Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh

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SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL
Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1054-4
Picture Book Nonfiction
Grades 1 and up
Source: school library
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Almost 10 years before Brown vs. Board of Education, Sylvia Mendez and her parents helped end school segregation in California. An American citizen of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage who spoke and wrote perfect English, Mendez was denied enrollment to a “Whites only” school. Her parents took action by organizing the Hispanic community and filing a lawsuit in federal district court. Their success eventually brought an end to the era of segregated education in California.

REVIEW

I appreciated the fact that this book addresses an historical event that is not very well known. We need more books that look at the experiences of a variety of different backgrounds. This book is very well put together. The design is fresh and appealing. The text is informative with being didactic. I found the inclusion of actual testimony fascinating. The other thing I really liked was that the story shows that simply winning the case doesn’t ‘fix’ everything. Even after being allowed into the white school, Sylvia faced harsh treatment from the other students. Winning in court does not mean attitudes have changed. Sometimes it takes time for attitudes to change as sad as that is, people’s beliefs don’t adjust overnight. Thanks to the urging of her mother, Sylvia found the courage to go back and by doing so she helped change the world. The notes and back along with the glossary, index, and bibliography provide a great deal of extra information for those who want to know more. An important story well-told and beautifully illustrated making for a winner of a book all around.

Clara and Roget, who left a mark on the world

ABOUT THE BOOK

From bestselling author Patricia Polacco’s family tree — the true story of young Clara Barton.

Animals and flowers were Clara’s best friends. She had a special way with critters and found joy in the beauty that sprang from the soil. But whenever Clara talked, her words didn’t come out right. As hard as she tried, she could not get over her lisp.

Clara’s older brother Davie understood that his sister was gifted. When folks made fun of Clara’s stilted words, Davie was always at her side reminding her that she had a talent for healing creatures. 

Davie told his sister, “Some day you are going to be a very great lady.” And that’s exactly what happened. Clara Barton became one of the most famous medical practitioners of all time, and founded the American Red Cross. 

REVIEW

Another winner from a prolific and talented author/illustrator, Clara and Davie introduces the reader to Clara Barton as a young girl.  I especially enjoyed reading about her relationship with her brother, Davie.  Not many brothers ten years older would take the time to help and befriend his younger sister the way Davie does.  It’s clear that Clara had a gift for healing from the time she was very young.  But like everyone else she faced her own challenges including a prominent lisp.  This lisp led many of those around her to make fun of her causing her to withdraw, but thanks to the efforts of her brother and other family members she was educated at home.  When Davie suffers a devastating injury, Clara is just the one to help him face his own heart-wrenching challenges.  Like all her other family stories, Polacco shares the experiences that helped people grow and become the people they were.  Keep in mind that biographical picture books like this one often have made up dialogue in them, after all nobody was around to record everything that someone may have said at some point in his/her life.  

ABOUT THE BOOK

For shy young Peter Mark Roget, books were the best companions — and it wasn’t long before Peter began writing his own book. But he didn’t write stories; he wrote lists. Peter took his love for words and turned it to organizing ideas and finding exactly the right word to express just what he thought. His lists grew and grew, eventually turning into one of the most important reference books of all time.

Readers of all ages will marvel at Roget’s life, depicted through lyrical text and brilliantly detailed illustrations. This elegant book celebrates the joy of learning and the power of words.

REVIEW

One of my favorite books of 2014, The Right Word, takes a look at the creation of Roget’s Thesaurus and the man who created it.  Not only are the illustrations remarkable (which I would expect from Melissa Sweet), the text is beautifully integrated with them to present a striking book that is both informative and appealing.  This book would be a great tool for helping children learn how to use a thesaurus and to develop an understanding of the power of having just the right word to use.  Roget strikes me as a rather interesting man to study with his word fascination as well as interest in many aspects of science so I found the author’s and illustrator’s notes at the end thoroughly intriguing.  The list of references and resources is also helpful and indicates the large amount of work that went into making this book.  It was also really interesting to see a copy of one of the pages from Roget’s notebook.  A great book and a great resource and very possibly a soon to be award winner.

Microbes, butterflies, and prairies

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HANDLE WITH CARE

An Unusual Butterfly Journey

by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz

Millbrook Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7613-9342-9

Picture Book Nonfiction

Grades 2-5

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Some farms grow vegetables or grains, and some raise cows, sheep, chickens, or pigs. But have you ever heard of a butterfly farm? How do you raise a butterfly?

REVIEW

There are many different kinds of farms out there, but this is the first time I’ve heard of butterfly farms.  It makes a great deal of sense that there would be such a thing, I’ve just never thought about it before now. This book beautifully describes what happens on a Costa Rican butterfly farm, how the butterflies are raised and transported to places around the world.  The photographs do a wonderful job of illustrating what the author is describing.  The extra information at the end is very useful, explaining the insect life cycle in terms of butterflies, beetles, and flies.  The reference lists and glossary also make this a great resource as well as the link to further resources from the publisher.  A wonderful book that would be very useful in teaching children about the life cycle of butterflies.

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TINY CREATURES

The World of Microbes

by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Candlewick Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7636-7315-4

Picture Book Nonfiction

Grades 1 and up

ABOUT THE BOOK

Find out how the smallest things on the planet do some of the biggest jobs in this intriguing introduction to the world of microbes. 

All around the world — in the sea, in the soil, in the air, and in your body — there are living things so tiny that millions could fit on an ant’s antenna. They’re busy doing all sorts of things, from giving you a cold and making yogurt to eroding mountains and helping to make the air we breathe. If you could see them with your eye, you’d find that they all look different, and that they’re really good at changing things into something else and at making many more microbes like themselves! From Nicola Davies comes a first exploration for young readers of the world’s tiniest living organisms.

REVIEW

Microbes as organisms too small to be seen by the human eye are a topic that would be hard for children to understand since it’s a rather abstract concept.  Nicola Davies has done an excellent job in explaining the concept of these small creatures that out number people by many millions to one.  The amazing world of microbes comes to life in Davies’ words and Sutton’s illustrations.  There is just enough detail to be interesting without becoming overly complicated for the intended audience.  The illustrations show the differences in sizes between different microbes and how different they look as well as how quickly they can multiply.  It’s a subject that can be rather overwhelming yet made palatable by the excellent work of Davies and Sutton.

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PLANT A POCKET OF PRAIRIE

by Phyllis Root, illustrations by Betsy Bowen

University of Minnesota Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8166-7980-5

Picture Book 

Grades 1 and up

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Author Phyllis Root and illustrator Betsy Bowen last explored the vast, boggy peatlands of northern Minnesota in their book Big Belching Bog. Now, in Plant a Pocket of Prairie, Root and Bowen take young readers on a trip to another of Minnesota’s important ecosystems: the prairie.

Once covering almost 40 percent of the United States, native prairie is today one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Plant a Pocket of Prairie teaches children how changes in one part of the system affect every other part: when prairie plants are destroyed, the animals who eat those plants and live on or around them are harmed as well. Root shows what happens when we work to restore the prairies, encouraging readers to “plant a pocket of prairie” in their own backyards.

By growing native prairie plants, children can help re-create food and habitat for the many birds, butterflies, and other animals that depend on them. “Plant cup plants,” Root suggests. “A thirsty chickadee might come to drink from a tiny leaf pool. Plant goldenrod. A Great Plains toad might flick its tongue at goldenrod soldier beetles.” An easy explanation of the history of the prairie, its endangered status, and how to go about growing prairie plants follows, as well as brief descriptions of all the plants and animals mentioned in the story.

With Betsy Bowen’s beautiful, airy illustrations capturing the feel of an open prairie and all its inhabitants, readers of all ages will be inspired to start planting seeds and watching for the many fascinating animals their plants attract. What a marvelous transformation could take place if we all planted a pocket of prairie!

REVIEW

While the focus of this book is on Minnesota prairie and wildlife, the principles in regard to building a small prairie in your backyard certainly apply to a lot of other places.  I loved how the author and illustrator go through the building of a prairie from one plant and animal to more and more until a full-blown prairie has taken root.  I enjoyed hearing about the different animals and plants and how interconnected their lives were. It was sad though to think how little prairie is left in its natural state.  This book would make a great teaching tool for teaching about the prairie habitat as well as teaching about environmental repair.  A great resource and enjoyable look at the beauty of the natural world that we would do well to take care of before it’s gone altogether.

TWO FABULOUS BASEBALL PICTURE BOOKS!

BECOMING BABE RUTH

by Matt Tavares

Candlewick Press, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-7636-5646-1

Nonfiction Picture Book

Grades 1-5

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK
Before he is known as the Babe, George Herman Ruth is just a boy who lives in Baltimore and gets into a lot of trouble. But when he turns seven, his father brings him to the gates of Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, and his life is changed forever. At Saint Mary’s, he’s expected to study hard and follow a lot of rules. But there is one good thing about Saint Mary’s: almost every day, George gets to play baseball. Here, under the watchful eye of Brother Matthias, George evolves as a player and as a man, and when he sets off into the wild world of big-league baseball, the school, the boys, and Brother Matthias are never far from his heart. With vivid illustrations and clear affection for his subject, Matt Tavares sheds light on an icon who learned early that life is what you make of it — and sends home a message about honoring the place from which you came.
REVIEW
Babe Ruth was known for a lot of things, but baseball was his greatest passion.  In this book, Tavares takes the reader on the journey as George Herman Ruth develops this initial passion into a career and becomes a baseball legend.  A mischief maker from the time he was little, his desperate parents finally put him into Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.  George hated the rules, the work, and going to class.  The only thing he didn’t hate was the opportunity to play baseball almost every day.  He like the other boys loved to watch Brother Matthias hit home runs.  Over time and with a great deal of practice, George becomes a fabulous ball player and even when he leaves to play in the minors and then the majors, he never forgets where he learned to play.  He maintains contact with the school and when the school is devastated by fire, Babe Ruth steps forward to help.  This is an appealing and enjoyable book about how a young boy turns his passion into a life.  I appreciated the fact that the book mentions Ruth’s continued mischief making without giving a lot of specifics.  I also liked the author note at the end explaining the research he did and the fact that there were few images to refer to for the illustrations and how that contributed to the legend of Babe Ruth.  A great book for baseball fans.

BARBED WIRE BASEBALL

written by Marissa Moss, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4197-0521-2

Picture Book Nonfiction

Grades 1-5

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed were solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK
As a boy, Kenichi “Zeni” Zenimura dreams of playing professional baseball, but everyone tells him he is too small. Yet he grows up to be a successful player, playing with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig! When the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in 1941, Zeni and his family are sent to one of ten internment camps where more than 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry are imprisoned without trials. Zeni brings the game of baseball to the camp, along with a sense of hope.
This true story, set in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, introduces children to a little-discussed part of American history through Marissa Moss’s rich text and Yuko Shimizu’s beautiful illustrations. The book includes author and illustrator notes, archival photographs, and a bibliography.
REVIEW
This is a beautiful book about an important time in American history.  As much as I love my country, the United States has done plenty of awful things over the years.  This book takes a look at one of those things, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  But I really liked the positive way that Zeni chose to face this serious injustice.  Zeni, a young Japanese American fell in love with baseball the first time he saw it played.  And despite his small size and his parents discouragement, he chose to keep playing.  He even had the opportunity to play ball with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth (one of my favorite parts is seeing the photograph of the five-foot Zeni dwarfed by Gehrig and Ruth in a photo in the end notes).  But his skill and popularity did not save him when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  But he refused to let the unfairness of his imprisonment to stop him from playing baseball.  With the help of his sons, and other prisoners, Zeni built a baseball stadium. It’s admirable that they found a source of hope in the midst of the challenges they faced. With this type of book, I always appreciate notes by the author and/or illustrator explaining why they did things they way they did and what they did to fill in some of the blanks.
For more review check out my blog here.
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Ghostly Evidence by Kelly Milner Halls

GHOSTLY EVIDENCE

Exploring the Paranormal

by Kelly Milner Halls

Millbrook Press, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4677-0593-6

MG/YA Nonfiction

Grades 5 and up

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Do you believe in ghosts? Enter the realm of the paranormal with Kelly Milner Halls. Explore what ghosts are, where they’re found, and meet some famous ghost busters. Check out the high-tech equipment modern ghost hunters use, and see their most convincing evidence that ghosts are real. Finally, take a look at a few famous hoaxes. This book is a little bit spooky and a whole lot of fun!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Milner Halls specializes in high interest, well researched nonfiction for young readers. Her books include TALES OF THE CRYPTIDS, SAVING THE BAGHDAD ZOO, IN SEARCH OF SASQUATCH and ALIEN INVESTIGATION. But she is also an avid YA fan and loves realistic fiction including GIRL MEETS BOY, the anthology she edited for Chronicle (January 2012). Her first short story is in that anthology. She hopes it won’t be her last. When she’s not writing or doing school visits, she works for her friend and mentor Chris Crutcher in Spokane.

REVIEW

While I am not a big believer in ghosts and the paranormal I did find this book quite interesting. With a wide variety of different opinions existing on the subject of the paranormal it’s a topic that is bound to attract many readers of all ages. This book provides an introduction to the topic for young readers. The author starts by exploring the topic of what exactly is a ghost and what types of manifestations people claim to have had, everything from apparitions to shadow figures and mists. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the variety of stories she shared from all over the country including ships, houses, hotels, and prisons.  She leaves it up to the reader to decide what to believe but shares a variety of opinions from self-proclaimed ghost hunters, mediums, and skeptics.  The stories I found most interesting were the ones from children’s book authors Lisa Yee and Bruce Coville.  These kinds of stories really leave one wondering because of their strangeness yet lack of concrete evidence.

The author goes on to look at famous haunted places including the Alamo and Gettysburg battlefields.  The occupation of ghost hunter and medium are both explored as is the equipment that they often use.  Real-life hoaxes and some of the tricks that have been used to con people are also discussed.  It never ceases to amaze me how much time people spend conning other people out of their money.  The last chapter is basically a look at stories and experiences that really don’t have a clear explanation, including some the author herself had while researching the book.  Overall, an interesting look at a controversial topic that middle grader readers are sure to enjoy.

For more reviews check out my blog here.

Ordinary People Change the World

I AM ABRAHAM LINCOLN

by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4083-9
Picture Book Biography
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

We can all be heroes. That’s the inspiring message of this lively, collectible picture book biography series from New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer. Kids always search for heroes, so we might as well have a say in it, Brad Meltzer realized, and so he envisioned this friendly, fun approach to biography for his own kids, and for yours. Each book tells the story of one of America’s icons in an entertaining, conversational way that works well for the youngest nonfiction readers, those who aren’t quite ready for the Who Was series. Each book focuses on a particular character trait that made that role model heroic. For example, Abraham Lincoln always spoke up about fairness, and thus he led the country to abolish slavery. This book follows him from childhood to the presidency, including the Civil War and his legendary Gettysburg Address. This engaging series is the perfect way to bring American history to life for young children, and to inspire them to strive and dream.

REVIEW

Not only does this book have delightfully appealing illustrations but there is a remarkable amount of content for a book aimed at young children. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the picture it presented of one of our most influential presidents. These books would be a great way to introduce biographies to young readers. There were even some stories about Lincoln that I hadn’t heard before which is great considering how much I’ve read about the man. The only thing I might have wished for is a bibliography or works cited at the end of the book, but considering the age the book is aimed at that’s not too surprising. Although, the author does acknowledge the help of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College. And I recognized the several of the quotes used as words that Lincoln actually used. Overall, an informative and delightfully useful new series.

I AM ROSA PARKS

by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4085-3
Picture Book Biography
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Rosa Parks dared to stand up for herself and other African Americans by staying seated, and as a result she helped end public bus segregation and launch the country’s Civil Rights Movement.

REVIEW

I’ve long admired Rosa Parks and her courage in standing up for herself and others by sitting down. What amazes me most about this new biography series for young readers is how in only a few words the author manages to convey the spirit of the person. In this story of Rosa Parks the picture of a person determined to stand up for herself becomes very clear. The author combines Rosa’s story with a bit of the Civil Rights story as well, a great way to introduce the importance of standing up for the right to young readers. A fabulous addition to a fabulous new series perfect for young readers.

I AM AMELIA EARHART

by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4085-3
Picture Book Biography
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Amelia Earhart refused to accept no for an answer; she dared to do what no one had ever done before, and became the first woman to fly a plane all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. This book follows her from childhood to her first flying lessons and onward to her multi-record-breaking career as a pilot.

REVIEW

I have to say that the cartoon Amelia’s cries of, “That was awesome!” made me laugh out loud, especially the excited look on her face. This is a story of pursuing one’s dreams despite the doubts of others. The book does not go into her disappearance or some of the other things that happened in her life which is appropriate for the age group this is aimed at. The inclusion of photographs at the end of the book makes the story all the more realistic.

I AM ALBERT EINSTEIN

by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4085-3

Picture Book Biography

Source: purchased

All opinions expressed are solely my own.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Even when he was a kid, Albert Einstein did things his own way. He thought in pictures instead of words, and his special way of thinking helped him understand big ideas like the structure of music and why a compass always points north. Those ideas made him want to keep figuring out the secrets of the universe. Other people thought he was just a dreamer, but because of his curiosity, Einstein grew up to be one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known.

REVIEW

This book is as awesome as the other three but adds a couple of features that I am very happy to see.  First there is the inclusion of a bibliography.  Also the addition of a timeline is very useful for teachers and parents. The humorous jokes about the hair that Einstein was so well known for made me smile.  These books are sure-fire winners for parents, teachers, and especially young readers.  I especially liked the emphasis on the power of thinking and not being afraid to be different even when the world doesn’t understand.  A great introduction to the power of biography in the lives of young readers.

For more reviews check out my blog at Geo Librarian.

Chasing the Storm by Ron Miller

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ABOUT THE BOOK

Huge, towering clouds build up in the sky–it’s a supercell. The Doppler radar indicates that the system is rotating. But is there a funnel? Is it touching the ground? Only a storm chaser can confirm when a tornado is present–and help meteorologists warn nearby towns.

REVIEW

Chasing the Storm looks at the human fascination with weather, specifically storm chasers and why they do what they do.  I especially enjoyed the quotes from actual storm chasers.  The book also goes on to discuss the following aspects of being a storm chaser:

  • A Day in the Life of a Storm Chaser
  • What Makes a Tornado?
  • What’s going on with the weather?
  • Meteorology on the Job
  • Official Weather Watchers
  • Being a Storm Chaser
I appreciate how precise yet readable the book is.  Since I have many students who are fascinated by the weather this would be a good book for them.  The design of the book is crisp and appealing. While I did find one editorial error, it doesn’t effect the overall value of the book. The diagrams were especially helpful in understanding the conditions that lead to tornadoes and what storm chasers look for and try to measure while in the field.
Check out my blog, Geo Librarian, for more reviews!