October 16, 2017

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Nonfiction: The Solar System, Sustainability, and Wacky Inventions | August 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Adamczak, Bini. Communism for Kids. Tr from German by Jacob Blumenfeld & Sophie Lewis. illus. by Bini Adamczak. 112p. illus. notes. MIT. Mar. 2017. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9780262533355.

Gr 9 Up –A century after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Adamczak presents a fable of dystopian capitalism and various iterations of communism. The author, a German social theorist who writes on political theory and queer politics, relates her interpretation of the concept of capitalism in terms of princesses, queens, and maids—and without becoming mired in historical detail. In fact, all of the charming illustrations of budding revolutionaries are of girls. In this tale of the drudgery of industrialization, the downtrodden become so disenchanted with capitalism that they decide communism will provide the solution to the evils they have suffered. Playing on Vladimir Lenin’s political pamphlet “What is to Be Done?,” the book describes six attempts at communism. Readers may find it worthwhile to try and identify the historical 20th-century movements each of these efforts represents. The translators ably reproduce Adamczak’s light tone and storytelling voice. As in the original German edition (published in 2004), the epilogue moves on to a much more sophisticated analysis of what the author deems feasible, conceivable, and desirable for the future of communism. Although the English title indicates the book is for kids, Adamczak herself has said, “No, it’s not. It’s for everyone.” VERDICT High school students interested in political theory will be challenged by this original presentation.–Kate Reid, The Allen-Stevenson School, New York

Aguilar, David A. Seven Wonders of the Solar System. illus. by David A. Aguilar. 80p. further reading. index. photos. Viking. May 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780451476852.

Gr 5 Up –Admittedly our solar system holds many amazing features, but Aguilar selects the seven presented here based on where he would want to visit and take a selfie. Olympus Mons, a 16-mile high volcano on Mars; Saturn’s rings; Planet Nine, which is based off of mathematics and is still being studied; a few different moons (Europa, Titan, Charron); and planet Earth make the cut. Each wonder has several pages dedicated to describing and explaining its discovery, as well as information about the astronomers that studied it and visits made by spacecraft. Aguilar weaves together a narrative of science and imagination—readers can envision what it would be like to set foot on these distant lands. The majority of the amazing artwork was created by building 3-D models (using data gleaned from space probes, and scientific facts and figures) and then photographing and digitizing them. Students will be fascinated and educated at the same time. A thorough index helps make it useful for research, but since the work covers a mix of facts, it will be better suited for curiosity seekers. VERDICT A title sure to inspire readers; large nonfiction collections should consider.–Sandra Welzenbach, Villarreal Elementary School, San Antonio

Alonso, Juan Carlos. Land Mammals of the World: Notes, Drawings, and Observations About Animals That Live on Land. 128p. (Animal Journal). glossary. Walter Foster. Aug. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781633221963.

Gr 3-5 –This first entry in the series focuses on specific animal orders in accordance with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Information includes worldwide distribution of the order, physical descriptions, behaviors, and adaptations. Each creature featured is assigned a conservation status, from “least concern” to “critically endangered.” Introductory information about the order also contains the number of specific species listed under this heading. (Rodentia, rodents, account for 40 percent of all land mammals with more than 2,200 species while Tubulidentata, aardvarks, includes only the one.) The information is presented in both lists and captions alongside detailed colored pencil illustrations. Section heading font sizes are used to indicate classification levels, which makes the family, genus, species, and subspecies unclear unless specifically stated in the animals’ descriptions. VERDICT An attractive and informative overview of numerous land mammals that are popular choices for elementary research projects.–Elaine Fultz, Madison Junior-Senior High School, Middletown, OH

Calkhoven, Laurie. Duke Kahanamoku. illus. by Stevie Lewis. 48p. S. & S./Simon Spotlight. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481497015; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781481497008.

Gr 2-5 –This colorful, quick-paced biography brings life to a famous figure in Hawaiian history. Duke Kahanamoku is known for many things: an amazing Olympic swimming career, a miraculous surfing rescue of shipwrecked sailors, and a long ambassadorship on behalf of Hawaii just as it was becoming a U.S. state. The illustrations capture the lighthearted nature of Duke, showing him frequently smiling or concentrating on any one of his many talents. The brief text balances accounts of the events of Kahanamoku’s life with a portrait of his character, all in a light tone that is not didactic and yet still manages to contain all the important elements of a usable biography. Since Kahanamoku may not be well known in the mainland United States, the text places him within major historical events (World War I) which provide grounding context that highlights the relevance of this figure. An additional section with encyclopedic entries about general Hawaiian history and culture helps readers unfamiliar with the island chain. Finally, a short quiz at the end allows for a quick review of all the information packed into the slim volume. VERDICT A good purchase for school and public library biography collections alike.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

Cascone, Gina & Williams Sheppard. Around the World Right Now. illus. by Olivia Beckman. 32p. Sleeping Bear. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781585369768.

Gr 1-5 –A clever nonfiction picture book that introduces the concepts of time zones, continents, and culture. Readers begin their international journey at six o’clock in San Francisco and then progress through each time zone, moving across the Atlantic, roaming through Europe, and so on, before returning to the streets of San Francisco. Each page features a different time zone, along with a short description, and detailed illustrations of local customs and peoples. The authors provide further information and activities on the topic of travel and time zones in the last two pages, adding a welcomed educational component. This is a versatile book that could be used to introduce children to a variety of topics, from geography to time. In addition to teaching concepts, it reinforces a crucial message of unity by featuring children of all ages and races from around the globe. Illustrating 24 different time zones is no small feat, yet Beckman rises to the challenge. VERDICT A high-quality book for our times, in both its educational and inclusive message.–Katherine Hickey, Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City

Castle, Gregory. 125 Pet Rescues: From Pound to Palace: Homeless Pets Made Happy. 112p. index. photos. National Geographic. Apr. 2017. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781426327360.

Gr 3-5 –Castle, cofounder and CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, relates the stories of 125 adopted pets that have previously experienced some form of neglect. These animals include cats, dogs, rabbits, and horses, as well as pigs, small rodents, reptiles, and a duck. The brief before and after stories are loosely organized around themes, and each is accompanied by eye-catching photographs and short informational sidebars. Some of the creatures profiled were previously abused, and the accompanying photographs occasionally show them with bandages, scars, or missing eyes or limbs, but none of the images or descriptions are gory or inappropriate for the intended age range. Castle writes in a lively style, with corny puns and alliteration peppered throughout. He is clearly promoting humane treatment of animals as well as his animal society, but the message is not overbearing and the tone is generally upbeat. In some cases, animals are assigned feelings and thoughts, either in the descriptions or in speech bubbles. No prior knowledge of animals is assumed, and the brief, one-paragraph length of the tales may appeal to readers who are looking for something to read in small bites. An index and tips for taking action are included. VERDICT General purchase, likely to appeal to animal lovers and reluctant readers.–Judy Poyer, Odenton Regional Library, MD

Dearlove, Katherine. My Canada: An Illustrated Atlas. illus. by Lori Joy Smith. 32p. Owlkids. May 2017. Tr $18.67. ISBN 9781771472647.

K-Gr 2 –In this engaging picture book atlas, Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories are featured on colorful spreads. From British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador, the clean, simple map layout includes small, labeled drawings indicating capital cities, notable geographical landforms (New Brunswick’s Appalachian Mountains), major bodies of water (Ontario’s Lake Superior), cultural attractions (Nunvut’s Cape Dorset Inuit Art Gallery), native animals (Yukon’s woodland caribou), and regional flora and fauna (Prince Edward Island’s lupines). Provincial and territorial flags and symbols are also included. Smith’s cheery, whimsical digital cartoon illustrations depict personable vignettes like a little boy and his dog paddling a canoe down Saskatchewan’s Clearwater River Provincial Park. A foreword provides “Did you know” facts and trivia about the world’s second biggest country: Canada has “More than 60 Aboriginal languages” and “more than half of the world’s polar bears.” VERDICT This informative trip across Canada celebrates its people, places, and landscapes—and invites further exploration. A fine addition to geography collections.–Linda Ludke, London Public Library, Ont.

Dowie, Claire. Upfront Theatre: Why Is John Lennon Wearing A Skirt?; Arsehammers; The Year of the Monkey; Hard Working Families. 184p. (Plays for Young People). Bloomsbury. May 2017. pap. $26.95. ISBN 9781350011144.

Gr 7 Up –This collection of four plays, three of which debuted as stand-up pieces, is an attempt to involve a flexible cast of teen actors in a low-stress form of theatre. With the overriding theme of personal choice vs. societal norms, the pieces use familiar issues—expectations of males vs. females, the challenges caused by Alzheimer’s disease, emotional repression, political posturing—presented in contemporary situations to highlight how our lives are often controlled by mores that we don’t choose. The concept of creating large-cast plays for actors with minimal stage experience works well for school/community theatres, and the idea of using groups of actors to form composite characters allows for even neophyte participation. However, Dowie’s introductory essay, or the scripts themselves, should provide more guidance as to the actual staging parameters (Are lines memorized or performed with script-in-hand?, Is there any movement?, Are scenery and costumes used?, etc.). Additionally, the plays are British in origin, meaning Briticisms and some political figures (Margaret Thatcher, Edward Heath) will likely need to be adapted for an American audience. Finally, while the overall theme of the plays is universal, the one-act “The Year of the Monkey” seems more suited to an adult rather than a teen audience. VERDICT As in-class or end-of-term drama presentations, the plays will do well, hopefully inspiring middle/high school students to try their hand at writing similar pieces with personally relevant themes.–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence

Hanes, Kathleen. Seagrass Dreams: A Counting Book. illus. by Chloe Bonfield. 32p. glossary. maps. photos. websites. Seagrass. May 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781633221253.

K-Gr 3 –Kids will learn that seagrass does far more than just move with the ocean currents. It can protect against erosion, provide a protective habitat and food source for an array of marine creatures, and store carbon, which keeps acid levels from mounting too high. Beginning with one great barracuda, readers are taken through to the number 10, with each number depicting an ocean critter that relies on seagrass, including four dugongs, seven chocolate chip sea stars, and 10 collector urchins. Each spread includes a short description of the creature’s relationship to or reliance on seagrass. For example, readers learn that Long Island bay scallops “cling to seagrass blades, holding on by tiny threads. The scallops perch safely, swaying high above the lobsters and snails that want to eat them.” The illustrations—a combination of photography, paper models, drawing, printmaking, and digital collage—are intensely colorful and detailed, while evoking a mesmerizing watery environment. At the end, there are additional “Fun Facts,” along with a clear close-up photograph of each creature. Also included is a glossary and a world map with a key to indicate where each profiled subject can be found. The author has included a statement from the World Seagrass Association about the importance of maintaining the health of seagrass worldwide. VERDICT A fabulous addition to marine science collections. However, librarians should keep in mind that the benefits and necessity of seagrass takes precedent in the narrative over the counting element.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

Harvey, Jeanne Walker. Honey Girl: The Hawaiian Monk Seal. ISBN 9781628559217; ISBN 9781628559224.

––––. Honey Girl: La foca monje de Hawái. ISBN 9781628559231.

ea vol: illus. by Shennen Bersani. 32p. Arbordale. Feb. 2017. pap. $9.95.

Gr 1-4 –When Honey Girl, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal, is found with a fishhook in her cheek and her tongue cut by fishing line, scientists begin the difficult task of trying to help her. They carefully remove the fishhook and save part of her tongue, and slowly but surely Honey Girl begins to eat fish on her own again. When she is released, scientists track her and make sure she is gaining weight. They are surprised and happy to find that Honey Girl will be having a baby seal, and make sure no one bothers the endangered seals while they are on the beach. Honey Girl makes a recovery and even becomes a grandmother. The importance of protecting animals like Honey Girl and making sure their environment is safe is conveyed through text and the well-lit illustrations. The care the scientists take in helping Honey Girl is evident, and young readers will be able to find out more through the informative back matter, which describes the life cycle of Hawaiian monk seals and details conservation efforts to save them. VERDICT An important book to place in the hands of all future conservationists. Highly recommended.–Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

Kelly, James Floyd. Story of Coding. 48p. glossary. index. photos. DK. Jun. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781465462312; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781465462428.

K-Gr 2 –A brief history of computer coding is presented in this beginning reader. It also includes its modern uses and suggestions for children who want to learn to code, including some real-world examples. Like many other books designed for emerging readers (this one is defined as “level two”), there are short chapters, large-sized text, and a limited vocabulary for the paragraph (or so) that appears on each page. It allows readers to feel that they are finishing the tome, while respecting their reading level. Several other features, such as the table of contents, glossary, and notes for parents, are helpful in allowing emerging readers to learn the parts of a book. Especially noteworthy are the colorful visuals made up primarily of fresh and engaging photos. A variety of genders and races are portrayed performing the actions discussed. VERDICT A solid choice for beginning readers that presents a factual, historical, and contemporary look at coding with high-quality photos and grade-level appropriate text.–Elizabeth Nicolai, Anchorage Public Library, AK

Kozlowski, Bryan. Cook Me a Rhyme: In the Kitchen with Mother Goose. 80p. Walter Foster. Apr. 2017. spiral $16.95. ISBN 9781633222182.

Gr 2-5 –Child-friendly recipes combined with popular Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Author and trained chef Kozlowski teaches readers step-by-step to make a dish. The illustrations are a nice addition to the book, although the pictures only show the story of the nursery rhymes and not of the food described in each recipe. Children and parents alike may have a hard time picturing the finished product. Some of the recipe names are a little out of the ordinary, such as the “Bag Full of Black Wool Granola,” “Mouse Tail Chicken Nuggets” (which ends with the sentence: “Have you ever tasted such a bite in your life as crunchy, munchy nugget mice?”), and “Pail of Cotton-Crown Water,” which could deter some chefs. VERDICT Not as pleasing to the palette as one would hope, useful for programming ideas for professionals but not a must-buy for all libraries.–Joanne Albano, Commack Public Library, NY

Kravetz, Stacey. She’s So Boss: The Girl Entrepreneur’s Guide to Imagining, Creating & Kicking Ass. 160p. appendix. chart. index. websites. Quercus. May 2017. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781681444161.

Gr 7 Up –This nonfiction guide provides young female entrepreneurs straightforward, easy-to-follow advice on how to build a business from one’s passion. Whether it’s turning a love of fashion into a blog, starting a web design company, or building a jewelry making business, Kravetz provides step-by-step guidance on getting an idea off the ground, keeping it afloat, avoiding pitfalls, and dealing with setbacks. Advice includes how to develop and market goods and services and the importance of having a mentor. An appendix features several resources, such as the elements of a query letter and a sample income and expenses statement. Each chapter begins with an inspirational quote from a successful woman, such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and First Lady Michelle Obama. Kravetz’s advice is practical, thorough, and encouraging. And while the writing style is breezy, it does frankly describe the obstacles one will face in starting a business. Since much of the text concerns social media, it would be better to steer teens towards this book. VERDICT A worthwhile purchase for libraries with entrepreneurial-minded patrons.–Melissa Kazan, Horace Mann School, NY

McCarthy, Tom. Daring Heists: Real Tales of Sensational Robberies and Robbers. ISBN 9781619305311; ISBN 9781619305359.

––––. Weird Disappearances: Real Tales of Missing People. ISBN 9781619305267; ISBN 9781619305304.

ea vol: 112p. (Mystery & Mayhem). glossary. maps. Nomad. May 2017. Tr $19.95. pap. $9.95.

Gr 4-7 –These additions to the series appeal to its target audience by focusing on cases that have puzzled law enforcement and the public over the 20th century. Is money worth your life? It is possible the criminal masterminds profiled in Daring Heists thought so, as they all ended up in jail or on the run. Even the unsolved and notorious art theft from the Gardner Museum has left its main suspect jailed and the loot unrecovered. These are crimes that will have readers wanting to find out more about the perpetrators. In Weird Disappearances, McCarthy looks at a series of unresolved cases regarding missing people, including Amelia Earhart, Anastasia Romanov, and Solomon Northrup. Both titles present stories in a quick-flowing style with omniscient third-person narration as a means of appealing to reluctant readers. The titles would benefit from endnotes to help students further research people or events, especially those where McCarthy has postulated a conclusion. Each chapter is supplemented with a map and a sampling of facts about the time. VERDICT A supplemental choice where high-interest, true crime books are in demand.–Betsy Fraser, Calgary Public Library, Canada

Overdeck, Laura. How Many Guinea Pigs Can Fit on a Plane?: Answers to Your Most Clever Math Questions. 144p. (Bedtime Math). bibliog. diag. photos. Feiwel & Friends. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. 9781250072290.

Gr 5-8 –Overdeck deviates from the format of her previous “Bedtime Math” books with this question-and-answer title that provides step-by-step math solutions for the fun and imaginative questions submitted by real kids. The questions are grouped into five chapters (“Animal Math,” “Nature Gone Wild,” “Math for Your Mouth,” “Your Life in Numbers,” and “Earth and Friends”) with a sixth chapter dedicated to tricks for doing quick mental math. Readers are walked through the solution to the title question, many other “how many”–based inquiries, and queries like which moves faster: a hopping bunny or a running person? There are also occasional fact-based questions that don’t require a mathematical answer, but Overdeck then extrapolates a related question that does require math. For example, a kid-supplied question about the length of the trip from Earth to Pluto segues into a breakdown of figuring out how fast the New Horizons probe traveled. The concepts of Pi, circumference, area, and volume are introduced prior to the first chapter, and are used in many of the math problems, along with multiplication and division of small and large numbers. Also heavily featured in the answers is the conversion of units of measurement, but that concept isn’t explicitly explained. VERDICT Proof that word problems can be fun, this title is recommended for public and school libraries, especially those with established fans of the “Bedtime Math” series.–Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library

Regensburg, Jill. The Runaway Dandelion: Adventures in Sustainability. illus. by Leticia Plate. 48p. glossary. websites. EarthWard. May 2017. Tr $10.99. ISBN 9780998459608.

Gr 2-5 –An intentionally didactic introduction to the world of sustainable family living, complete with gardening, bread baking, and solar panels. Regensburg’s titular weed is kicked out of her old soil by cruel construction. When the dandelion’s seeds find a happier place to land, readers get a peek at a kinder world, one whose inhabitants compost, eat fruits and vegetables in season, splash in natural swimming pools, and so on—a whole bevy of techniques for wasting not and wanting not. The premise is flimsy, but the elements of sustainable living are impressive, comprehensive, and integrated into the particularities of everyday life in a way that may appeal to a young mind. The illustrations and text are laid out in a somewhat amateur fashion, but Plate’s friendly, relatable images of a family working together to help the earth complement detailed descriptions of sustainable living. VERDICT More how-to than narrative, this book is a compelling, if on-the-nose, read for elementary schoolers interested in learning basic and practical ways to live in harmony with nature.–Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Rhatigan, Joe. 50 Wacky Inventions Throughout History: Weird Inventions that Seem Too Crazy To Be Real! illus. by Celeste Aires. 112p. Walter Foster. Jun. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781633222946.

Gr 3-6 –Readers will leap from one crazy invention to another. The book is formatted with one-page illustrations and one-page descriptions for each of the 50 ideas. A “Finger-Nose” was invented to use a smartphone while taking a bath, a toilet paper hat was created to always have tissue handy, and a lawn mower with air conditioning was designed to make a chore easier. Although some of the inventions were made and used, many of them were just prototypes of something the inventor thought would be a solution to a problem. Some of the paragraphs describes how the invention was not developed, was unsafe, or was impractical, but some do not provide that information and will likely leave readers wanting more. However, the emphasis on problem-solving and creativity is appealing. VERDICT With cartoon illustrations and short paragraphs, this celebration of ingenuity is likely to entertain browsers. –Denise Moore, formerly at O’Gorman Junior High School, Sioux Falls, SD

Ross, Stewart. Following the Great Wall. illus. by Victo Ngai. ISBN 9781786571984.

––––. Wonders of Egypt. illus. by Vanina Starkoff. ISBN 9781786575388.

ea vol: 16p. (Unfolding Journeys). maps. Lonely Planet. Jun. 2017. pap. $17.99.

Gr 3-5 –These two new titles in the series take young armchair travelers on illustrated expeditions along the Nile River in Egypt and the Great Wall in China. Each title features a “pull-out wall frieze” with eight dual-sided stand-up card stock pages. One side of the concertina panels is a continuum of eye-catching and intriguing facts about historic, geographic, cultural, natural, and modern points of interest. These numbered, illustrated landmarks are sequentially located along (or near) the blue/green ribbon of the Nile and along the serpentine brick/stone/earthworks of the Great Wall. Artwork is crisp, colorful, and culturally distinctive and complements the engaging, informative text. The backsides of the illustrated panels offer more detailed information. Younger students will enjoy browsing these visually rich, readable travelogues which are best viewed by unfolding and displaying the entire concertina book at once. However, the lack of an index for accessing the diverse array of facts inhibits quick reference or research. VERDICT These illustrated travel titles will spark interest in natural and man-made wonders, but they are not easily handled, refolded, or referenced. In a school setting, they may be best shared in learning centers and displays.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

Seve, Karen De. National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Weather. 128p. (National Geographic Little Kids First Big Books). glossary. index. maps. notes. National Geographic. Mar. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781426327193.

PreS-Gr 3 –The newest entry in this interactive series offers readers a lively introduction to the science of weather systems. Each of the first six chapters covers a different type of weather children might experience, giving simple scientific explanations for phenomena such as heat waves, wind storms, and cloud formations. The last chapter discusses the concept of climate zones. Readers of all ages will enjoy the browsability of the colorful spreads, and the choice to divide the book into chapters based on weather types (hot, cold, rainy, windy, and cloudy) is developmentally appropriate for children who may not have examined the subject before. A small number of photographs show destruction of vehicles and buildings caused by extreme circumstances, but safety tips offer information as well as reassurance to those who might find these pictures frightening. As with all books in this series, questions and games incorporated throughout all sections invite critical thinking. Parental tips and front matter will help adults use the book with prereaders, while the back matter and pronunciation tips support fluent readers looking for specific topics and material. VERDICT The cheerful page layout, easily-grasped facts, and bright photographs make this another solid entry in a perennially favorite series.–Katherine Barr, Cameron Village Regional Library, NC

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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