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 George: George Washington, Our Founding Father

Dear Readers,

This review first posted in in 2012 (hence the different date of Presidents Day), but I felt it was worth reposting again today.

Tomorrow, February 22nd, is our founding father’s birthday.  Since I probably learned about America’s first president over 40 years ago, I decided to revisit some children’s books and found George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with paintings by Mike Wimmer ($16.99, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, ages 6 and up), to be one worth noting.

George: George Washington, Our Founding Father by Frank Keating with illustrations by Mike Wimmer, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2012.

The author, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, shares this story, part of the Mount Rushmore series, in first person so readers will feel an immediate connection to Washington’s life in Virginia.  The fifth of ten children, Washington was expected to leave school at 15 years old to assist his widowed mother; his father having died four years earlier. From an early age young Washington displayed strong moral fiber, writing a list called The Rules of Civility originally taught to him by teachers, the principles of which would guide him throughout his life.  I had not remembered that Martha, whom he married at age 27 was already a widow with two children although it’s not surprising considering the average life span then was around 37 years old. I liked that the author chose to include various rules from Washington’s list helping me to learn more about what shaped this influential man even prior to becoming commander in chief of the armies or our nation’s first leader.

The award-winning artist, Mike Wimmer, has brought Washington to life through his use of oils painted on canvas in this wonderful picture book. To capture the president in the 18th century so accurately, Wimmer used models, period costumes and a lot of research. He has succeeded in portraying Washington’s life in an engaging, almost photographic-like way and  his paintings truly complement Keating’s succinct narrative . This book would make a great addition to any school or local library’s American History section as its message is timeless.

Rule 1: Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

Rule 73: Think before you speak. Pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

Now these are great rules to live by!

Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Pop-up to Our National Parks!

Image 4 It was a true privilege to open my mail and discover an extraordinary review copy of America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book ($34.95, W.W.West, Adults). Before I get into the wonders of the book, I must mention that one of the book’s main purposes is to raise money for our National Park system. For every copy of the book sold, $8 will be donated to the National Park Conservation Association (NPCA); the publisher’s goal is to raise $100,000 for this cause, but only 1,200 copies of the Deluxe Limited Edition will be produced. Each of these are numbered and autographed by the paper engineer, illustrator and author. If you wish to purchase a Limited Edition book, you can only do so on the publisher’s website.

America’s National Parks features six National Parks: 1) Everglades; 2) Great Smoky Mountains; 3) Grand Canyon; 4) Yellowstone; 5) Glacier and 6) Yosemite. The book begins with a most informative introduction to our National Parks. Did you know there are 58 National Parks and close to 400 preserved places the National Park System is responsible for protecting? Next to the intro you will find a letter from the President of the National Park Conservation Association. But the real thrill begins when you open up the first two-page pop-up spread. Here you’ll be greeted by Everglades National Park, ironically, the National Park closest to my home and my heart. The detail of the pop-up River of Grass is phenomenal, from the tree hammock to the canoe and die cut birds. There’s even a small side card that, when opened, up pops a gator and what appears to me to be a Great Blue Heron.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Along with each pop-up spread are fascinating facts about each park. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park spread features spring flower pop-ups and some cool information about the American Black Bear. The impressive orange-colored Grand Canyon spread will leave you feeling the sheer massiveness of this sprawling natural wonder from the imposing mountains to the plunging valleys and meandering waters inside. Open the Yellowstone pages and see Old Faithful rise before your eyes. Feel the vast diversity of Glacier National Park from the soaring peaks to the meadows and all the animals that call this park home. The Yosemite spread’s towering cliffs and panoramic vistas give you insight into the grandiose nature of one of our nation’s most visited parks.

Because this book could not possibly cover every one of our National Parks in pop-up spreads, there are written pages dedicated to other Eastern, Central and Western USA National Parks. Short descriptions of each park give us clues into the natural wonders – from animals to terrain – of each destination. In the back of the book is a useful map of America highlighting our parks’ locations.

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Glacier National Park

The concept for this book is credited to the author, Don Compton, who has penned 13 books about America’s National Parks. He is a collector of antique pop-up books, and used many of his own personal travel experiences in the descriptions he writes in America’s National Parks. This was the first pop-up book artist Dave Emberever illustrated, but you wouldn’t know that by the outstanding job he did. The paper engineer who masterfully designed the pop-ups of this and other spectacular books is Bruce Foster. Oh how I would love to interview him to find out what this daunting task required! The entire team should be so proud of what they’ve accomplished here.

Describing America’s National Parks simply cannot do it justice. This is a book you must see for yourself to truly appreciate. It’s unlikely that you’ve ever seen a pop-up book as unforgettable as this, and I for one cannot think of a better way to spend $34.95. It’s the next best thing to being there.

Note: Although this book was created for adults, children who are advanced readers will also enjoy it. However, due to the fragile nature of the pop-up pages, the book must be treated gently and with extra care.

– Reviewed by Debbie Glade.

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A Civil War Ghost Story

Amanda Hogg reviews Picture the Dead ($8.99,  Sourcebooks, Ages 10+)
16 year old Jennie has had a rough life. After her parents died, she and her twin brother were sent to live with a despicable aunt, cowed uncle and two cousins – Will and Quinn. Jennie briefly finds happiness after she and Will fall in love and become engaged, but that happiness is short-lived as Will and her brother are killed in the Civil War. Jennie is devastated by her loss, terrified about her future and haunted by Will’s ghost. Luckily, Quinn, Will’s brother, comes home from the war with the intention of marrying Jennie, which should secure her future – or so she thinks. 
Because Will had been kind and good to her while Quinn had been cruel and scornful, Jennie is immediately suspicious of his intentions towards her. As Quinn begins to protect and defend her from his mother, her fears about his real intentions lessen, but the frequency and intensity of Will’s spectral visits, which frequently manifest as hands wrapped around her neck, increase. To set Will’s spirit at peace, Jennie begins to investigate his death, which leads her down a confusing path strewn with lies and schemes, and makes her question who she can trust – the new, kind Quinn, or Will’s ghost.
Part historical fiction, part gothic mystery, part scrapbook, Adele Griffin’s words and Lisa Brown’s illustrations in Picture the Dead provide a complete picture of the lives wrecked, the careers created and the hearts broken by the Civil War. Picture the Dead weaves the Spiritualism that was rampant during and after the Civil War into the storyline in the character of Geist, a medium who claims he can capture spirits in photographs. The illustrations serve to explain how Daguerreotypes were made and forged in addition to providing clues to Will’s mysterious death. Picture the Dead is a transportive read that will leave readers chilled to the bone. 
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Turning a Dream Into Reality – The Story Behind the Creation of Mount Rushmore

I had no idea that I could learn so much from a children’s picture book, but after reading Tina Nichols Coury’s book Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose: Growing Up On Mount Rushmore ($16.99, Dial Books for Young Readers, ages 5 and up) with its fantastic, beautifully envisioned illustrations by Sally Wern Comport, I’m convinced.

Perhaps like me, you were on a cross country teen tour when you first laid eyes on Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Or maybe you and your family were vacationing and taking in some of America’s most iconic landmarks. Whatever brought you to Mount Rushmore, I am sure it is something that you have not yet forgotten. Well neither could author Coury who was determined to share the story of “one little boy who grew up to complete one of America’s greatest monuments.”  I am so glad she did!

The book introduces us to young Lincoln Borglum, son of the renown sculptor Gutzon Borglum, and transports us back to the 1920s into his father’s art studio where he spent much of his childhood. Lincoln preferred sweeping up the studio or modeling for his father over socializing with other children his age. The family moved often for the elder Borglum’s commissions and forging friendships for a shy lad like Lincoln proved a lot less interesting than observing a master sculptor at work. 

When Gutzon Borglum shared with businessmen his idea to carve the faces of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln into a South Dakota mountain, it was welcomed as a terrific venture.  What I did not know was that originally the monument was conceived with only the above mentioned three presidents and that it was President Calvin Coolidge who suggested the addition of Teddy Roosevelt.  I also was very surprised to learn that during the half-completed  carving of Thomas Jefferson it was discovered that the “rock under Jefferson’s face was unstable.”  The entire work had been for naught and had to be demolished and begun all over again.

There are so many other interesting facts that Coury has provided, but rather than go into too much more detail here, suffice it to say that we find out Lincoln eventually chose working alongside his father on the massive monument rather than attending university. The significance of  that choice was major as it was Lincoln, after his father’s death, who would be instrumental in continuing his father’s work and seeing it to fruition. 

While I do not picture 5 year olds reading this book on their own, I do envisage parents, older siblings and librarians happily sharing the story with them. With the publication of Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose we now have a child-friendly vehicle from which to launch into our own impressions of this great monument depicting two Founding Fathers along with two other great presidents and for that alone we can be grateful. Happy Independence Day! 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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The White House, America’s Most Recognizable Residence

Coming out this July is The House That George Built written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Rebecca Bond. Today reviewer Rita Zobayan weighs in on why she likes this new picture book.

                  Presidents’ Day may have passed, but Independence Day is just around the corner. Begin your celebration by sharing the story of one of America’s most recognizable residences: the White House.  The House That George Built ($16.95, Charlesbridge, ages 6 and up) written by Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Rebecca Bond  describes George Washington’s role in the building of the presidential home, which was originally referred to as the President’s House.

                  In essence, this book is almost two in one. On the left pages is more advanced, detailed text: “Then George spied a magnificent drawing with majestic columns, grand staircases, and a stately oval room. James Hoban’s design was just right and he won the contest.”  On the right pages is the simpler version: “This is the design/that would stand for all time/that was drawn for the lot/that grand, scenic spot/for the President’s House that George built.”  (You may recognize the rhyme style and the book title as a reference to the famous poem “This Is the House That Jack Built.”) The book provides information on the many aspects of this process from choosing the correct location to using the available materials in the new country to the people who worked on the house.

                  Finishing up the book are additional pages of information. One page provides the logistics of the house (35 bathrooms!) and outlines changes made to the residence, such as Theodore Roosevelt adding an outdoor tennis court in 1912 and Bill Clinton adding a hot tub and jogging track in 1993. The next page is the author’s note and elaborates on the back story of the building endeavor. For example, even though George Washington had an active hand in overseeing the process to build this structure, he is the only president to have never lived there! Lastly, sources and resources are listed, which are useful should a child wish to use this book for a report. The House That George Built is an informative and fun way to learn more about one of our nation’s most historic buildings.


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What Presidents Are Made Of

Israeli artist and author Hanoch Piven has created an extraordinarily fun way for children to look at all 44 of our American presidents in an updated edition of his 2004 hit, What Presidents Are Made Of ($6.99, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, ages 6 -10). This playful perspective presents each leader with his face depicted through a collage of items ranging from chains, telephone cord and jelly beans to a kazoo and a hot dog – yes, I kid you not, a genuine frankfurter for a nose!  It also sheds light on different aspects of their character or persona.

Did you know, for example, that Ulysses S. Grant once got a $20 ticket for dashing just a bit too quickly in his one-horse carriage and had only praise for the policeman who fined him, or that Franklin D. Roosevelt never liked the food his White House chef cooked but felt he just could not fire her? My favorite picture also belongs to that of our 32nd president and has a remarkable resemblance to Martin Scorsese with his prominent black bolt eyebrows.

In his straightforward introduction, Pinoch shares an artist’s ever creative approach to evoking these larger-than-life individuals for children to enjoy, but also to learn from in a light-hearted, whimsical way.  He also encourages kids to try their hand at reproducing a president’s likeness using found objects. If I were a teacher  I’d have a blast with this book, but parents can also take part in the portrait-making process. Go on, think about someone you’d like to recreate on paper (Lady Gaga, First Lady Michelle Obama, or maybe even Sponge Bob), get out some pasta, push pins, a few earrings that have lost their pairs, and start your own art project today.

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Out to Sea: An Interview with Sophie Webb, Biologist, Children’s Book Author and Illustrator

Sophie Webb is a scientist and award-winning author and illustrator. She has written three outstanding scientific journals for middle grade readers including: Far from Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage, Looking for Seabirds: Journal from an Alaskan Voyage and My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal. In addition she has penned two field guides: A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and North America and Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast.

After reviewing Far From Shore, Debbie Glade was eager to ask the author about her fascinating work. Good Reads With Ronna is excited that Webb so generously offered her time to share her extraordinary travel, research and writing experiences with us.

Sophie taking photos at sea

Can you tell us how your work as a field biologist and ornithologist inspired you to start writing science books for middle grade readers?

I have loved and drawn wildlife all my life. At Boston University I spent a year in the School of Fine Arts but ended up changing my major, getting a degree in Biology. Post college I began working as a field biologist on various projects, studying birds that took me many places:  the Antarctic, through the neo-tropics, the Galapagos and the Arctic. I really began combining my interest in art and biology by working on field guides of neo-tropical birds.

My first children’s book was My Season with Penguins. When I worked in the Antarctic I kept an illustrated journal on large watercolor paper sheets. After my first season there I showed them to some friends who had kids or were teachers, and they encouraged me to make it into a book for children. So I pursued finding a publisher, (which in my case I really fell into) modified the journal somewhat, and it was published. I enjoyed working on the book. I liked the writing, illustrating and figuring out how to lay it out. My Season with Penguins did quite well, which encouraged me to work on further books associated with field projects I was working on.

Temperate offshore Species A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast, University of CA Press

You write in a language that is easy for children to understand, yet you manage to keep from talking down to your readers. Is it difficult to write about science for an audience of middle grade readers?

Generally I write in a fairly uncomplicated way, so it has not been too difficult for me to write for a younger audience. My editor and friends who have children have also been helpful advisors when I get carried away. Their feedback prevents me from imparting too much information and getting bogged down in language that is too complicated or lacks clarity.

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