December 12, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction: Animal Myths, Bone Books, Amazing Bodies, & More | December 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Balkan, Gabrielle. Book of Bones: 10 Record-Breaking Animals. illus. by Sam Brewster. 48p. glossary. Phaidon. Sept. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780714875125.

Gr 2-4 –A select menu of 10 disparate species has been selected for this oversize skeletal feast. The biggest, the fewest, the spikiest, the thinnest—all appear in stark white against inky black pages, with a colorful “Who Am I?” at the bottom, enticing readers to guess. Helpfully, the opposite page contains a paragraph of facts narrated by the critter in question, with three lifestyle clues thrown in to aim readers in the right direction. Turn the page (after guessing—no cheating!) to a colorful depiction of the living creature in its natural habitat, with another chatty paragraph of facts for the curious of mind. The blue whale, the reticulated giraffe, and the African bush elephant are among the usual suspects, but also included are such surprises as the Etruscan shrew, the peregrine falcon, and the great hammerhead shark. (Thrown in as a bonus is a page of a human skeleton for comparison.) Team this with Steve Jenkins’s nifty Bones: Skeletons and How They Work and Rob Colson’s attractive Bone Collection: Animals for a handsome trip to the boneyard. VERDICT Fun for the home-schooled, and an interesting approach to animal interiors for classroom teachers.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

Beer, Julie. Penguins vs. Puffins. 64p. further reading. index. photos. websites. National Geographic. Sept. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781426328695.

Gr 3-5 –This book presents a sports competition between cute penguins and adorable puffins and invites young readers to cheer their preferred team to victory. While the birds face off, a variety of animals run continuous commentary on an assortment of distinctive categories, such as “Outstanding Feet,” “Scariest Archnemesis,” and “Most Amazing Adaptation.” The fact-filled pages include puns, jokes, contests, cartoons, and the famed photography of National Geographic. Though whimsical in tone, the text is serious about presenting solid information on the life and habits of both avian species, emphasizing the many similarities between them as well as the differences that set them apart. In the section on “Best Parent,” the arduous 50-mile walk that mother penguins endure to bring food for their chicks and mates is clearly explained. For Puffins, the dangers from both sky and sea are ever-present as they guard their eggs and young from hungry predators. VERDICT Useful as an independent read for students interested in animal life and behavior and for classroom units on compare and contrast, this book will be a beneficial addition to most nonfiction collections.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, NY

Birdsell, Mary & Vera Lynne Stroup-Rentier. My Amazing Body at School/Mon incroyable corps a’ l’e’cole. tr. from French. photos by Mary Birdsell. 36p. (Learning My Way). glossary. photos. Finding My Way Bks. Apr. 2017. Tr $19.49. ISBN 9781944764791; pap. $9.25. ISBN 9781944764784. BL

K-Gr 2 –This book, one in a series of titles, sticks to a simple format: large, bright photographs of children illustrate the spare bilingual, large sans-serif text. Close-up photos of an arm, leg, hand, foot, mouth, and eye (in that order) appear first with the question, “What is it?” As the narrative progresses, the information becomes more specific (“a foot,” “Louka’s foot,” and “Louka uses his foot to stretch,” and in French it translates even more specifically as, “Louka uses his foot to stretch his legs out in front of him”). The six body parts are defined in both languages on page one, but the second brief final glossary doesn’t indicate part of speech, or French gender, a regrettable lapse (it also randomly italicizes some nouns and verbs but not others). There is a final list of comprehension questions in English only. VERDICT For beginning readers, bilingual or not, the engaging photos and repetition help reinforce very simple concepts.–Patricia D. Lothrop, formerly at St. George’s School, Newport, RI

Blanco, Cecilia. ¿Qué es esto? illus. by Daniel Löwy. 80p. glossary. Uranito. Aug. 2017. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9788416773336.

Gr 5-8 –Blanco offers a candid and revealing informational book in Spanish about gender and sex education. Readers will learn about the human body, puberty, sex, pregnancy, familiar contraceptive methods, and gender. The digitally produced illustrations are cartoonish and kid-friendly. The witty drawings and the youthful language enhance the overall reading experience. However, two pieces of information appear scientifically inaccurate when discussing the production of female eggs during puberty, and the suggestion that fetal sex cannot be determined until the last ultrasounds in pregnancy is suspect. In addition, the author employs the informal term barriga, widely used in Argentina, perhaps to infuse the narrative with a colloquial language approach, but which might render it too casual in an educative text that seeks to reach students of other nations. VERDICT With some caveats, the frank approach of this title will wonderfully serve middle grade students, teachers, and caregivers who are looking for a book to support sexual education in Spanish.–Kathia Ibacache, Simi Valley Public Library, CA

redstarElliott, Zetta. Benny Doesn’t Like To Be Hugged. illus. by Purple Wong. 42p. websites. Rosetta Pr. Sept. 2017. pap. $10. ISBN 9781548184896.

Toddler-Gr 1 –With sweet, colorful illustrations and straightforward text, this book explores acceptance and understanding between two young friends. The titular character falls somewhere on the Autism spectrum, and while the story isn’t told from his perspective, readers learn bits and pieces about Benny from his unnamed friend. The characteristics of Benny’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—like difficulty understanding joking tones, aversion to loud noises, and issues with sensory processing—define him just as much as his other personality traits: his love of trains, knowledge of everything about stars, and thoughtfulness as a friend. The much-needed message is one of loving others for what makes them unique. In a time when emphasis on social emotional learning is a growing focus in schools and childcare facilities, narratives that model and encourage empathy are increasingly important. Carefully and lovingly crafted by Elliott and Wong, this book includes a beautifully diverse cast of characters. The intentionality of this is noted in Elliott’s author’s note and is a welcome decision. The simple rhyming text, while imparting a lesson, is not overly didactic and a helpful list of websites directs parents and educators to useful resources. This could also be a conversation starter on the issue of consent. VERDICT There’s an audience of children ready for this title in every library and classroom. A first purchase, particularly for collections with little for or about children with ASD.–Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

Gliori, Debi. Night Shift. illus. by Debi Gliori. 32p. Penguin/Razorbill. Sept. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780451481733.

Gr 7 Up –At first glance, this may appear to be a picture book for young children; even the title belies its intent and audience. Instead, it is an eloquently worded story of the author’s experience of depression. Expressive imagery-heavy language, such as “The fog rolled in every night” and “But I had lost my compass and without it any map was pointless,” is accompanied by dark, splotchy wisps of gray and an illustrated spiky dragon that appears to follow the author everywhere. In short, lyrical sentences packed with meaning, Gliori defines “night skills” (“the ability to survive inside my own darkness”). The author’s note adds additional substance to the meaning of her narrative, but most will recognize the imagery and metaphors she uses. In her final note to readers, she states, “Being ill and unable to communicate how we feel is such a lonely business. My hope is that this book will help explain what we’re going through.” Counselors, therapists, and parents could easily use this as a discussion starter or a mentor text for helping adolescents who experience the effects of depression. VERDICT Discuss this thought-provoking personal story of depression with young adults.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

Gravel, Elise. If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel. illus. by Elise Gravel. 100p. Drawn & Quarterly. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781770462786.

Gr 3-5 –Gravel offers young artists a peek behind the curtain at her creative process. The book visually resembles Gravel’s own sketchbook, complete with an elastic band fastener. Text and attractive mixed-media illustrations never take themselves too seriously and speak directly to readers interested in developing their own artistic skills and abilities. Using an engaging, conversational tone, Gravel encourages the exploration of art and illustration, consistently returning throughout to core themes of fearlessness, silliness (heavy on the fart humor), and willingness to fail. She leads by example, sharing her own fanciful creations like the Big-Nosed Mimpus, a small North American mammal that is “pretty calm, except when it smells something bad—then it gets into a terrible rage.” Gravel also provides ample nuts-and-bolts illustration instruction with a more prosaic focus, offering great tutorials on drawing foxes, dogs, and punk rock bunnies. While not all students will reach for this title, its intended audience will find it a worthwhile choice. VERDICT Budding artists will find instruction, inspiration, and silly humor galore in this insider’s guide to drawing.–Ted McCoy, Leeds Elementary and RK Finn Ryan Road Elementary, MA

Grimm, Brothers. Hans in Luck: Seven Stories by the Brothers Grimm. adapted by Felix Hoffmann. illus. by Felix Hoffmann. 256p. North South. Sept. 2017. Tr $30. ISBN 9780735842816.

Gr 3-5 –Fairy tales have always inspired great illustrators such as Walter Crane, Leslie Brooke, and Arthur Rackham to enhance the simple and direct narratives and imbue the stories with emotion. Hoffmann does this brilliantly in this beautiful addition to the genre. The large design, illustrated in magnificent color, perfectly complements these seven tales. The frequent use of white space highlights the colorful comical flat figures in “Lucky Hans,” as well as the charm of the family at table and the little sister in the “Seven Ravens.” The expressive faces and postures of the animals and the human figures eloquently capture emotion from the fearsome figure of the witch in “Rapunzel” to the comical visage of the cow in “Tom Thumb.” The illustrations are exquisitely rendered in bright colors and the details are a pleasure to peruse and ponder. The titular story of this collection is said to be an adaptation by Hoffmann. However, in Jack Zipes’s The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: Third Edition, that version of “Lucky Hans” is almost identical to the one here. A clearer method of adaptation is pointed out in the afterward of “Rapunzel,” in which the ending was changed to satisfy the curiosity of Hoffmann’s children. VERDICT A most worthy addition to fairy-tale collections in school and public libraries.–Jackie Gropman, formerly at Chantilly Regional Library, VA

kergil, Skylar. Before I Had the Words: Being a Transgender Young Adult. 48p. Skyhorse. Sept. 2017. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781510723061.

Gr 7 Up –Kergil first came to prominence as a YouTube vlogger documenting his transition from female to male while in high school. Nowadays he tours college campuses as a trans activist and singer-songwriter. At the request of his fans, he wrote this memoir which spans from birth through the present day. The book starts off slow in a series of meandering childhood anecdotes and references to the popular toys of the era, but Kergil hits his stride when recounting middle and high school. He finishes the book with a series of recent interviews with members of his family, which bring an interesting external perspective to his story. One important note when recommending to readers is that Kergil reveals his birth name and many details of his transition—his surgery recovery process, for instance, is rather graphically described. These details will likely endear the book to most readers, but some may find them triggering. VERDICT While the writing is at times lacking, this is a solid purchase for libraries, especially those with a need for more LGBTQ-focused memoirs.–Shira Pilarski, Farmington Community Library, MT

Lakin, Patricia. Heroes Who Risked Everything for Freedom: Civil War. illus. by Valerio Fabbretti. 48p. (Secrets of American History). S. & S./Simon Spotlight. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481499736; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781481499729.

Gr 1-3 –This book reveals obscure facts about Civil War spies and the disguises, ciphers, and secret hand signals they used. The author assumes that readers may have some background knowledge on this topic, and provides a quick overview of the war. People such as Harriet Tubman, Mary Touvestre, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, Robert Smalls, and Elizabeth van Lew, and topics such as the Underground Railroad and the beginning and end of the war are all covered. Back matter includes short biographical sketches of women who served, a descriptive and illustrative summary of the U.S. flag, and an exercise with ciphers for young children to explore the world of decoding secret messages. There is also a reproducible quiz in the back of the book entitled, “Could You Be a Civil War Spy?” that tests the comprehension of the text. Cartoonlike illustrations depict scenes and people from the war and lend a narrative feel to the work. VERDICT An enticing addition to nonfiction easy reader collections.–Kristen Todd-Wurm, Middle Country Public Library, NY

Long, David. Pirates Magnified. illus. by Harry Bloom. 48p. glossary. Wide Eyed Editions. Sept. 2017. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781786030283.

Gr 3-6 –Sixteen spreads introduce all things pirate related in an engaging way, making this much more than a theme-specific search-and-find book. Delving into the Golden Age of Piracy, readers gain background knowledge about swashbuckling as well as certain figures in particular. These include Blackbeard, Black Bart, and Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. Meanwhile, readers are invited to spot 10 things on each spread. Cartoon illustrations are tiny, detailed, and at times humorous. The writing is clear, lively, and concise. A “Rogues Gallery” is included, giving very brief biographies of 21 pirates not mentioned in the previous pages. Further things to look for, an answer key, a “Talk like a Pirate” page, and glossary are appended. This is more for pleasure reading than report writing. The magnifying glass, attractively packaged in the front cover, is fun, and the book will still be useful if and when said lens goes missing. VERDICT This is a fine offering on a popular subject; entertaining and briefly informative for pirate enthusiasts and landlubbers alike.–Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI

McAllister, Angela. A World Full of Animal Stories: 50 Favorite Animal Folk Tales, Myths and Legends. illus. by Aitch. 128p. bibliog. Frances Lincoln. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781786030450.

K-Gr 3 –In this handsome volume, McAllister collects 50 short animal tales. Some stories, such as “The Elephant and the Blind Men” and “The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” may be familiar to readers. The majority of entries feature animal characters interacting with humans or mythological beasts. The stories are gentle rather than gory—no pigs are eaten in this version of “The Three Little Pigs”—and even villains tend to be chased away, never to be seen again. The content is organized by continent/country of origin (excluding Antarctica), and there are five to 12 tales from each area; Europe and North America are the largest sections. Some are associated with specific Indigenous nations/tribes; others are merely labeled “A Native American Indian Story” and include references to “the Great Spirit,” a troubling simplification. The back matter consists of a list of sources, mostly folk and fairy-tale collections from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though some stories are simply listed as “traditional.” The pencil-and-watercolor illustrations are detailed with bright, eye-catching splashes of color. There are spot illustrations on every page, with the occasional full-page spread. Human characters, when they appear, are portrayed in costume. Overall, the style is folksy, but not cartoonish. VERDICT A lack of consistent sourcing makes this a low-priority addition.–Misti Tidman, Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, OH

Mach, Jo Meserve & Vera Lynne Stroup- Rentier. Claire Wants a Boxing Name/Claire veut un nom de boxe: A True Story Promoting Inclusion and Self-Determination/Une histoire vraie promouvant l’inclusion et l’auto-détermination. tr. from French. photos by Mary Birdsell. 40p. glossary. photos. Finding My Way Bks. Jul. 2017. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9781944764999; pap. $10.49. ISBN 9781944764982. BL

K-Gr 3 –A bilingual English and French picture book featuring the story of a young girl named Claire. Claire has a facial difference, but she doesn’t let this get her down. She challenges herself through boxing with her instructor Vivian, who has a different sight ability. Claire patiently works through various exercises and moves in order to earn her boxing name. She is supported by her mother, Vivian, and the owner of the women’s boxing club, Savoy. Each page features multiple real-life photographs of Claire in action. The text is located underneath the pictures and is written in both English and French. Claire’s story touches upon important aspects of childhood: determination, motivation, overcoming challenges, and earning your keep. These universal themes will appeal to readers of all ages—and Claire and Vivian’s differences will be excellent conversation starters with children about embracing all abilities and surmounting stereotypes. The quality of the book is unfortunately hindered by an imprecise French translation, grammar mistakes in French, and inconsistent formatting. VERDICT This book possesses a strong narrative, but it falls short as a bilingual tool to support children in their acquisition of French or English.–Katherine Hickey, Metropolitan Library System, Oklahoma City

Westmoreland, Susan. Good Housekeeping Kids Cook!: 100+ Super-Easy, Delicious Recipes. 160p. chart. index. photos. Sterling/Hearst. Oct. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781618372406.

K-Gr 4 –Designed for the youngest cooks to work alongside their parents or for tweens to take pots in hand independently, this is a slightly above-average cookbook. For breakfast, kids can cook a classic cheese omelet or get fancy with chilaquiles. Young adventurous eaters will appreciate lunch options, which include veggie wraps with goat cheese, lemon-pepper chicken salad, and tomato soup with cupid croutons. A favorite spread for kids is sure to be the two-page recipe for “Best-Ever Hot Cocoa.” While there are a few vegetarian options, most main dish meals rely on animal proteins. Skill levels vary with some recipes simply requiring throwing four ingredients in a blender to mixing, roasting, slicing, chopping, and tossing up to 13 ingredients. The book is delightful to flip through with lovely full-color photographs, peppy illustrations, and welcoming fonts. Sprinkled throughout are a few photos of a diverse group of children, aged approximately seven to 11, demonstrating cooking or eating. VERDICT Visually pleasing, though not much different from other cookbooks. Consider based on collection needs.–Heather Acerro, Rochester Public Library, MN

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

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