February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Curveballs, Cooking, and a ‘Cosmobiography’ | Nonfiction Notes, May 2014

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This month’s selections include titles that will satisfy readers with passions from music to cooking. Look for Chris Raschka’s latest title, a picture book biography of Sun Ra; a story about the life and death of that last known saddleback tortoise; and books that examine the science behind cooking and sports feats. All will make great additions to summer reading lists.

racingdriverChapman, Giles. Racing Driver. (Thames & Hudson; Gr 3-5).
For children who can’t learn enough about stock cars, IndyCar, NASCAR, and Formula 1, here’s a book that will satisfy them. This “step-by-step” guide to racing offers a bit about the history of the sport, discusses the types and design of vehicles used over the years (including some “classics” and a number of the record breakers), and considers the decisions a team must make before and during a race. Two-page chapters on topics from “Driver Safety” to “Inside a Stock Car” provide plenty of exciting color photos, labeled diagrams, and sequential sketches. Each spread is introduced through a paragraph of information, while detailed captions provide additional facts. Readers are put in the driver’s seat in the pages on “Race Tactics” and “Take a Driving Test” (multiple choice options as they travel around a track). Fast facts and loads of specialized vocabulary (”chassis,” street circuit,” “gearboxes,” “lollipop baton,” and “safety frame”) are included. While not particularly text heavy, this is a high-interest title, sure to excite fans of the sport. Other titles in the series are Flight School (2012) and Space Academy (2013).

cosmoRaschka, Chris. The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra. (Candlewick; Gr 1 Up). illus. by author.
“Sun Ra always said that he came from Saturn. Now, you and I know that this is silly. No one comes from Saturn. And yet. If he did come from Saturn, it would explain so much.” So begins this “cosmobiography” of the jazz musician born Herman P. “Sonny” Blount in Birmingham, AL, who changed his name to Sun Ra. Raschka’s text is both minimal and precise—along with his fluid artwork, featuring his characteristic black line, layers of colors, and dabs of white paint, it celebrates this independent, free spirit, who wore “robes of purple cotton, silk scarves, bone necklaces, and crown of shining metal foil” and who traveled around the world “playing, singing, and dancing for people who spoke every language.” A brilliant addition to Raschka’s oeuvre.

startingfromscratchElton, Sarah. Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking. (Owl Kids; Gr 5-10). illus by Jeff Kulak.
All around us are fast food options and grocery stores are filled with frozen or quick-prep meals. So why should kids and teens invest time in learning to cook? Elton begins her book with a list of reasons including–and perhaps introducing to this audience–the idea that cooking is a way of caring for oneself and and communicating with others. Her book covers the science (taste, heat, preservation, etc); math (measurement, ratios.); art (flavor); and community (cuisines, cultural and religious beliefs, table settings in different countries); of cooking, as well as some of the more practical aspects such as reading a recipe, food safety, and cleaning up. There’s more than enough in this encouraging book to get aspiring chefs started and plenty for confirmed foodies who enjoy working in the kitchen. Recipes included.

George, Jean Craighead. Galápagos George. (HarperCollins; Gr 2-5). illus. by Wendell Minor.
Charles Darwin’s 1835 visit to the Galágeorgepgos Islands–and what he saw there, including his observation of the tortoise and finch populations—inspired his well-known On the Origin of Species. In George, the author zeroes in on the life and death (in 1972 on Pinta Island) of the last remaining saddleback tortoise known to exist. (Saddlebacks were characterized by long necks and “flared” shells that allowed the species room to stretch their necks to reach to eat plants that grew above the ground.) She offers information on how the species arrived on the Galápagos millennia ago and the decimation of the tortoise population in the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of hunting and the introduction of non-native animals including rats, and pigs and goats. The book offers a look at the evolution of a species and of one particular creature, as well as the changes wrought by time, nature, and humankind on an island. Use this title in conjunction with Jason Chin’s Island: A Story of the Galápagos (Roaring Brook, 2012) for a closer look at the evolution of these islands.

headsuppsychologyWeeks, Marcus. Heads Up Psychology. (DK Publishing; Gr 7 Up).
This brisk survey of the field briefly presents research methodologies and considers the essential questions psychologists ask and explore about human behavior. Five broad queries are addressed: What makes us tick? What does my brain do? How does my mind work? What makes us unique? And where do I fit it? Both the history of the scientists’ approach to these questions and what current research tells us are examined. Related experiments and their results are noted. Some of the most important practitioners of the science, such as Sigmund Freud and Ivan Pavlov, are considered in brief biographical profiles. The many visuals, which include charts, photos, and graphics, will help illuminate concepts for readers. The book’s layout and varying font sizes add appeal. The volume does a good job suggesting the range of the discipline while targeting the interests and concerns of its intended audience—young adults on the verge of discovering who they are.

sodabottleschoolKutner, Laura and Suzanne Slade. The Soda Bottle School: A True Story of Recycling, Teamwork, and One Crazy Idea. (Tilbury House; Gr 2-4). illus. by Aileen Darragh.
In schools across the country, both signs and educators remind children to “reduce, reuse, recycle,” but how these acts impact a community isn’t always visible. Here’s a book that’s both a call to action and a look at a how one group of children and their families made a huge difference through determination and loads of hard work. As the author explains, the people of Granados, Guatemala had “two huge problems in 2007. Their trash piles were too big, and their school was too small.” This picture book documents a resourceful teacher’s “crazy idea” that supplied the school with the necessary materials to expand, and freed this tiny town of its litter. An endnote adds details, including the impact this project had on nearby villages. Warm watercolor art and color photos of some of the participants illustrate the book.

athomeinhertombLiu-Perkins, Christine. At Home in Her Tomb. (Charlesbridge; Gr 6-10). illus. by Sarah S. Brannen.
In 1971, in Changsha, China, workers digging in the area of two large mounds struck white clay and methane gas—two indications that they were possibly in the vicinity of an ancient tomb. White clay was known to be used as an tomb sealant, and the gas suggested the decomposition of organic material. Three tombs were discovered–that of Li Chang, appointed chancellor of the Changsha Kingdom in 202 BCE; Lady Dai, his wife; and one of one of their sons. The tombs, especially that of Lady Dai and her son, yielded extraordinary treasures: reams of silk, food stuffs, recipes, lacquerware, figurines, game boards, and the first feiyi (a silk painting in the shape of a T) ever discovered. Fifty ancient texts were also unearthed, including guides to health and healing and two copies of the Laozi, the “main Daoist text.”  Unlike the other two tombs, the seal of Lady Dai’s had not been broken, and her body was so well preserved that an autopsy was possible. As the author frames it, this find was essentially the discovery of a 2000-year-old time capsule. Color photos, including a few that may make readers queasy, illustrate.

whyacurveballcurvesWhy a Curveball Curves: The Incredible Science of Sports. (New ed.) (Popular Mechanics; Gr 10 Up). Covering a range of sports from baseball and bowling to hockey and tennis, this guide was written with both the athlete and fan in mind. Science and math play roles in the discussions on the anatomy of a knock out punch, the tennis serve, the long pass in football, and other athletic feats. There are many discussions of spectacular plays or games by specific players and coverage of such topics as doping in sports, contemporary helmet design, and research in the area of sport injuries. While the thought of physics class may be daunting for some students, there are plenty of fascinating science lessons to be learned here. Color photos, labeled drawings, and diagrams illuminate concepts.

For additional suggestions of nonfiction titles to add to your collection, take a look at our March and April “Nonfiction Notes” columns.

Curriculum Connections

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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  1. Great list! Thank you!