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Ten Children’s Books for the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

TEN+ TERRIFIC MOON-THEMED CHILDREN’S BOOKS
TO CELEBRATE THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY
OF THE APOLLO 11 MOON LANDING

 

 

 

Future Astronaut Book CoverFUTURE ASTRONAUT
Written by Lori Alexander
Illustrated by Allison Black
(Cartwheel Books; $8.99, Ages 0-3)

With its catchy opening line of Ground Control to Major Baby, a play on popular David Bowie lyrics, Future Astronaut is off and running! You want cute? This is cute! Twenty-four pages playfully pit Alexander’s prose plus Black’s whimsical side by side illustrations of what it takes to be an astronaut against whether or not baby has what it takes to join NASA. Note its logo emblazoned on several uniforms worn by the adults. Healthy hearts, good eyes, and strong teeth are needed. Check! Baby’s passed that test. Astronauts swim and so does baby. Looks like baby’s on track so far! What about two astronauts working together as they float in orbit? Astronauts live and work in small spaces. On the opposite page are two friends playing inside cardboard boxes. Small spaces are Baby’s favorite places! My favorite illustrations show first an astronaut eating from her plastic dehydrated food packs while baby clearly enjoys playing with plastic too, though not as neatly! But cleverly, once space travel involves leaving home to visit “far-off places,” baby’s not quite ready to take the next step and Alexander wraps things up beautifully with a blissful baby ready to travel as far as dreamland.

Look There's a Rocket! Book CoverLOOK, THERE’S A ROCKET!
Text by Nosy Crow
Illustrated by Esther Aarts

(Nosy Crow; $7.99, Ages 0-3)

Another fun interactive book in Aarts’s “Look, There’s a … ” series of board books, this one’s ideal for little hands of Moon and Mars minded toddlers. Ten sturdy die cut pages let youngsters peek through the holes to see what’s next while answering easy questions in the rhyming text. Look, there’s a star and some planets outside. / Can you see three comets? / What a bumpy ride! Here’s a chance to introduce space travel in a colorful way that rocketeers will find hard to put down.

Moon's First Friends Book CoverMOON’S FIRST FRIENDS
Written by Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Moon has always held such a fascination for mankind. What is it like up there? Is the Moon affecting our mood in addition to our tides? How long will it take to get there? But Hill’s picture book, Moon’s First Friends, turns that curiosity on its head by presenting a story told from the Moon’s point of view.

This Moon, friendly and a bit lonely, is watching Earth and its inhabitants evolve. From dinosaurs to caveman, from bicycle riders to hot air balloonists, from early rocket engineers to the Apollo 11 crew, the Moon sees everything, hoping, waiting … until one day in July it happens. Earth men blast off into space towards the Moon. Hill’s lyrical language here capture’s not only Moon’s joy, but everyone on Earth’s too. “At thirty stories high and weighing six million pounds, the rocket rose into the air amid an explosion of flames.” Several days later the mission makes it to the Moon. Then the most amazing thing occurs in Moon’s lifetime (and it’s my favorite part of the story), men emerge from the module and walk on Moon’s surface. Nothing would ever be the same after that visit. Young readers will share the delight felt by the Moon as expressed through welcome gifts of rocks and moon dust offered to the visitors. The astronauts bestow a token of their friendship as well by leaving a plaque that reads: HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON / JULY 1969, A.D. / WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND. They then plant an American flag and zoom back to Earth. The Moon is now confident others will follow suit.

Paganelli’s artwork is charming and cheerful, breathing life into the Moon and all the events leading up to July. Readers can find a selected bibliography in the front of the book as well as back matter about the Apollo 11 voyage plus a couple of photos. Another cool thing that’s been included is a scannable QR code so kids can listen to a recording of Neil Armstrong’s historic first words on the Moon!

ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOONAliana Reaches for the Moon book cvr
Written by Laura Roettiger
Illustrated by Ariel Boroff
(Eifrig Publishing; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

Add Aliana Reaches for the Moon to your assortment of Moon books because, while this one’s not about that historic time in July 1969, it is about the Moon’s influence on one clever young girl.

Aliana is creative and observant, great qualities for an aspiring scientist. She tells Gustavo, her little brother, that she’s planning something secret to present him on his upcoming birthday. A calendar in the illustration that accompanies her dialogue shows that there will be a full moon on May 26, Gustavo’s big day. What is Aliana up to that involves making such a mess at home? Thankfully, her parents don’t complain because they know that whatever she’s creating will be worth it. Inspired by great women of science before her, Aliana wants to invent something unique for Gustavo but that  requires a lot of reading and preparation so she takes out a ton of library books to begin researching.

When the full moon arrives at last, Aliana shares the glowing result of her experiment. Behold an amazing “magical birthday cake!” And all it took was the ingenuity of gathering up five (Gustavo’s turning five years old) vases and glasses, filling them with marbles, coins, pieces of quartz and topping them “with a crystal from her collection … ” and waiting for the full moon to shine. Roettiger’s story shows readers what’s involved in inventing with the goal of motivating children to experiment themselves. By using the moon as her source, Aliana has harnessed the lunar light to bring her invention to life. Boroff’s jewel toned illustrations complement Roettiger’s prose as they convey the joy and satisfaction transforming a dream into reality can bring. An author’s note at the end explains the moon cycles for budding inventors.

I am Neil Armstrong book coverI AM NEIL ARMSTRONG
Written by Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
(Dial BYR; $14.99, Ages 5-8)

The fifteenth book in Meltzer’s best-selling “Ordinary People Change the World” series is like Armstrong himself, it doesn’t fail to deliver. Kids as well as adults will learn so much from the 40 pages of Armstrong’s biography. I didn’t know that even as a young child, the future first man on the Moon exhibited astronaut-worthy traits such as patience, bravery, and intelligence (he loved to read). He was obsessed with airplanes too. He worked hard from an early age to earn money for flying lessons, earning his pilot’s license even before his driver’s license!

After joining the navy and “flying in seventy-eight missions during the Korean War,” Armstrong went on to become a test pilot after college. He eventually heeded President Kennedy’s challenge of “… landing a man on the Moon” and applied to NASA and was accepted into their astronaut program. The rest as they say is history, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating. A double gate-fold in the center of the book shows the Apollo 11 astronauts’ glorious view of the Moon and Eliopoulos’s other cartoon-style artwork playfully depicts the space journey with the Eagle ultimately landing on the Moon’s surface. Parents can remind children to keep an eye out for a picture of Meltzer hidden somewhere in this and all his other books in the series. I love how both astronaut John Glenn and mathematician Katherine Johnson are also featured in one of the illustrations because their contributions to our successful space exploration deserve recognition. As a humble individual, Armstrong always credited the entire team that helped put a man on the Moon.

When Armstrong took his first steps, “One-fifth of the world’s population was watching on TV.” Children love to learn facts like that which are not easily forgotten. I am Neil Armstrong provides age appropriate and always interesting information conveyed in a kid-friendly fashion that demonstrates how one man’s determination and humility changed the world forever. Meltzer mentions what Armstrong’s family said after he passed away: “Next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the Moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.” Back matter includes a time line of the space race and several color photos including ones of the Apollo 11 crew.

Moonstruck! Poems About Our Moon bk cvrMOONSTRUCK! POEMS ABOUT OUR MOON
Edited by Roger Stevens
Illustrated by Ed Boxall
(Otter-Barry Books; $16.99, Ages 7 and up)

Moonstruck!’s over 50 fab poems not only help children reflect on the momentous occasion from 50 years ago, but also touch upon so many different aspects of the moon orbit, landing as well as the mystery and majesty of the Moon itself. “The Lonely Side of The Moon” by Laura Mucha is about Michael Collins’ radio silence when he was separated from Armstrong and Aldrin for 48 minutes while Doda Smith’s “Dear Mr. Astronaut” features a child requesting some moon dust to add to his amazing collection of things. James Carter’s concrete poem, “The Moon Speaks!” is told from the moon’s perspective and B.J. Lee’s rhyming “Moon Marks” considers how long a dozen spacemen’s footprints will remain, frozen in time.

Classic poems from Emily Brontë and Robert Louis Stevenson join new ones from Catherine Benson and Celia Warren and many more. Not only is this an awe-inspiring anthology of moon-themed poetry from internationally known poets, it’s got interesting facts when they can add to the appreciation of a particular poem’s topic. Boxall’s beautiful black and white linocuts add another delightful dimension to what’s already an out of this world anthology. Keep this one on hand for National Poetry month!

Rocket to the Moon! Book CoverROCKET TO THE MOON!
Big Ideas That Changed the World #1
by Don Brown
(Amulet; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

If you love graphic novels, don’t miss picking up a copy of Brown’s Rocket to the Moon! because it’s an excellent way to experience the trajectory of space exploration in cartoon format. It’s also the first in what promises to be a super new series, “Big Ideas That Changed the World.” This fast yet engaging read taught me more than a thing or two about the history of rockets with its attention to detail both through the text and the illustrations. Celebrating “the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately remade the world” the novel uses a narrator drawn from real life named Rodman Law to share the ups and downs of rocketry. We’re pulled into the story by this American daredevil’s attempt to launch a homemade rocket in the early 20th century.

Contrasting the entertaining introduction to the subject matter, Law takes us back in time to first century China where gunpowder was invented then fast forwards many centuries to explain how the British used rockets to bombard Fort McHenry in the War of 1812, hence Francis Scott Key’s lyrics in our national anthem, “… And the rockets’ red glare … ” We also find out how Jules Verne’s prescient science fiction novel, From the Earth to the Moon, influenced rocket scientists from Russia, Germany and the U.S. and how his vision translated into actual technology used during WWII. When the war ended, several German scientists surrendered to American authorities. Not long after, the space race began when the Soviets launched the first satellite and America, not be outshone by the Soviets, created NASA and the quest for U.S. travel beyond Earth began.

Brown goes above and beyond in recounting and depicting in his illustrations exactly how the competition played out which is what I’m sure tweens will enjoy. From sending dogs, mice, monkeys and chimpanzees into space (with some humorous and sad asides) to the ins and outs of peeing and pooping in a spacesuit, Brown doesn’t hesitate to illuminate us. But he manages to perfectly balance the funny facts with the serious ones including failed launches and devastating disasters resulting in death. About a month before President Kennedy announced the plan to land a man on the Moon, the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space on the first manned trip. So, with the clock ticking, NASA’s planning began. We see and read about how many missions prior to Apollo 11 led the way for America’s historic achievement but it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. It took dedication, smarts, teamwork, billions of dollars and eight years to get a man to the Moon. Yet Brown poignantly shows us how also, after all that had been accomplished, the last astronaut to walk on the moon was Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan in 1972, which is when Brown’s novel ends. Throughout the book, Brown’s artwork seamlessly succeeds at pushing the narrative forward and only adds to the emotional connection readers will feel with the subject matter. Ten pages at the end offer a helpful timeline, info about Rodman Law, Notes, a Bibliography and an Author’s Note. Needless to say, I devoured all 136 pages of Rocket to the Moon! It was carefully researched and presented in such an exciting format making it an invaluable and must-read graphic novel for middle grade kids.

Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon book cvrCOUNTDOWN: 2979 DAYS TO THE MOON
Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
(Peachtree Publishers; $22.95, Ages 10 and up)

The title of this middle grade nonfiction book, Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon, refers to the amount of time it would take to land a man on the moon starting from May 25, 1961, the day President Kennedy first made his historic challenge. This clever date-driven concept, presented in winning free verse by Slade, combines with Gonzalez’s dramatic illustrations to give a well-rounded account of that critical time in our nation’s history. Black and white as well as color photos add to the energy that emanates from Countdown.

Readers will find they soar through the book as Slade deftly describes the missions from Apollo 1 through Apollo 11 including the tragic Apollo 1 fire that killed astronauts, Grissom, Chaffee and White. The sacrifice made by those three courageous men on January 27, 1967 was not in vain and resulted in life-saving improvements in subsequent missions. Following the fire Apollo 2 is grounded and “NASA decides there will never be a mission called Apollo 3.” Apollo 4 and 5 are unmanned and successful. “The dream is still alive.” Following that triumph, Apollo 6 fails and fears about the future loom large. Soon Apollo 7 is manned for space travel and will circle Earth. The crew even make TV appearances then return home jubilant. “It’s time for Apollo to head to the Moon!” Tweens may recognize the names of the Apollo 8 crew, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. They become the first humans to fly above Earth orbit and to reach lunar orbit. I cannot imagine how it felt when they could see the Moon!

Slade intersperses actual astronaut dialogue which heightens the impact of these mind-blowing moments. She gets into more technical detail than I will here, but suffice it to say kids will learn the lingo and understand who and what’s involved in getting a mission off the ground. Apollo 9 and 10 are also monumental achievements, with their advanced space technology put into action with a space walk, a lunar and command module separation and re-connection, and flying the lunar module just miles from the Moon surface. Look out Moon, here we come! Of course Apollo 11 is given no short shrift but I’m out of space (no pun intended) so get this book and experience the excitement this 50th anniversary is celebrating. When the book ends, 18 astronauts will have braved the risks of space travel and fulfilled President’s Kennedy’s dream. On July 20, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon said of the Moon landing, “For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

This inside look at the Apollo missions confirms the contributions of a vast team of individuals (400,000) whose dedication to the shared vision “never wavered.” Slade and Gonzalez have clearly worked hard to brought that vision to every page of this beautiful book. Enjoy additional info in the Author’s and Illustrator’s Notes plus more photos in the back matter.

To The Moon and Back book cover TO THE MOON AND BACK: MY APOLLO 11 ADVENTURE
A Pop-up Book
Written by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne J. Dyson
Paper Engineering by Bruce Foster
(National Geographic Children’s Books; $32.00, Ages 8-12)

Prepare for liftoff, lift up (pop-up and pull really) then prepare to be wowed by the impressive and brilliantly executed paper engineering along with a fascinating first hand account by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon in To The Moon and Back.

Kids even younger than eight will enjoy the design element of this book but the text truly is geared for an older reader who will appreciate the candid and detailed commentary Aldrin has contributed to the book. In just 16 pages, readers are filled in on all that was involved in beating the USSR to a Moon landing and having the first men walk on its surface. I like how we’re pulled in immediately by the first spread showing photos of a newspaper headline, President Kennedy and the Apollo 11 crew positioned on top of a powerful image of the lunar module floating in space near the Moon. “Historians have called this story humanity’s greatest adventure” and I agree, especially considering how much was at stake.

The second spread and first pop-up depicts Aldrin’s space walk on the last Gemini flight, 12, juxtaposed against an enormous shot of Earth. It’s definitely the first “Wow!” moment but not the last! Here we learn Aldrin was nicknamed Dr. Rendezvous because of his excellent abilities at docking, a crucial element of the Moon mission. This page also features a recollection by Jan Aldrin, Buzz’s daughter about the day that Gemini 12 took off for space. Additional exclusive reflections can also be found on other pages. Filled with an insider’s anecdotes, this book is not only a great way to learn about Moon exploration, it’s also a fast, entertaining read.

What works in an interactive book like To the Moon and Back is how the story of Apollo 11 comes alive. By learning from Aldrin himself how he first came to join NASA in 1963 all the way through to his ultimate achievement of reaching the moon is inspiring. At the same time looking closely at the the pop-ups and other interesting images along with Jan Aldrin’s recollections, make this a powerful educational tool for kids. The engaging nature of the book means space enthusiasts can easily follow along on the successive missions, while reading about which astronauts were involved and what new goals were accomplished or sadly, sometimes not. Before that decade had ended, America had achieved what had once seemed impossible, confirming the “endless endurance of the human spirit.”

A bonus paper model to build is included. Tweens can assemble the Apollo11 Lunar Module and go to natgeokids.com/to-the-moon for additional step-by-step and video instructions.

Space Race Book CoverSPACE RACE: THE STORY OF SPACE EXPLORATION
TO THE MOON AND BEYOND

by Ben Hubbard
(B.E.S. Publishing Co.; $18.99, Ages 10-13)

There’s more to this book than simply a comprehensive history of “humanity’s journey into space.” It’s actually a book that’s been enhanced with augmented reality (AR). All readers need to do is download the Space Race AR app to be able to see detailed 3D spacecraft and vehicle models appear right on the pages of the book! Kids can also “watch videos come to life on the page, including real-life footage from NASA. How cool is that?

From Sergei Korolev, the Soviet Union’s chief rocket designer whose identity was kept top secret “for fear the Americans would assassinate him,” to the search for alien life (aka SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), it’s all here to soak up in 96 fantastic pages. 

The book is broken up into six accessible chapters averaging between 13-16 pages: “The Race for Rockets”, “Humans in Space,” “The Moon in View”, “Space Stations and Shuttles,” “Probing the Planets,” and “Into the Future.” Tweens can choose to read the book in order or pick their favorite topic and indulge themselves. What’s wonderful is that even without using the AR app, I found the illustrations absolutely gorgeous. There are also a tremendous amount of photographs that capture important moments in time, and quotes such as one from Gus Grissom before his tragic death on Apollo 1 when killed by fire, If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we’re in and we accept those risks.” One of my favorite spreads in Space Race is the one where we get a peak inside the Apollo spacesuits. Its designers really thought of everything and I’m sure Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins were grateful! For readers eager to learn more about living in space, the space station section offers detailed info on life aboard MIR.

This book will be a hit in classrooms, libraries and at home. Pick up a copy to be up-to-date on what’s happening in outer space and beyond the solar system.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED READS:

HELLO WORLD! MOON LANDING
by Jill McDonald

LUNA: The Science and Stories of Our Moon
by David A. Aguilar

BUZZ ALDRIN
National Geographic Early Reader Level 3
by Kitson Jazynka

A COMPUTER CALLED KATHERINE: How Katherine Johnson
Helped Put America on the Moon
by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison

 

 

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The Book of Chocolate by HP Newquist

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.

 

Interior image of Cocoa and the Coke Bottle from The Book of Chocolate

Interior spread from THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

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.

 

Int. image page 61 The Candy Battles from HP Newquist's The Book of Chocolate

Interior spread from THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

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.

 

Interior image of Chapter 14 from HP Newquist's The Book of Chocolate

Interior spread from THE BOOK OF CHOCOLATE: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by HP Newquist, Viking BYR ©2017.

 

HP Newquist’s The 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.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig

Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig
with illustrations by Craig Orback
Based on From a Name to a Number: A Holocaust Survivor’s Autobiography 
by Alter Wiener

(White Cloud Press, $16.95, Ages 8-12)

⭐︎Starred Review – Jewish Book Council

Gifts-From-the-Enemy-cvr.jpgTrudy Ludwig recounts the true story of Holocaust survivor, Alter Wiener, using his voice as narrator. Though in picture book format, this introduction to the Holocaust and its inhumanity, is geared to middle grade students. An absolutely powerful tale, Gifts from the Enemy introduces Wiener like this:

“My name is Alter Wiener and I am an ordinary person with an extraordinary past.”

From that very first page, I found myself immediately drawn into the story. Written chronologically, and focusing first on Wiener’s childhood, the book describes his home town, Chrzanów, Poland. His family lived a good, but simple life and his home was “full of books, food, laughter, and love.” Orback’s muted colored artwork conveys the quaintness of this prewar city where most families owned no car and walked most everywhere.

The book depicts the Wiener’s religious beliefs subtly. By the third spread where the family is all together, we feel the warmth and welcoming nature of the household where Wiener’s Papa would usually invite “a poor student or homeless person to share the Sabbath dinner with us.”

Soon the mood and book’s colors change as Hilter’s German Nazi soldiers invade Poland on September 1, 1939. Tragically, Wiener’s world will never be the same again. Harsh restrictions are placed on Jewish people, but many families do not have the financial resources or connections to flee. The Nazis prove to be hate mongers. First they kill Wiener’s Papa when he was just 13. When he was 14 they took his brother away and when he was 15 it was his turn to be carted off. “I and many others were herded like cattle onto trains headed to destinations far, far way from kindness, compassion, respect and dignity.”

How Wiener endured the cruel hardships he encountered daily at prison labor camps is a miracle in itself, but the other miracle is that, out of all the hatred and suffering, an act of kindness materialized. A German factory worker, under risk of death, began leaving the starving young man a bread and cheese sandwich. She did this by hiding the sandwich and directing his attention to where she’d put it. This went on for 30 days, undetected! And rather than continue feeling hopeless, he now had hope. The generosity and kindness of a stranger gave Wiener the will to survive and reinforced his early belief that for every cruel person there is a good person, too. There are strong, courageous individuals everywhere, in war and in peace, and though this woman on the outside was the enemy, inside she was his salvation.

This poignantly told, remarkable story of one man’s journey to freedom is one we need to be reminded of again and again. In Wiener’s Afterword he explains how he gives presentations to countless groups, schools and organizations in order to “prevent another genocide from happening again.” Back matter also contains information about the Holocaust, some Vocabulary as well as Discussion Questions for families and schools in addition to Recommended Activities for Young Readers. Please add this to your must-read list and buy an extra copy for your child’s school so they, too, can benefit from the positive message that Gifts from the Enemy shares.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Click here to read a review of The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

 

 

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ANIMALIUM by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott

 

Animalium
curated by Jenny Broom (author) and Katie Scott (illustrator)
(Big Picture Press, $35.00, Ages 8-12 – but will be enjoyed by all ages!)

 

Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness

Animalium-cvr.jpgTurn off the TV, power down the devices, and take the children to the museum … simply by opening up this visually impressive book! Colorful, intricately drawn animal life forms, will instantly grab children’s attention.

Beginning with its oversize format and a bronze-colored admittance ticket, the book’s design was intended to create (or recreate) a museum visit. Turn the pages and step into the “museum.” At the “Entrance,” the “curators,” Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, welcome children and invite them to “See for yourself how the tree of life evolved from the simple sea sponge into the diverse array of animals found on Earth today (p.1).”

A breath-taking two page spread of the “Tree of Animal Life” follows. The curators explain that this unusual tree illustrates ” … how organisms that appear to be very different have … evolved from one another over millions of years … (p. 5).” Children (and adults) will find it fascinating to follow the branches up from the stem (Invertebrates) to see the development of, and interrelationships between, animal life forms. For example, a lungfish and a cockatoo once shared the Vertebrate branch. The curators note that the further away from the stem a species is, the more the species has evolved in order to survive.

As children continue turning pages, they enter individual “galleries” (or book chapters) which are ” … arranged by shared characteristics and in evolutionary order to show how the animal kingdom… (p.1) ” developed over eons of time into invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Int-art-Animalium.jpg

Interior spread from Animalium by Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, ©2014 Big Picture Press.

 

The curators encourage their young visitors to ” … look for characteristic similarities and read the text to find out more about how the animals are comparable. (p.1).” Each gallery also sports a “habitat diorama” where children can learn about the ecosystem that supports those animals and how they have adapted to life in that environment. In examining the Arctic Tundra, children will learn that many of the mammals there, such as the polar bear, are predatory carnivores, requiring the protein found in meat to help fuel the energy these animals need to keep warm.

Broom’s narrative is engaging and flows smoothly. While age appropriate, it is not simplistic nor condescending. Scientific vocabulary (cnidarian, amphibian, phylum) is used throughout the book with the meanings gracefully woven into the narrative.

Two page spreads feature general information and characteristics about a group of animals. A “Key to the plate” presents information specific to the animals found in the accompanying illustration, numbered like a field guide. Scott makes excellent use of the book’s oversized format with a stunning full-paged spread of the Emperor Penguins and a diagram of the Nile Crocodile’s skeleton. Other spreads, such as the European frog, cover the bottom halves of two pages. This enables Scott to effectively and sequentially depict the frog’s five stages of development from frogspawn to adult. Her intricate pen and ink drawings, digitally colored, are reminiscent of work done by artists and naturalists like John James Audubon.

Additional material in the book includes a preface by Dr. Sandra Knapp of the Natural History Museum of London, England stressing the importance of biodiversity and a “Library” of several online resources.

Check out Big Picture Press to see several images from the book and Candlewick Press for information on the author and the illustrator and to order your copy. Watch the YouTube book trailer below, too.

So visit a “museum” that never closes-and keep children engaged for many hours. Animalium is a highly recommended middle grade nonfiction book for home, schools, and public libraries plus there’s never an admission fee.

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

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Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont

Famous Phonies: Legends, Fakes, and Frauds Who Changed History by Brianna DuMont
(Sky Pony Press, $14.95, Ages 10 – 14)

Famous-Phonies-cvr.jpgIt’s time for some historical horizon broadening courtesy of Famous Phonies, a new nonfiction book from Brianna DuMont that will not only enlighten young readers, but will make them eager for the next book in The Changed History series. Kids will enjoy this middle grade book written in a quirky, playful tone. “It’s especially aimed at reluctant readers, but it engages the parents too. (Always a bonus!),” says DuMont and she’s spot on! And don’t you just love that cover?!

Read the review then enter our Rafflecopter giveaway below for a chance to win one copy of the book.

Review:
Meet a dozen individuals whose legends are often larger than life: Confucius, George Washington, Pythagoras, Hiawatha, Gilgamesh, Major William Martin, William Shakespeare, Pope Joan, Homer, Prester John, Huangdi, and The Turk. Some you’ve heard of and others may initially produce a hunch of the shoulders. Either way, after reading Famous Phonies, you’ll know them all, learn how easily the facts of their lives got blown out of proportion and have a greater appreciation for the weeding out history buffs like DuMont do so that readers can see the whole picture. Plus it doesn’t hurt that she’s honed in on some fascinating details and shares them in a tongue in cheek way that middle graders will adore. The interesting factoids included for each personage also add to this book’s  appeal.

For example, how many disciples did Confucius really have – was it three thousand or seventy-two? And all this before social media! What facts were bent after his death and what were legit? Was he really over nine feet tall? I found out that Confucius’s father died a couple of years after his birth, and his wives (neither one Confucius’s birth mother) kicked him and his teen-aged birth mother out of the house. He traveled around seeking recognition, but it turns out, he wasn’t always the nicest or sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, as a result of “his nasty personality, the actual Confucius had very little influence over others during his lifetime. But that just wouldn’t do for his followers, so they decided to jazz things up after Confucius’s death.”

And George Washington, who cannot tell a lie, actually lied through his removable teeth all the time. Here’s an excellent example: “When calling upon the Continental Congress to boycott all imported goods from Britain prior to the Revolutionary War, he was secretly ordering carriages, fancy clothing, guns, and Wedgewood pottery from London for his own personal use.” It’s not that DuMont was deliberately digging only for dirt, although she does have a degree in Archaeology, it’s just that finding out the truth is easy if you look for it. It’s also fascinating.

Being a huge Ian Fleming (creator of James Bond) fan, I’d have to say my favorite chapter was the one about Major William Martin. It seems that prior to penning his novels, Fleming worked for an Admiral concocting plans to trick the enemy, aka the Axis powers during WWII. To move the direction of the war from losing to winning, Britain and America knew they had to secure the island of Sicily because, “The Axis Powers used Sicily as a base for German Luftwaffe bombers to launch surprise attacks on the rest of Mediterranean Sea, destroying anything that flew or floated past.” However, the Allies couldn’t let the enemy know that this was their ultimate goal hence the need for a major deception or in this case “disinformation,” putting out false info to fool the Axis powers. This particular ploy, #28 to be precise, was originally devised by Fleming with his boss, as part of the secret list known as the “Trout Memo.” It would be implemented by a British spy named Ewen Montague and “use a dead body as a fake spy in order to plant false information in the mind of the enemy.” Brilliant, right? Ah, but it was a lot more difficult and complicated than it sounds involving a frozen corpse, fake documents and a backstory for said dead body (Major William Martin) that would not alert the Germans to the plot. Success could mean the tides of the war might turn in favor of the Allies. I won’t give it away, but suffice it to say that DuMont’s got all the elements of a gripping spy movie here that are guaranteed to pull your child into the intrigue and excitement that grabbed me.

Okay, so you know I thought Famous Phonies was a fabulous, fun read, but I think parents, teachers and librarians will like it, too. That’s in addition to your kids, of course! Nowadays lots of students do their research online. They think Wikipedia is the be all end all, but here’s a chance to get kids engrossed with historical figures and let them see that there are multiple sources for their fact finding missions. They can read the book in one sitting, or return to it on multiple occasions absorbing one chapter at a time. DuMont’s done a wonderful job of selecting subjects whose stories are interesting, and presenting them in a middle grade friendly manner sure to entertain even the biggest history-phobe. And that’s the truth!

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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How They Choked Written by Georgia Bragg & Illustrated by Kevin O’Malley

How They Choked:
Failures, Flops and Flaws of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg
with illustrations by Kevin O’Malley
(Walker Books for Young Readers, $17.99, Ages 10-14)

is reviewed today by Ronna Mandel.

 

 

Real People Make Mistakes

Your fifth through eighth grader is going to thank you for getting them this book to read over the summer. Bragg put pen to paper (okay may fingers to keyboard) and tongue in cheek when she wrote How They Choked, an entertaining and educational nonfiction book about how successful people from the 1400s through the 1900s botched up big time. If that’s not a great way to start off summer vacation, I don’t know what is?

When kids see O’Malley’s hysterical illustrations, it will be obvious the artist had as much of a blast as Bragg did bringing out all the humor and irony surrounding these often over-achieving historical figures. For example, when the greedy, neurotic and power hungry (to say the least) Queen Isabella started the Inquisition, O’Malley drew two signs on the page: “Heretics Out!” and another one “Leave Your Stuff.” From Marco Polo and Queen Isabella of Spain, to the Aztecs and Anne Boleyn, from Benedict Arnold and Susan B. Anthony to Vincent Van Gogh and Amelia Earhart and lots more in between, there are characters galore to learn about, laugh about and yes, I admit it, occasionally feel sorry for.

You may recall Bragg as being the author of How They Croaked, so it’s only fitting that she should carry on this riotous tradition, an engaging look at history full of chapter heading hooks to pull in even the most reluctant of readers – Dressed to Kill (about Custer) or Least Likely To Succeed (about Van Gogh). Her gift is being able to talk to the reader in language they’ll understand, language that is not dated, but is at times quite daring. Frankly that’s what made How They Choked all the more appealing to me and I’m confident your kids will feel the same way. Whether she’s dishing the dirt on Marco Polo’s dad who offered his son to royal and notorious Kublai Khan or Montezuma acting like a “real living god” and not seeing the writing on the stone once Cortes entered the picture, the historical anecdotes Bragg’s included make for a multitude of “Wow, really!?” moments.

I got such a kick out of the section on Anne Boleyn called Till Beheading Do Us Part. This social climbing lady-in-waiting should have resisted Henry VIII’s advances, but no, she had to outdo her older sister, Mary. When Henry grew tired of Mary and moved onto the younger sibling, it became impossible for Anne to refuse, what with jewels bestowed upon her and the temptation of being Queen. Never once though did she imagine she’d be losing her head over the King. And Benedict Arnold? I knew his name was synonymous with traitor, but I had no idea how absolutely despicable he was. Forgiven by George Washington not once, not twice, but three times, Arnold was an arrogant turncoat who “made more money than any other American officer in the American Revolution.”

The mistakes of today’s rulers and politicians pale in comparison to many of the excellent examples in How They Choked making this a must-read book for aspiring political science majors and anyone even slightly interested in history. The pages are filled with tales of larger than life individuals being knocked down to size so as the warning in the beginning of the book says: “If you only want to see people at their best, this book isn’t for you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Philosophy for Middle Grade Readers

Lives of the Great Spiritual Leaders ($19.95, Thames and Hudson, middle grade readers) is the first book of its kind I have seen. 20 of the most powerful spiritual leaders from Moses (1250 BC) to the Dalai Lama (present day) are featured in this book, giving middle grade readers background and highlights of a wide variety of philosophies. Listed in chronological order of when he or she lived, each leader’s nationality, religious association and basic doctrine is listed, followed by more details about that individual’s life. We learn about how Socrates showed the people of the world they do not really know the answers to questions they think they understand, how Gandhi taught his people to peacefully protest against injustice to make positive changes and how Mother Teresa gave her life to the poorest of the poor.

From the most famous spiritual leaders in the world, to the lesser known, what I love about this book is that author Henry Whitbread gives us enough information to get a basic sense of the background, beliefs struggles and accomplishments of each individual. Every section of the book is complemented by excellent quotes, photographs and illustrations. No matter what religion a child follows, an important part of a well-rounded education is learning about other religions and philosophies and the spiritual leaders who made great impacts on the world. This book should be on classroom shelves and in the libraries of families everywhere.

This book was reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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