Teachers and parents will appreciate the many activities that require various critical thinking skills. Looking at photographs of the skeletal remains of extinct whales, children determine what they may have looked like when alive (“Extinct Whale,” pp. 82-83). Another great one is determining where a floating object might land from a map of ocean currents (“Where Will it Float?” pp.16-17).
Each activity is accompanied by brief background information that supports the activity. For example, “Fish Face, Fish Tale,” (pp. 42-43) notes the more than 27,000 varieties of fish that scientists have discovered. Children then match fish heads on one page to the fish tales on the facing page. Concepts of bilateral symmetry (pp. 36-37) and radial symmetry (pp. 38-39) are explained and children draw the missing half of an ocean animal to reinforce the concept. Turn off the devices and hand this book to your kids guaranteeing hours of fun and learning.
Israeli artist and author Hanoch Piven has created an extraordinarily fun way for children to look at all 44 of our American presidents in an updated edition of his 2004 hit, What Presidents Are Made Of ($6.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ages 6 -10). This playful perspective presents each leader with his face depicted through a collage of items ranging from chains, telephone cord and jelly beans to a kazoo and a hot dog – yes, I kid you not, a genuine frankfurter for a nose! It also sheds light on different aspects of their character or persona.
Did you know, for example, that Ulysses S. Grant once got a $20 ticket for dashing just a bit too quickly in his one-horse carriage and had only praise for the policeman who fined him, or that Franklin D. Roosevelt never liked the food his White House chef cooked but felt he just could not fire her? My favorite picture also belongs to that of our 32nd president and has a remarkable resemblance to Martin Scorsese with his prominent black bolt eyebrows.
In his straightforward introduction, Pinoch shares an artist’s ever creative approach to evoking these larger-than-life individuals for children to enjoy, but also to learn from in a light-hearted, whimsical way. He also encourages kids to try their hand at reproducing a president’s likeness using found objects. If I were a teacher I’d have a blast with this book, but parents can also take part in the portrait-making process. Go on, think about someone you’d like to recreate on paper (Lady Gaga, First Lady Michelle Obama, or maybe even Sponge Bob), get out some pasta, push pins, a few earrings that have lost their pairs, and start your own art project today.
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).
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.
There are many mimes, but there is only one Marcel Marceau. In Spielman’s compelling children’s biography complemented by subtle artwork from Gauthier, we learn of Marceau’s early inspiration, the silent film star Charlie Chaplin, as well as his childhood growing up in Strasbourg, France, close to the German border. Always the performer, young Marcel could make people laugh with his impersonations and amiable personality. This ability to entertain would not only save his life but countless others as well.
The son of a Jewish kosher butcher, Marceau and his older brother Alain fled to Limoges when, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and the French government ordered the people of Strasbourg to leave their city. The Marceau brothers changed their last name from Mangel in a move to avoid being targeted by the Nazis who, in 1940, had taken over most of France. Marcel had an aptitude for art and worked secretly during the war to alter identity cards in order to help young Jewish children avoid the labor camps where so many were being sent. In addition to this risky business, Marceau faced untold danger helping a cousin in the Resistance by leading groups of children across the Swiss border on more than one occasion. “On one trip, Marcel got the children singing so happily that Nazis traveling on the same train complimented them on their voices.” Here his skill at performing allowed him to smuggle children out of Nazi territory “right under their noses.”
At age 20, Marcel began to study drama working under the famous mime, Etienne Decroux. Because Marceau never lost his love of mime, as a volunteer soldier in the Free French Army, he performed his first mime review in front of 3,000 American troops. How fortunate that Marceau continued to pursue a career on the stage, bringing the craft of mime to new heights. He went on to create the eponymous Bip, part clown, part Chaplin Little Tramp in “white face paint, tight-fitting pants, a striped shirt, flower, and a crumpled hat. Spielman helps us marvel at how the masterful Marceau, without so much as word, could speak volumes the world over.
Find this review in October’s issue of L.A. Parent at www.laparent.com.
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter To My Daughters, written by Barack Obama and illustrated by Loren Long is reviewed by Lindy Michaels of BookStar on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. Stop by and see her when you’re next in the Valley.
It is time to put politics aside. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, anyone who has children will, should adore this incredibly beautifully written and illustrated book. Helping a child to have self worth as they journey through life is one of the hardest jobs a parent has. In Of Thee I Sing, President Obama reinforces all the positive qualities of his daughters, as he asks them and, in fact, all the children of this country… “Have I told you that you are smart?” “Have I told you that you are kind?” “Have I told you that you are creative?”
To illustrate the answers to those and other questions, he tells of Americans who have inspired generation after generation.
“Have I told you that you are strong? A woman named Helen Keller fought her way through long, silent darkness. Though she could not see or hear, she taught us to look at and listen to each other. Never waiting for life to get easier, she gave others courage to face their challenges.”
He tells his daughters that what makes this country strong and great is because it is made up of…
“People of all races, religions and beliefs… sharing their unique gifts and giving us the courage to lift one another up, to keep up the fight, to work and build upon all that is good in our nation.”
So listen, children, listen.
I strongly believe this special book and its message should be passed down from our children to their children, to their children. It tells of those who have come before us that made this country a better place and by our own actions and our children’s, we should never stop trying to do the same. Of Thee I Sing is a gift for the ages.
The very versatile Lindy Michaels aims to inspire young minds through children’s literature. Lindy owned L.A.’s first children’s bookshop, OF BOOKS AND SUCH (1972-1987) where she did storytelling, taught drama to children, had art and poetry contests and the like. According to Lindy, “It was truly a ‘land of enchantment.” She also spent years lecturing on realism in children’s literature at colleges in the state. For close to five years Lindy has worked for Studio City Barnes and Noble (BookStar) in the children’s section and does storytelling every Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
Put a pop-up book in front of me, and watch me revert gleefully back to my childhood. This one is a very sturdy, beautiful, unique, interactive science book with flaps to lift, wheels to turn and tabs to pull. It explains what causes our weather to change and how weather is predicted, and there is way cool page about hurricanes, (which I am all too familiar with, living in Miami.) There is even an awesome pop up that explains how we are adding greenhouse gasses to the environment. I love that fact that this book is fun to use but is about an important and serious topic. You’ll love it because it answers all those weather questions kids ask (and even some you’ve often wondered about). It really is quite sophisticated, so older kids will get the most out of it. This one is a keeper!
This is an innovative idea for a book. It includes 26 short stories that focus on the environment. Then questions are posed to make the reader think about solutions to the environmental situations presented in the stories. For example, one story is about a girl named Lucy, who loves to draw and writes many notes, stories and poems and uses a large volume of paper, crayons and pencils. The reader is asked what Lucy can do to waste less paper and make better use of her other materials. I like the way this book makes children think about how they can change their every day habits to reduce waste and keep the earth cleaner.
Young curious minds get more than just an introduction to the science of climates and global warming when they read this sophisticated 66-page book. It’s packed with detailed facts and wonderful photographs to teach readers everything from changing animal habitats, rising seawater and temperature changes, to what they can do on their own help change their own “Climate Footprints.” There’s also a list of resources, a list of scientists mentioned in the book and a detailed index. I love that this book encourages students to think like scientists, and perhaps even inspires them to become scientists in the future. It sure got me thinking about saving planet earth.