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Picture Book Review for Independence Day – Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science

 

THOMAS JEFFERSON’S BATTLE FOR SCIENCE:
Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose!

Written by Beth Anderson

Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes

(Calkins Creek; $18.99; Ages 7-10)

 

 

Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science cover moose being shot from cannon.

 

 

From the publisher:

“Thomas Jefferson is one of the most famous founding fathers, but did you know that his mind was always on science? This STEM/STEAM picture book tells how Jefferson’s scientific thinking and method battled against faulty facts and bias to prove that his new nation was just as good as any in the Old World.”

 

From Kirkus  – Starred Review:

“The story of Thomas Jefferson’s fury at a French scientist’s misinformation about the New World introduces young readers to the scientific inquiry process … A delightfully enlightening account and a welcome antidote to our own time’s precarious truthiness.”

Booklist Starred Review and Horn Book Recommended

Review:

Does the world really need another Thomas Jefferson biography? I asked myself before reading Beth Anderson and Jeremy Holmes’s recent collaboration, Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science, from Calkins Creek. YES! When it’s one that’s focused on bias and Jefferson’s quest to combat the spread of misinformation. That is a book we need. (And it is great fun!)

Thomas Jefferson was passionate about science. “It was certain, peaceful, measurable.”

 

Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science int1 scientific items.
Interior spread from Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes, Calkins Creek ©2024.

 

But when French scientist Count Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon published an encyclopedia slamming the New World, Jefferson was livid. How did Buffon know what the New World was like? Where did he get his facts? Was he biased against Jefferson’s home?

 

Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science int2 Thomas's Fury Flared.
Interior art from Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes, Calkins Creek ©2024.

 

Anderson sets up the philosophical battle between Jefferson and Buffon in an accessible, kid-friendly way; and keeps the book focused through years of Jefferson’s research, correspondence with Buffon, and his very pivotal role in guiding a would-be nation to independence showcasing her skill as a storyteller and historian (and Jefferson’s never quit attitude).

 

 

Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science int3 Time to Fight for Truth.
Interior spread from Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes, Calkins Creek ©2024.

 

Holmes uses mixed media and comic book techniques to create the look of an old, scientific journal making the book feel both modern and accurate to the period. The art plays off Anderson’s straightforward tone to create a story that is witty and extremely relevant today.

 

Thomas Jefferson's Battle for Science int4 war on faulty facts.
Interior art from Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes, Calkins Creek ©2024.

 

Backmatter highlights the scientific method and Jefferson’s own struggle with bias, making this book a great way to introduce both concepts to young readers.

*Highly recommended!

  • Reviewed by Roxanne Troup

 

 

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An Interview with Katrina Tangen, Author of Copy That, Copy Cat!

 

 

NORA NICKUM INTERVIEWS KATRINA TANGEN, 

Author of COPY THAT, COPY CAT!

Illustrated by Giulia Orecchia

(Barefoot Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Copy That Copy Cat! cover multiple animals

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This rhyming, lift-the-flap picture book of riddles introduces children to biomimicry in a thoroughly fun format. From sonar to snowshoes, discover concrete examples of human inventions that copy things found in nature. The story invites readers to guess the answers to riddles based on rhymes and visual cues that peek through die-cuts. Page turns reveal surprise answers that show how inventions mimic biology, with additional information under flaps. Endnotes include lift-the-flap guessing games to reinforce learning.

INTERVIEW:

Nora Nickum: Katrina, Copy That, Copy Cat! is such a fantastic book. I love how you used rhyming riddles where the answer isn’t what the reader expects. Kids love surprises! Can you tell us what inspired you to write about this topic and use this rhyming riddle approach?

Katrina Tangen: Thank you! Fittingly enough, I was quite a copycat for this book! It was inspired by two main things. The first was Abi Cushman’s Animals Go Vroom!, which uses misdirection to set up hilarious page turn surprises. I loved it, but kept wanting it to rhyme to set the joke up even more. So I tucked that away as an idea of a format I wanted to try sometime. 

The other was my sister Heather, who is a high school science teacher. I was brainstorming nonfiction ideas and asked her for some STEM topics. One of her suggestions was biomimicry—which I’d never heard of! So she explained (although I only sort of understood) and I stuck it in my notes, along with a vague idea of a puzzle component. 

A month or two later, the idea of combining them popped into my head. I started researching that day and finally started to understand what biomimicry actually was!

 

Copy_That_Copy_Cat_int1_Bird
Interior spread from Copy That, Copy Cat! written by Katrina Tangen and illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Barefoot Books ©2023.

 

NN: How did you decide which inventions to include? 

KT: There are several other great picture books about biomimicry, but they tend to skew older and focus on cutting-edge inventions. I wanted to go younger and focus on everyday inventions. So, it’s about how airplanes work at a basic level, rather than a specific way of improving an airplane, like winglets. That felt more accessible and also let me explain the basic science behind the inventions. As a bonus, I wound up being able to include a lot of the cutting edge inventions on the cover and in the backmatter!

 

NN: Were there any fun inventions you ended up not having room to keep in the book?

KT: It was hard to choose—there are so many cool ones! Octopus/suction cup made it into the manuscript but got cut in editing because of space. (Although the first suction cups were actually gourds.) Finding anything to rhyme with “octopus” took forever!

And Velcro (which was inspired by burrs stuck in a dog’s fur) never made it in at all. I wanted to include it because it’s such a fun, kid-friendly invention. But all of my others were animals, and this was really about the plant. Plus, I didn’t think any kid was going to be able to predict the word “burr”!

 

NN: Did you pitch the book with the interactive die-cuts and lift-the-flaps, or was that element added later? 

KT: No, that all came later. I never thought I’d have die-cuts or flaps—much less both!

One of the first things my editor Autumn wanted to talk about was adding some kind of interactive element. Originally, the idea was specifically “like flaps, but something else.” So I researched lots of board book interactive elements. We looked at different mechanisms for the transition from the animal to the invention. We also considered interactive demos of the science or invention. My favorite idea was a wheel you could turn to fill and empty the submarine tank, which would have been cool!

Eventually, we decided that the page turn already worked well for the reveal, but adding the die-cut would make it even better. So then we researched different ways to use die-cuts (Giulia Orecchia, the illustrator, has some other books that do cool things with them!). In the end, we decided to copy from Animals Go Vroom! again. Abi’s book uses a die-cut to show the animal and then when you turn the page, you see the animal in the context of the whole scene, which reveals the joke. Copy That, Copy Cat has the extra layer of tricking you into seeing an animal in part of the invention. Giulia did such a good job with that!

The big flaps work really well to add space for the science explanations without taking up all the illustration space. And they can even be in a nice big font, which I appreciate! 

 

NN: It’s so cool to hear about how all those design decisions were made. And Giulia’s art is wonderful. The interactive back matter is really intriguing, too. Kids will have so much fun with it! How did you decide what to include in the main rhyming text, and what would fit better here at the end?   

KT: Originally, I just had normal backmatter—further reading and a podcast and music to check out, and a bibliography. The fun backmatter all came after the plan to add interactive elements during editing. We talked about having an interactive element on each spread, so I came up with one for each invention. Then there wasn’t space, so they got moved to the back and a couple were replaced by Fun Facts. 

The airplane/bird one was changed quite late because we couldn’t get a for-sure answer on part of the science in the original version. That was stressful because I had to research the new one very quickly. Figuring out which wing goes up to turn which way was tricky—I still have to act it out to be sure! But I think it turned out well and, as my nephew has discovered, it makes a fun (very) mini flip book!

 

NN: Those last-minute changes can be hard, but it turned out great! Something else I’m curious about: You have a small space for the “How does it work” text under each flap, and you’ve done a great job making things concise and clear within those constraints. Was it difficult to pare those explanations back to the most important elements and write them in kid-friendly ways?  

KT: Yes! First I had to study the topic enough to understand it, then explain it clearly but succinctly, using simple words. (Much easier to do any two of those three at a time!) Some of them were pretty straightforward, like the flippers and snowshoes. But the airplane wing was a little tricky, and the bike reflector was almost the death of me! Explaining how eyes work, how mirrors work, and then how retroreflectors work all in a couple of sentences is not for the faint of heart. I’m glad we were able to have the diagrams take on some of that job—particularly because in figuring those out, I realized that, in streamlining the text, I’d messed up part of the science. Glad we caught that in time!

 

Copy_That_Copy_Cat_int2_Plane
Interior spread from Copy That, Copy Cat! written by Katrina Tangen and illustrated by Giulia Orecchia, Barefoot Books ©2023.

 

NN: Shifting from you as an author to you as a reader: What books did you most enjoy when you were a kid? 

KT: I loved to read, especially mysteries. And writing nonfiction is kind of like solving a mystery. You investigate, collect evidence, make connections, and fit it all into a pattern that (hopefully) snaps together at the end in a satisfying way.

 

NN: I love that comparison between writing nonfiction and solving mysteries! Were there any nonfiction children’s books that drew you in when you were young?

KT: I wasn’t really a nonfiction kid. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, there wasn’t the range of kid’s nonfiction we have today. I’m sure there were some great books that I missed, and I bet there were nonfiction books in my picture book reading that I don’t remember. One I do remember (for the unusual title) is How God Gives Us Peanut Butter, which showed how peanut butter is made. And I did love process videos, like when Mr. Rogers would take us to see how a mailroom runs, etc. 

But my impression in elementary school was that nonfiction was all educational textbook-y books or browsable photo-illustrated books designed for reluctant readers. (Plus they always seemed to be about sports, and I was not a sporty kid!) 

 

NN: It really is great that there’s so much more creative nonfiction for kids to find on shelves today–with your book being a fantastic new addition. Now, to wrap up, a super important burning question: Would you rather have flippers like a frog, or sticky feet like a gecko?

KT: Gecko feet would be super fun—or maybe echolocation, so I’d never run into things in the dark!

NN: Even better! Thank you, Katrina, for sharing the behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Copy That, Copy Cat! I know kids and adults alike are going to really get a kick out of it and learn a ton. 

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/p/books/copy-that-copy-cat-inventions-inspired-by-animals-katrina-tangen/19800210?ean=9781646869992 

Publisher’s Page: https://www.barefootbooks.com/3/copy-that-copy-cat-board-book

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Twitter: @katrinatangen

IG: @katrinatangen

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/katrinatangenauthor

Author website: www.katrinatangen.com 

 

Author Katrina Tangen
Photo of Katrina Tangen courtesy of the author

AUTHOR BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Katrina is disabled by severe ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). She writes fiction and nonfiction for kids of all ages; Copy That, Copy Cat! is her debut. Profile pic photo credit: Katrina Tangen

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INTERVIEWER BIO:

Nora Nickum is the author of Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023) and the forthcoming nonfiction picture book This Book is Full of Holes (Peachtree, 2024). Her stories and articles have appeared in children’s magazines like CricketLadybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more about her at www.noranickum.com

Twitter: @noranickumbooks

IG: @noranickumbooks

 

FIND THE ILLUSTRATOR AT THE LINKS BELOW:

Twitter: @GiuliaOrecchia

Instagram: @giuliaorecchia

Website: https://giuliaorecchia.it

BUSY PBs PROMO GROUP:

Twitter: @busyPBs

Instagram: @busypbs

STEAM TEAM PROMO GROUP:

Twitter: @SteamTeamBooks

Instagram: @steamteambooks

 

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An Interview with Rajani LaRocca, Author of Your One and Only Heart

DARSHANA KHIANI INTERVIEWS RAJANI LAROCCA,

AUTHOR OF

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART

ILLUSTRATED BY LAUREN PAIGE CONRAD

(Dial BYR; $18.99, Ages 5-8)

 

Your One and Only Heart Cover

 

 

PUBLISHER SUMMARY:
A lyrical introduction to the many wonders of the human heart, from award-winning author and practicing doctor, Dr. Rajani LaRocca

In this stunning non-fiction picture book, poetry and science come together with playful cut-paper illustrations to create a moving ode to the human heart and all that it does. Complete with illustrative diagrams and copious backmatter, this is a one-of-a-kind non-fiction picture book that gently guides readers through the various systems make up our most vital organ.

 

INTERVIEW:

Darshana Khiani: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is amazing in how it takes a complex organ and breaks it down into chunks. What inspired you to write about the heart?

Rajani LaRocca: Ever since medical school, when I learned about the heart and how it works, I’ve been fascinated by this most vital organ. I wrote a first draft of this book way back in 2013 (!), and it was called “The Hardest Working Muscle.” It was written in prose and was over 800 words long. But it didn’t have a unifying theme or a hook.

I worked on this book on and off (mainly off) for years, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it. Then one day in 2018, I had a breakthrough: I discovered the theme I wanted to carry through the book. I realized I wanted to write about contrasting characteristics of the heart! Then I immediately decided to write about these characteristics in poetry—with several sets of paired poems. This made sense because to me, the beauty of poetry reflects the beauty of the human body.

 

DK: Well, you are one of the hardest-working writers I know. You do an amazing job at getting the main ideas across without getting bogged down in details. How did you master that balance? Also, the nerd in me wants to know why larger organisms have slower heart rates. I was surprised to learn that a mouse’s heart beats 310-840 beats/min while an elephant is only 30!

RL: I tried to focus on keeping the poetry simple enough for young kids to understand, yet interesting enough to capture their attention. There are plenty of facts that I reserved for the back matter so that the poetry could shine.

In terms of the answer to your question, are you ready to nerd out a bit? Smaller animals have higher surface area to volume ratio than larger ones. Because of this, smaller animals (especially warm-blooded animals like mammals and birds) lose heat much more quickly than their larger counterparts. So their hearts (which are smaller, too) need to beat faster to circulate more blood to offset the heat loss and maintain their body temperatures.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int1 Your heart is Singular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: Wow! Thank you for geeking out with me. Surface area … never would’ve guessed that. The book is divided into 15 poems, 7 pairs of antonym poems (yup, I made that up), and then a final stand-alone one. It is a unique structure, one I can’t say I’ve seen before. At what point in the writing process did you decide to organize the poems in this way?

RL: I designed those first 14 poems as “antonyms” or paired poems from the moment of that epiphany in 2018! When the book got acquired and my editor contacted illustrator Lauren Paige Conrad, Lauren came back with the incredible idea of using shades of different colors for each pair of poems. For example, “Singular” and “Cooperative” are in shades of red; “Simple” and “Complex” are in shades of orange; “Energetic” and “Relaxed” are in shades of yellow, and so on, resulting in a rainbow of colors! The back matter is also “color coded” to link back to the appropriate pages! Lauren works in cut paper collage, and it blows my mind how beautifully and precisely she depicted so many aspects of the heart with her art.

There are two poems at the end, and the very last poem brings everything together by restating the contrasting characteristics of the heart and noting that kids share the same characteristics themselves!

 

DK: I must admit the last poem took me by surprise since it is so matter-of-fact. I could almost hear the EKG flatline as I read the last words. Did you always know you wanted to end the story with this poem?

RL: Years ago, when I was at a writing retreat, I shared this manuscript with renowned nonfiction author Elizabeth Partridge. She loved it and advised me that I absolutely needed to include what happens when the heart stops beating. She said that death is something that children are curious about, and that by including it in a nonfiction book about the heart, I could demystify it and put it in perspective for kids from a scientific point of view. It took me a while to figure out how to write that poem; Lauren Paige Conrad’s illustration on that spread is absolutely perfect.

 

DK: Smart suggestion, and you presented it in such a matter-of-fact way. You’ve authored two novels-in-verse, MIRROR-TO-MIRROR and RED, WHITE, and WHOLE, and a rhyming non-fiction picture book, The SECRET CODE INSIDE YOU. Do you have any tips for writers who want to write lyrically?

RL: My first tip would be to understand what you want to say—for novels in verse, that means knowing at the very least the broad outlines of the plot and emotional arcs. And for nonfiction, that means compiling all the information you want to convey.

Next, I recommend getting in a “poetic mindset” by going out into nature, reading poetry, and/or listening to music.

And then you should just try writing the poems! Don’t worry too much about whether they’re any good.

When it’s time to edit: avoid cliches, use powerful words, condense and eliminate as much as possible, and endeavor to convey your message in a fresh or different way. I always read my poetry aloud in revision, because sometimes our ears are better than our eyes at noting when something isn’t quite right.

 

YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART Int2 Your Heart is Muscular
Your One and Only Heart written by Rajani LaRocca and illustrated by Lauren Paige Conrad, Dial BYR ©2023.

 

DK: What’s up next for you?

RL: YOUR ONE AND ONLY HEART is my fourth out of six books releasing this year!

Next up is THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS, an epistolary novel that I co-wrote with my friend Chris Baron. It’s about Tripti and Sam, two kids who meet at summer camp and find some unusual silvery rocks, which they each take home to California and Massachusetts. Then they start communicating via letter, email, texts, and video chats, because strange things keep happening, and they begin to wonder whether the rocks are more than just rocks. THE SECRET OF THE DRAGON GEMS releases on August 29!

My picture book MASALA CHAI, FAST AND SLOW, beautifully illustrated by Neha Rawat, releases on September 5. This is a story about a boy who likes to go fast and his grandfather, who likes to take things slow. Every day, they make masala chai together. One day, the grandfather sprains his ankle and can’t make masala chai, and the grandson decides to make some to cheer up his beloved grandfather . . . and hilarity ensues. This story is about learning to slow down and enjoy moments with those we love.

And next year on March 12 comes the release of my first middle grade fantasy, SONA AND THE GOLDEN BEASTS! Set in an Indian-inspired fantasy world, this story involves music and magic, and animals, but also contends with colonialism and who gets to tell history. I can’t wait to share it with the world!

DK: Yay for more books! We’ll be keeping a look out for them.

 

 

Author Rajani LaRocca headshot
Rajani LaRocca Photo Credit ©Carter Hasegawa

AUTHOR BIO:

Rajani LaRocca was born in India, raised in Kentucky, and now lives in the Boston area, where she practices medicine and writes award-winning books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor-winning middle grade novel in verse, Red, White, and Whole. She’s always been an omnivorous reader, and now she an omnivorous writer of fiction and nonfiction, novels and picture books, prose and poetry. She finds inspiration in her family, her childhood, the natural world, math, science, and just about everywhere she looks. Learn more about Rajani and her books at www.RajaniLaRocca.com. She also co-hosts the STEM Women in KidLit Podcast.

BUY THE BOOK: 

https://www.rajanilarocca.com/picture-books/your-one-and-only-heart/

LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA:

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Darshana Khiani is an author, engineer, and advocate for South Asian children’s literature. She is infinitely curious about the world and enjoys sharing her findings with young readers. If she can make a child laugh even better. Her debut picture book, How to Wear a Sari (Versify), was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. She enjoys hiking, solving jigsaw puzzles, and traveling. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family and a furry pup. You can visit Darshana here.

 

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Picture Book Review – Night Becomes Day

 

NIGHT BECOMES DAY: CHANGES IN NATURE

Written by Cynthia Argentine

(Millbrook Press; $29.32, Ages 4-9)

 

 

 

 

Cynthia Argentine’s picture book, Night Becomes Day: Changes in Nature is such a great idea for a children’s book. Through lovely, lyrical prose coupled with stunning photography, this nonfiction book takes readers on a kind of before and after look at nature’s wonders which youngsters might take for granted or do not have time to notice during a day at the beach, a walk in the woods, on a wilderness adventure or a national park visit.

Children will learn that “nature is always at work, transforming.” Some of the changes detailed are small, subtle even and others are large. And the results can be so different. A footprint in the sand washes away with the first wave and yet over time, the Colorado River has worn away the stone, carving out a massive space we know as the Grand Canyon.

 

Night Becomes Day int1
Photo credit: Interior spread from Night Becomes Day © 2022 Millbrook Press ™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

 

Some changes can be witnessed quickly while others cannot. They can occur in just a few minutes like when “A pumpkin tendril wraps around a rope in minutes.” Or slowly over time as an acorn grows into a majestic oak. Argentine notes that change brightens—such as when desert flowers bloom following rain and change dulls—such as when a fallen leaf becomes mulch supporting “new life.”

One of my favorite changes in nature depicted is how diamonds are formed over eons making them ancient as compared to a snowflake or sparkling new ice crystal. “Everywhere on Earth—from shore to mountain, field to forest, surface to sky—nature is at work, TRANSFORMING.”

 

Night Becomes Day int2
Photo credit: Interior spread from Night Becomes Day © 2022 Millbrook Press ™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

 

 

The power of observation and the beauty of nature are in focus in this wonderful ode to change that should get kids taking more time to notice what’s around them. Argentine has created a clever study in contrasts that is enjoyable to read aloud and to admire since the photos are breathtaking.

The author’s note in the three pages of back matter highlights how some things like a healing wound or out-growing a pair of shoes are examples of change or metamorphosis. And things don’t have to be alive to change—think rocks, waves, caves.  Changes that occur at the intersection of living and nonliving things, Argentine explains, are called ecology. This helps children understand their impact on the world and how important that is.

 

 

Night Becomes Day int3
Photo credit: Interior spread from Night Becomes Day © 2022 Millbrook Press ™, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group.

 

Kids can read through page 29 for the more poetic portion of the book or carry on through page 32 for additional scientific notes Argentine’s included that refer back to each section: Beaches and Canyons – Geology; Pumpkin Tendrils and Oak Trees – Botany; Deserts and Forests – Biology; Clouds and Caverns – Chemistry and Geology; Volcanoes and Glaciers – Geology; and Diamonds and Snowflakes – Chemistry, Geology, and Physics. Whether reading for pleasure or for a class project, this STEM book is an engaging and accessible introduction to the science of change that will be welcomed by parents and teachers alike.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

To support local bookstores, here is the link for Bookshop.org:

https://bookshop.org/books/night-becomes-day-changes-in-nature/9781541581241

Educators may also use Lerner’s website: https://lernerbooks.com/shop/show/21209

Glossary/free eResources can be found here: https://lernerbooks.com/teaching_guides/620

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Nonfiction Picture Book Review – Tu Youyou’s Discovery

TU YOUYOU’S DISCOVERY:
Finding a Cure for Malaria

Written by Songju Ma Daemicke

Illustrated by Lin

(Albert Whitman & Co.; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Tu Youyous Discovery cover

 

In 2021 malaria is a preventable and treatable disease but it wasn’t always the case. Hundreds of thousands used to die from it annually but the mortality rate has declined since the medicine to cure it was approved. That’s why I was curious to read about Tu Youyou, the woman whose determination led to finding a cure for malaria and becoming the first Chinese woman to win a Nobel Prize. 

In Tu Youyou’s Discovery written by Songju Ma Daemicke with art by Lin, readers are brought back in time to Beijing, China in the 1930s. Youyou attended school when most girls her age stayed home but contracted tuberculosis as a teenager and had to drop out.

 

Tu Youyou's Discovery int1
Interior art from Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria written by Songju Ma Daemicke and illustrated by Lin, Albert Whitman ©2021.

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Fortunately, she survived due to antibiotics prescribed by her physician but was greatly weakened. A steady diet of “her mother’s herb soups slowly nursed her back to full strength.” This sparked her interest in how both “modern and traditional” medicines had helped her get well. Always a compassionate person, Youyou chose to pursue a career in science in order to help save lives. Little did she know then what a major contribution she would ultimately make when in 1969 malaria, like Covid-19 now, swept across the world bringing death in its path. After graduating from Peking University, “in 1955” she “became a researcher at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing.” As part of a research group, Youyou was determined to find a cure for malaria and was in the right place at just the right time.

 

Tu Youyou's Discovery int2
Interior art from Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria written by Songju Ma Daemicke and illustrated by Lin, Albert Whitman ©2021.

 

Youyou traveled around the country to document cases in hopes of gaining new insight into the disease. She found it when she met a farmer who had cured his own high fever by eating a local plant called qinghao, known in English as sweet wormwood. In her lab, she and her team tried various methods to create a cure using the qinghao, but nothing worked. However, Youyou did not give up. Despite little to no funding for the latest equipment, Youyou’s team performed experiment after experiment with no luck.

Then what appeared to be a breakthrough came from an unexpected place. Studying her family’s indispensable “A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, an ancient Chinese remedy book,” Youyou revisited the qinhao remedy only to realize that the book recommended just soaking the herb in water when all along her team had been boiling it. Perhaps the healing part of the plant had been destroyed during the experiments. Much to her dismay, this too yielded no results. Again, Youyou persevered. Many male colleagues had questioned her commitment to traditional medicine but “After 190 unsuccessful experiments, the test result of sample 191 stunned the team.” Sample 191 completely killed the parasites and so in 1971 a successful cure had been found. And while Youyou initially credited her entire team in research papers, over time “other scientists finally realized how involved she had been in the discovery.” In October of 2015, Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden. Her commitment to finding a cure for malaria has saved millions of lives and continues to do so to this day.

 

Tu Youyou's Discovery int4
Interior art from Tu Youyou’s Discovery: Finding a Cure for Malaria written by Songju Ma Daemicke and illustrated by Lin, Albert Whitman ©2021.

 

I’m so glad Songju has introduced Tu Youyou to me and to children in such an accessible way. I felt as if, despite knowing the outcome, that I was right alongside a detective solving a mystery. This nonfiction picture book bio provides engaging STEM reading for budding scientists, doctors, and inventors and puts Youyou’s name up there alongside other women in STEM history makers such as Marie Curie, Marie Maynard Daly, and Ada Byron Lovelace. Lin’s nice use of contrasting flat color palettes creates bright illustrations that have a print-making quality to them. Songju shares how labor-intensive the six steps of the scientific method are (see back matter for this info) but also how crucial. While not all experiments yield life-changing results, Youyou’s story is a great example of how teamwork and not giving up can make a difference. I was surprised to learn in the Author’s Note that although the first clinical trials for the malaria medicine known as artemisinin took place in 1972, it wasn’t until 1986 that the drug gained approval from the Chinese government and started being used around the globe.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Kids Picture Book Biography – The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine

 

 

 

THE POLIO PIONEER:
DR. JONAS SALK AND THE POLIO VACCINE

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

(Knopf BYR; $17.99; AGES 4-8)

 

 

The Polio Pioneer book cover art of Jonas Salk

 

A topic on everyone’s tongues these days is vaccinations. When she wrote this book, Linda E Marshall likely had no idea how relevant her book would be today and how once again, an innovative vaccine is saving lives around the world. 

 

The book opens with four-year-old Jonas Salk sitting on top of his father’s shoulders during the victory parade celebrating the end of World War I. But Jonas doesn’t understand the cheering when all he sees are injured soldiers. Jonas, readers learn, sees things differently. Find out about the man and the story behind the life-changing vaccine he developed in THE POLIO PIONEER: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall with illustrations by Lisa Anchin.

 

Int art1 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

Anchin’s art brings a warmth to the subject of science painting in soft colors of oranges and blues as the reader walks through the life of the main character Jonas. Whether that’s refereeing his friends’ games when not reading because he knows the rules or helping his Yiddish-speaking mother learn English after his Jewish family migrates to New York City. The kindness and love of the Salk family are depicted with each page turn as the family celebrates Shabbat with freshly baked Challah and Jonas’ inner thoughts are shown “when Jonas prayed that he might someday, help make the world a better place.”

 

Int art2 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

Marshall writes about the financial difficulties the Salk family faced, but Jonas kept moving forward “attending the City College of New York where tuition was free and where, unlike at many other colleges and universities, Jews were welcome.” With a grin on his face and apron tied around his neck, Jonas discovers chemistry while mixing liquids amongst classmates in the college lab. Salk is determined to gain a better understanding of science so that he can make medicines to help people and decides to become a doctor. Illustrated wearing glasses and a white lab coat, Jonas enters medical school where he befriends his teacher Dr. Thomas Francis and the pair team up with an idea as the flu is killing millions. “What if … a person was given some flu virus that was killed by chemicals so it could not cause disease?” Dr. Salk and Dr. Francis thought this could be a way of fighting the flu. And they were right.

 

 

Int art3 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

  With men, women and children lined up on the streets, dressed in their Sunday bests, a nurse in white stands next to one of Anchin’s realistic illustrations with a chalk-written sign reading FLU VACCINE CLINIC. “Since then, flu shots have saved thousands of lives each year.”

“But another disease was raging … Polio”. Readers see Franklin Delano Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair in the oval office, as others are lined up in beds, victims of this new disease. People are shown hiding in their homes, just as we all have done these past fifteen months from COVID, and the similarities are not unnoticed. Today’s scientists learned a lot from Dr. Salk. “He and his team of scientists labored day and night, night and day.”

 

 

Int art4 from The Polio Pioneer
Interior illustrations from The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine written by Linda Elovitz Marshall and illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Knopf BYR ©2020.

 

 

“On April 12, 1955, Dr. Francis joins the team and announced to the world: “The vaccine WORKS!” POLIO could be CONQUERED!” Dr. Salk continued his studies by establishing the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where they have worked on cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other problems.

Marshall writes in a way that makes a tough topic easy to follow with her understandable language and flowing sentences, while Anchin’s drawings transport the reader to 1918 and beyond. The timing of the release of this book last year during the pandemic could not have been more prescient and still resonates today with over 49% of the population vaccinated for Covid-19. As for polio, America has been free of the disease since 1979 due to the amount of participation. Maybe a picture book about our current pandemic will be next to teach future kids about what we have been experiencing. Marshall’s book is fabulous for elementary-age children and higher. In the Author’s Note, Marshall heartwarmingly explains the backstory behind her reasons for writing the book and how Dr. Salk is her hero. She thanks the Salk family for sharing family stories and photos, including writings from Michael Salk, grandson to Jonas. Dr. Salk, as Marshall tells, was a Mensch, the perfect Yiddish word to describe a man whose good work, kindness, and dedication helped make the world a better place. And he did. 

  •  Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
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Picture Book Review – The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box

THE BOY WHO THOUGHT OUTSIDE THE BOX:
The Story of Video Game Inventor Ralph Baer

Written by Marcie Wessels

Illustrated by Beatriz Castro

(Sterling Children’s Books; $16.95, Ages 5 and up)

 

TBWTOTB cover

 

I like the play on words in the title, The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box, written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, which you’ll understand after you read the review of this interesting and recommended nonfiction picture book.

The book’s main character, Ralph Baer, was born in Cologne Germany and enjoyed doing things other kids his age did, like riding his scooter or playing stick hockey. Wessels doesn’t mention specific dates, but adults and older readers will know the action was unfolding in the 1930s during Hitler’s rise to power, which is mentioned. Around that time, readers are told, Hitler began making life difficult for the country’s Jewish people. And, since Ralph was Jewish, “Even former friends became enemies.” He was bullied, and attacks by the Nazis were not uncommon.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page 002
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

“With no one to play with, Ralph spent more time indoors, tinkering with his construction set.” Not only was Ralph able to complete all the models in the manual, he also came up with many clever ideas of his own.

 

Final Art TBWTOTB page-003
Interior spread from The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box written by Marcie Wessels and illustrated by Beatriz Castro, Sterling Children’s Books ©2020.

 

Restrictions on Jews didn’t stop Ralph from learning even despite being kicked out of school at age 14 for being Jewish. In 1938 Ralph and his family fled Germany. Once in America, his inventiveness proved invaluable. When he saw a way to speed up handiwork that he, his sister and his mother were doing to help make ends meet, Ralph created a prototype machine. Soon they doubled the amount of projects being completed, increasing their earnings. Always industrious, Ralph took a radio repair course which led to “… fixing radios for the entire neighborhood.”

In the army, since necessity is the mother of invention, Ralph constructed a radio for his barracks from whatever bits and pieces he could find. Then, after WWII he learned how to build a TV set (the box in the title I referred to earlier). The advent of television heralded in a new era in family entertainment and Ralph saw immense “possibilities.” I was impressed with how Ralph’s career anticipated or paralleled the rise of home technology.

While Ralph saw the TV as a vehicle for playing games, his ideas were initially disregarded. He eventually held jobs building equipment for the U.S. military and for NASA. In fact “he embedded a radio transmitter in the handle of the video camera that astronaut Neil Armstrong took to the moon.” As time passed Ralph still envisioned the potential of TV and imagined “using an external box to control the TV to play games.” With the blessings and funding from one of his bosses, Ralph secretly created a home gaming system and “… the Brown Box, was born!” After numerous rejections, Magnavox took on Ralph’s invention and in 1972, the first iteration of the Odyssey went on sale. As we all know, the video game industry would grow in leaps and bounds over the decades and Baer can be credited with being one of its pioneers.

Wessels has made the story of Ralph Baer’s innovations an accessible and fascinating one. She’s managed to take a lifetime of Baer’s ingenuity and whittle it down to just 48 pages. While the book may read quickly, it definitely invites revisiting to let the scope of Baer’s achievements sink in. When children read the book or have it read to them, they’ll learn about more of Baer’s inventions and can find further sources for information in the back matter. Castro’s comic-like art wonderfully complements Wessel’s words. There is just enough realism to the illustrations when detailing the technology. She also conveys the right mood with the red palate during the dark days of Hitler. I’d love to see her do a graphic novel and could easily see Wessel’s story succeed in that format, too. The Boy Who Thought Outside the Box is a motivating STEM bio that will definitely resonate with unconventional thinkers and could very well inspire kids to pursue exciting new paths in learning.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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100 Bugs! A Counting Book by Kate Narita & Flying Deep by Michelle Cusolito

100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK
Written by Kate Narita
Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99, Ages 5-7)

&

FLYING DEEP:
Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVIN
Written by Michelle Cusolito
Illustrated by Nicole Wong
(Charlesbridge Books, $17.99, Ages 5-9)

 

are reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

 

Sharpen your math and science observation skills with two new, detail-packed STEM-rich picture books from debut authors.

100 Bugs: A Counting Book by Kate Narita cover artIn 100 BUGS! A COUNTING BOOK, two young summer explorers aren’t bugged by insects at all. They are on a seek-and-find counting quest from the pond to the field to the forest and everywhere in between. Armed with a butterfly net and magnifying glass, the daring duo discover and count an astonishing variety of interesting insects. Narita employs bouncy repetitive couplets to keep the mathematical and entomological journey moving at a quick pace in increasing sets of ten.

Kaufman’s bright, colorful collage-style art is engaging and cheerful, adeptly including an impressive accumulation of bugs throughout every page. A beautiful array of wildflowers and plants are also featured, complementing the detailed and intricate insects. Kaufman adds lots of birds and animals as well as an enthusiastic dog who follows the children on their adventures. With so much visual interest, young readers will be captivated. Notes at the end provide additional information on the insects and plants, making this a great STEM book selection. 

cover art from Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible ALVINIn FLYING DEEP readers will imagine an underwater journey of exploration with the pilots of ALVIN, a deep-sea submersible. Their mission is to observe and analyze creatures and structures from the depths of the ocean floor, and to collect samples for further research at the surface. Cusolito uses a narrative logbook structure, inviting readers to ponder practical and procedural questions as if they are one of the crew members. What might you eat? How will you breathe? What will you see? Exciting discoveries and the possibility of danger raise the stakes for readers who will soak up this immersive science adventure.

Digital illustrations from Wong enrich this tale with incredible scenes from inside and outside the ALVIN. Realistic details abound, including the amazing variety of sea life and the riveted, technical components of the ALVIN itself. Wong uses light to her advantage, balancing sunlight and ALVIN’s spotlights above and below the ocean surface to focus attention on the stunning discoveries. A glossary, resources for further reading and notes from the author and illustrator round out this unique, informative book.

 

100 BUGS and FLYING DEEP were both recipients of starred reviews from Kirkus!

        • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey

Read another recent #Epic18 review by Cathy here.

Where obtained: I reviewed either an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher or a library edition and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.

Good Reads With Ronna occasionally provides links to shop at Once Upon a Time bookstore with whom we partner monthly to share a Wednesday What We’re Reading post. GRWR blog and its reviewers receive no compensation for any titles sold via this independent bookstore, but we do hope you’ll choose a local option when making your next purchase.

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How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk – He Had Me at CODE!

 

HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Sara Palacios
(Viking BYR; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

How to Code a Sandcastle book cover

 

How to Code a Sandcastle is written in conjunction with the computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code and includes a forward by its founder, Reshma Saujani

Having a website, I know a little bit about coding, little being the operative word. But author Josh Funk, a software engineer by day, knows a lot. Thankfully. So it’s no surprise that the end result of a Funk and illustrator Sara Palacios picture book collaboration, How to Code a Sandcastle, has yielded such a positive and inspiring read.

Beaches and bots, hmmmm … I had absolutely no idea before picking up my review copy how author and illustrator would pull off this phenomenal feat. I mean, millions, maybe trillions of grains of sand and machinery don’t exactly go together. That’s why I felt compelled to read on and am glad I did!

 

int illustration 1 by Sara Palacios from How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk
Interior artwork from How to Code a Sandcastle written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Narrator Pearl is spending her last day of summer vacation at the beach. She’s determined to build a castle because all of her previous attempts have been thwarted by freewheeling frisbees, slamming surfers and peeing pups. Today, however, she has her “trusty rust-proof robot, Pascal,” in tow who she will code to build a sandcastle. Code, your children will learn, is “special instructions that computers understand.” But Pearl soon realizes that in order to build said sandcastle, her instructions need to be specific because without doing so, Pascal could end up constructing the castle in the ocean or in a parking lot. We also see that there’s a sequence to the problem solving, a good tip for young readers just learning about the importance and practicality of executive functioning. So after 1. Finding a suitable place to build, it’s onto 2. Gathering up the sand, encompassing a three-step process of filling, dumping and patting down. Here’s where a coding trick called looping is introduced: repeating the three step process or sequence until all the steps are done and the sand is piled in place before moving on to 3. Shaping and decorating. When Pascal brings items to decorate the sandcastle that aren’t appropriate (a lifeguard stand, a live crab and a baby’s binky!), plucky Pearl relies on a cool approach called IF-THEN-ELSE to help the robot analyze what can and cannot be used.

When a wave washes away the masterpiece, Pearl doesn’t get discouraged because she has the key to quick and easy re-construction, the code that Pascal can implement. Only now she needs to program Pascal with a way to protect the sandcastle, a code for how to build a moat! Once that’s finished, there’s no telling what else they can do with their coding know-how. What a great way to end vacation!

 

int illustration 2 by Sara Palacios from How to Code a Sandcastle by Josh Funk
Interior artwork from How to Code a Sandcastle written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers ©2018.

 

Funk’s story is funny, creative and easy to follow. By using something as recognizable as a sandcastle for the coding project, How to Code a Sandcastle serves as an ideal vehicle for a gentle, accessible preview of computer science. If only we all could be assisted by robots when we head to the beach. Imagine the possibilities! In her illustrations, Palacios has combined sunshine, sand and STEM in a thoroughly modern and cheerful way. Pascal the robot, who is never portrayed as cold or remote but rather charming and accommodating, is someone any child would want as a friend. And Palacios’ diverse characters fill the pages with a realistic picture of what readers really see when they visit the beach. A two page spread of back matter, “Pearl and Pascal’s Guide to Coding,” explains all the code concepts covered.

If you never thought you or your youngster would get the concept of coding, it’s time to think again. With its goal of getting girls to embrace coding, Girls Who Code will, with the help of wonderful books like this one, succeed in closing “the gender gap” that currently exists in the technology fields. Start your own STEM-themed collection of books by visiting your local independent bookstore today.

   • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another Josh Funk book here.

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