November 17, 2017

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A Mesmerizing Biography, Hypnotic Poetry, and Inspiring Artists | Nonfiction Preschool to Grade 4

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redstarEngle, Margarita. Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music. illus. by Rafael López. 48p. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544102293.

Gr 1-4 –Engle’s spare, rhythmic text gets at the heart of the struggle to achieve a dream in this picture-book biography about a Chinese African Cuban girl who aspired to play drums even when society’s double standards stood as a barrier. Growing up in tempestuous 1930s Havana, during a time when universities were often shut down because of their opposition to the dictatorial President Machado, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga dared to dream of playing percussion instruments—timbales, congas, bongós—but her father was adamant that “only boys should play drums.” But still she persisted in her hopes and eventually, with the help of her sisters and music teacher, became a member of the renowned Anacaona, Cuba’s first all-girl dance band, founded by her sister, Cuchito Castro. López’s zinging, neon-tinged art highlights the island’s diversity, depicting the drum girl’s flights of fancy set against the backdrop of carnival scenes and outdoor cafes. Details of Cuba’s and the protagonist’s Chinese, African, Taíno, and Spanish roots are seamlessly interwoven into the lyrical narrative and luminous acrylic paintings. The alliterative text parallels the snappy syncopation of the subject’s instruments. The heroine’s tenacity in the face of naysayers will inspire all dreamers, and the illustrator’s smile-inducing cameo on the last page emphasizes the universality of Millo’s story. For those looking for more nonfiction titles about female musical powerhouses, such as Monica Brown’s My Name Is Celia/Me llamo Celia (Cooper Square, 2004), Katheryn Russell-Brown’s Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (Lee & Low, 2014), and Carole Boston Weatherford’s Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century (Knopf, 2014). An author’s note gives more background on the groundbreaking percussionist. –Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

redstarGrimes, Nikki. Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony. illus. by Michele Wood. 56p. bibliog. reprods. Orchard. Jan. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780439793384.

Gr 3-6 –“History is often taught in bits and pieces, and students rarely get the notion that these bits and pieces are connected,” writes Coretta Scott King Award–winning author Grimes in her author’s note. Here, she and fellow Coretta Scott King–winning illustrator Wood imagine an afternoon tea conversation between suffragette Susan B. Anthony and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman, where the women take turns relating interconnected stories from their lives. Each spread, including a page of text and a full-page illustration, tells a single anecdote, including personal turning points in each woman’s life and major historical events, such as John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. In keeping with both activists’ strong religious convictions, God and biblical references are invoked often, and Wood’s painterly illustrations feature patterns inspired by American patchwork quilts and traditional African motifs. Back matter includes short biographies, additional notes, a bibliography, and an author’s note. Textual voice and bold pictorial color are strong, and Anthony’s and Tubman’s goals maintain relevance at a time when gender and race issues continue to be newsworthy. Skirting the edges of fictionalized biography can be tricky. Although Anthony and Tubman did meet repeatedly, Grimes states that this extended conversation comes purely from her imagination. Younger readers, who may not realize this immediately, may need guidance distinguishing the historical facts from the fictionalized musings. Audiences willing to embrace the unusual concept, though, may view this as a vanguard piece in an engaging newform that mixes nonfiction with historical fiction.–Jill Ratzan, I. L. Peretz Community Jewish School, Somerset, NJ

redstarPrevot, Frank. Wangari Maathai: The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees. illus. by Aurelia Fronty. 48p. bibliog. chron. illus. maps. notes. photos. websites. Charlesbridge. Jan. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781580896269. LC 2013049030.

Gr 2-6 –Prevot offers a gorgeous addition to the several books already available on Kenyan environmentalist and political activist Wangari Maathai, with as much biographical information as the pages can support. The writing is artful, clear, and concise, with references to Maathai’s native Swahili language and the cultural connections to the environment. This book provides students a beginning for research on her early life through the political turmoil of a corrupt Kenyan government which fell in 2002; it will also support deeper understanding of how she earned the Novel Peace Prize in 2004 for starting the Green Belt Movement, an NGO dedicated to planting trees, protecting the environment, and promoting women’s rights. Fronty’s art shines bright, expanding the text with styles that echo Henri Rousseau, Henri Matisse, and others. Of the other picture book biographies on Maathai, most focus on the tree planting rather than her life; this one offers appropriate information about the political upheavals that influenced Maathai.–Dorcas Hand, Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX

redstarRockliff, Mara. Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 48p. bibliog. further reading. illus. maps. notes. Candlewick. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763663513. LC 2014939337.

Gr 2-5 –Benjamin Franklin could be described in so many different ways: inventor, printer, scientist, thinker, diplomat. From this book, the word skeptic should be added to this list. While in France raising funds for the American rebellion against the British, Franklin was enlisted by Louis XVI to investigate the claims made by a young Austrian doctor who had much of Europe enthralled with his ability to remedy a wide variety of illnesses simply by waving an iron wand around their person. Calling it “animal magnetism,” Franz Mesmer was treating the European elite by bringing them into darkened rooms while spellbinding music played on a glass armonica, invented by none other than Franklin himself. Mesmer would charge a rather large sum of money and pronounce his clients “cured.” Doubtful of Mesmer’s abilities, Franklin set about disproving the doctor’s claims. Rockliff’s lighthearted tone and lively writing style are enhanced by the use of different typefaces and print sizes, as well as a layout that will keep readers engaged throughout. Rockliff plays with words and rhythm, making this book an excellent choice for reading aloud. The artwork is infused with humor, and the individual’s expressions throughout are a delight, from the look on the face of a swooning patient to Mesmer’s own intense glare. There is much here to draw the eye and prod discussion. A lengthy author’s note fills in the details of the story and provides information on the scientific method. Overall, a wonderful and fun-filled title that introduces yet another facet of a fascinating man.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue:

Bass, Hester. Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama. illus. by E.B. Lewis. 32p. bibliog. further reading. illus. Candlewick. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763669195. LC 2013955948.

Brown, Calef. Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything. illus. by Calef Brown. 155p. Holt. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780805099287.

Deans, Karen. Swing Sisters: The Story of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. illus. by Joe Cepeda. 32p. bibliog. websites. Holiday House. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823419708.

DiSiena, Laura Lyn & Hannah Eliot. Frogs Play Cellos: And Other Fun Facts. illus. by Pete Oswald & Aaron Spurgeon. 32p. (Did You Know?). S. & S./Little Simon. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481414265; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781481414258; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781481414272.

Felix, Rebecca. A Pair of Pears. ISBN 9781607535713. LC 2013044010.

––––. Rows of Roses. ISBN 9781607535720. LC 2013048618.

––––. They Won One! ISBN 9781607535737. LC 2013048621.

ea vol: 16p. (Hear Homophones Here). photos. Amicus. 2014. Tr. $17.95.

Hodgkins, Fran. The Secret Galaxy. photos by Mike Taylor. 32p. maps. notes. Tilbury House. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780884483915. LC 201401083.

Kügler, Tina & Kügler, Carson. In Mary’s Garden. illus. by Tina Kügler & Carson Kügler. 32p. Houghton Harcourt Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544272200.

Leavitt, Loralee. Candy Experiments 2. 160p. index. photos. Andrews McMeel. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781449461034. LC 2014941242.

Martell, Nevin, ed. It’s So Good!: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids. illus. by Rebecca Galera. 122p. index. photos. Auzou. 2014. spiral $19.95. ISBN 9782733829868.

Miller, Debbie S. & John H. Eiler. A King Salmon Journey. illus. by John Van Zyle. 44p. illus. maps. notes. Univ. of Alaska. 2014. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781602232303; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781602232310. LC 2013048828.

Morris, Jackie. Something About a Bear. illus. by Jackie Morris. 28p. Frances Lincoln/Janetta Otter-Barry Bks. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781847805164.

Pringle, Laurence P. Octopuses!: Strange and Wonderful. illus. by Meryl Henderson. 32p. illus. notes. Boyds Mills. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781590789285. LC 2014945964.

Saxby, Claire. Big Red Kangaroo. illus. by Graham Byrne. 32p. index. Candlewick. Jan. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763670757. LC 2013955949.

Schaller, Susan, retel. The Boy Who Cried Wolf! illus. by Connie Clanton. ISBN 9780981813912.

Reiners, Susan, retel. The Tortoise and the Hare. illus. by Daniel Winship. ISBN 9780981813929.

ea vol: 29p. (ASL Tales). w/DVD. ASL Tales. 2014. pap. $19.95.

Smith, Charles R., Jr. 28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World. illus. by Shane W. Evans. 56p. bibliog. Roaring Brook. Jan. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781596438200.

Spector, Todd. How to Pee: Potty Training for Boys. illus. by Arree Chung. 40p. Holt. Apr. 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780805097733. LC 2014013031.

Sénac, Jean-Vincent. Meet Matisse. illus. by Jean-Vincent Sénac. 32p. Tate. 2014. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781849762991.

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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