February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | June 2016

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Braun, Eric. Trapped Behind Nazi Lines: The Story of the U.S. Army Air Force 807th Medical Evacuation Squadron. 224p. bibliog. chron. further reading. glossary. illus. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. Capstone. Jan. 2016. Tr $31.99. ISBN 9781491480427.

Gr 5 Up –Fans of survival stories and wartime thrillers will be immediately engaged by this tale. When their plane crashed deep in Nazi-occupied Albania, the members of the 807th were in very serious peril. Their spectacular crash drew attention from friends and foes alike, and unfortunately, as a squadron of nurses and medics, the 807th had virtually no weapons. With the help of Albanian rebels, the Americans were secreted away from the crash, then separated by a bombing strike, and finally led over treacherous mountain paths to rendezvous with British and American spies at the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Covered in lice, sick with dysentery, and walking uphill through blizzards, the 807th overcame insurmountable odds to make their escape to Italy and live to tell this gripping tale. The true story draws on primary sources (the autobiographies of members of the squadron) to create a tense wild-goose chase, with the threat of Nazis lurking behind every treeline. Better yet, this is a real World War II story that has not, before now, yet been adapted for young readers. Readers who love Scholastic’s historical “I Survived” books will find this true story of escape truly amazing. VERDICT A very readable addition to World War II history collections.–Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

Bugni, Alice. Beluga Whales, Grizzly Tales, and More Alaska Kidsnacks: Fun Recipes for Cooking with Kids. illus. by Erik Brooks. 32p. Sasquatch. Mar. 2016. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781570619991.

PreS-Gr 3 –A collection of 25 brief recipes with Alaska-themed names, such as gold nuggets (caramel popcorn), grizzly tales (pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate and candy sprinkles), and pig in a pipeline (sausages wrapped in crescent roll dough). The recipes rely heavily on processed foods such as instant pudding, beverage mixes, food coloring, corn syrup, and ready-made cookie dough. Fresh vegetables (celery stalks and onions) are used in two recipes, and fresh fruit (cooked into applesauce) features in one. The directions frequently require appliances or tools that are unsafe for small children, leaving little for young helpers to do. Each page includes a sentence describing an aspect of Alaskan life; however, there is little that connects these recipes to that location; they could as easily have been named after characteristics of any other state. The small font, absence of a glossary of cooking terms, and two introductory pages directed at adult readers indicate that the book is not intended for children to use alone. With its paperback binding, the volume does not lie flat for easy reference. The colorful watercolor illustrations do steal the show, making the work a visually pleasing experience. VERDICT Considering the universal movement toward living a health-conscious lifestyle, this title is unlikely to be popular. Families seeking a more healthy option that actively invites young cooks to participate should seek out Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup and Other Real Recipes.–Laura Simeon, Open Window School, WA

ConCrafter. Minecraft by ConCrafter: An Unofficial Guide with New Facts and Commands. 240p. diag. illus. Feiwel & Friends. Feb. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781250105660.

Gr 4-8 –Students who are obsessed with Minecraft (an increasing number of any school’s population) will be pleased to find this book in their library’s collection. The author, Concrafter, a well-known YouTube star, provides 107 unpublished facts and 12 cool commands for lovers of all things Minecraft. Getting his start on YouTube as a simple gamer, Concrafter marketed himself as a video creator who was different than the rest. He found his niche in the video-gaming “how-to” world by providing viewers with snippets of things they hadn’t seen before. Intermixing background information with personal stories, this title guides novices, as well as experts, through commands, codes, and tricks that add excitement and longevity to playing time. VERDICT An up-to-date and relevant guide for all the young Minecraft lovers of the world.–Amy Caldera, Dripping Springs Middle School, Dripping Springs, TX

Eszterhas, Suzi. Orangutan Orphanage. photos by Suzi Eszterhas. 44p. (Wildlife Rescue: Bk. 2). bibliog. glossary. index. Owlkids. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781771471411.

Gr 2-5 –Animal lovers will welcome this overview of the work being done by Orangutan Foundation International’s Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine in Borneo. Author and photographer Eszterhas satisfyingly documents this facility’s efforts to care for and return rescued orphan orangutans to a safe natural environment. Specially trained volunteers (mostly comprised of women) from the neighboring village of Pasir Panjang tend to the young apes, nurturing the animals until they are ready to live on their own. As Eszterhas documents this special bonding process, readers will learn about the orangutan’s diet, behaviors, and characteristics. Material is organized into short, readable sections identified with helpful headings. Eszterhas attributes emotions to the creatures; for example, “When the babies arrive, they are frightened and sad, and they miss their mothers so much that they cry at night.” Excellent, crisp, and well-composed full-color photographs fill the work and are the highlight of this book. Varying in size, the images capture the personalities of the orangutans, showcase the animals’ behaviors, and illustrate how their human keepers interact with the animals. There are many wonderful close-ups, such as a baby orangutan sitting on a scale with a stuffed toy and another of a young orangutan at bath time. Not all pictures are captioned. Back matter includes a section where Eszterhas answers common questions. VERDICT This selection offers a fine and valuable look at how humans can preserve and protect wildlife and will do well elementary school libraries.–Lynn Vanca, Freelance Librarian, Akron, OH

Evan, Shira. Day and Night. 48p. (National Geographic Readers). photos. National Geographic. Apr. 2016. pap. $4.99. ISBN 9781426324703.

K-Gr 2 –What causes day and night? What happens to plants and animals during these distinctly different times? These questions are answered in this simple and interactive book intended for beginning readers to enjoy with an adult or a more fluent buddy. Clear photos are placed on brightly colored pages with limited text, and each of the five short chapters concludes with a “Your Turn” page that encourages recall of the facts presented. A larger font is used on alternating pages throughout the book to distinguish between the “You Read” sections, which are designated for more experienced readers, and the “I Read” sections, which accommodate beginners. The inclusion of a contents page, headings, bold print, and labels will add to students’ understanding of nonfiction attributes, and the book can be used for instructional purposes as well as for shared or independent reading. VERDICT A simple but solid offering for libraries and classrooms.–Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT

Fábulas de Esopo. tr. from Italian by Lorenzo Fasanini. illus. and adapt. by Anna Laura Cantone. 48p. (Cuentos Clásicos). photos. Obelisco. Jan. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9788416117574.

Gr 1-4 –A good overview of Aesop’s fables that could be used in a unit on classic tales or storytelling for an early-elementary group. The illustrations bring out the humor in the tales, utilizing a collagelike combination of cartoonish drawings and photographs of modern products. (The grasshopper in “La cigarra y las hormigas” is enjoying some popcorn and a beverage with a little umbrella in it while watching the ants prepare for winter.) The text, translated from Italian into Spanish, flows well and would work as a read-aloud with an elementary group. Some of the trickery in the stories may seem a bit harsh to modern readers but can serve as an introduction to a discussion providing more historical or cultural context. VERDICT Recommended for collections needing more folktales in Spanish.–Gesse Stark-Smith, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Forest, Heather. Ancient and Epic Tales: From Around the World. 175p. (Tales from Around the World: Bk. 3). bibliog. notes. August Pr. Feb. 2016. Tr $29.95. ISBN 9781941460351. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9781939160874.

Gr 4-7 –This mix of 29 short portions of myths, fables, and folktales will excite interest. Forest’s selection, documentation, and skillful storytelling represent a monumental expertise. In the introduction, Forest explains that with such a plethora of material spanning centuries and continents, it was certainly a challenging selection process. She decided initially to narrow it down to stories with lively plots and characters and themes relevant to contemporary life, going on to then single out pivotal, attention-grabbing moments, within those selected tales as a way to encourage readers to seek out the full text. These entries present a mix of ancient, modern, and contemporary settings, and there are a large number of stories from countries such as Anatolia, China, Egypt, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, Persia, Rome, and South America. Each is a short taste of the epic it represents, with familiar tales (Odysseus outwitting the Cyclops; Thor retrieving his hammer) and lesser-known ones (Hunahpu and Xbalanque bringing the world corn; Finn MacCoul the giant). The magical text would have benefited from some matching illustrations. VERDICT Get one copy and hope for an audio edition.–Nancy Call, Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Aptos, CA

Green, Dan. Rebel Science. illus. by David Lyttleton. 80p. glossary. index. Sterling. Mar. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781454919452.

Gr 4-7 –Green’s irreverent overview of scientific history stresses the one-upmanship compelling researchers to reject and demolish prevailing theories. Developments in a dozen subject areas, including the solar system, light, forces, anatomy, and genetics, are presented roughly chronologically. If readers follow the main “path” through a topic, they eventually reach a summary box of “key discoveries.” However, numerous “route-finder” detours plus cross-references in text boxes can divert them to pathways in other topics and confuse as much as clarify. “Face-off” pages pit opponents against each other. Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke rap about who is greater, and Joseph Priestly and Antoine Lavoisier wield oxygen-spewing hoses to send each other’s ideas up in flames. Rarely are the scientists shown as collaborators. Only Leo Szilard and Robert Oppenheimer, whose research led to the atom bomb, consider the possible negative applications of their work. Otherwise all scientific discoveries, from Louis Pasteur’s cures for diseases to Craig Venter’s gene manipulations, are celebrated unquestioningly. Pun-filled, breezy writing and clever monikers such as “Germ Terminator” and “Super-Fly Guy” may attract browsers, particularly those who enjoy insults and put-downs. Pages are crammed with caricatures accompanying thumbnail sketches of featured scientists plus text boxes with additional information. Only eight women and five non-Western scientists appear. Many biographies lack birth and death dates. Some don’t provide first names except in the index. VERDICT This presentation of scientists as iconoclastic superheroes may attract some browser attention but won’t add much to science collections.–Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University Library, Mankato

Helms, Antje. My Body: Explained and Illustrated. illus. by Golden Section Graphics. 48p. diag. illus. Little Gestalten. Mar. 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9783899557121.

Gr 3-6 –This title is a blend of design and language for an artful introduction to human anatomy. Twenty-three sections divvy up the body from skeleton to reproduction. While the book is a German import, the writing is colloquial and friendly: the skeleton is referred to as sturdy scaffolding; the skull is a natural hard hat; and joints are smooth operators. Each spread explains the topic at hand, with some receiving a full spread (nerves) and others sharing a spread with similar or related features (smell and taste). The graphiclike illustrations, rendered in soft hues, are large and clear, often using a shaded-out human figure to highlight the topic subject—illuminated skeletons, bright circulatory systems, and bold organs all direct readers’ eyes. Occasional insets zoom in on a nail bed or the blood stream. Key words appear in white capsulelike shapes and are defined within the text (there is no glossary) and, at times, further explained in sidebars. A few concerns: the lack of an index and the white text, placed over colored backgrounds, can be a strain to read. In addition, this title appears to be geared toward a male audience, as menstruation is covered in a single sentence and is followed by the questionable statement “Once that happens [menstruation], the sex hormones are in charge,” without a specific explanation of “sex hormones” and a clarification of what “in charge” entails. VERDICT This title is best shared with a caring adult; consider where kid-friendly design books are popular.–Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI

Jazynka, Kitson with Daniel Raven-Ellison. Panda Rescue: All About Pandas and How To Save Them. ISBN 9781426320880.

Musgrave, Ruth A. with Daniel Raven-Ellison. Shark Rescue: All About Sharks and How To Save Them. ISBN 9781426320903.

ea vol: 112p. (NG Kids Mission: Animal Rescue). further reading. illus. index. maps. photos. websites. National Geographic. Mar. 2016. pap. $12.99.

Gr 4-7 –These books provide general background information about the topic animal—largely focusing on conservation efforts. Each title includes interviews with scientists and conservationists, graphics about ways students can get involved in the preservation of these creatures, and information about why pandas and sharks are becoming endangered. The books feature several engaging visual elements: sidebars that resemble comic strips, fact boxes, and large photographs. The images are bright, appealing, and eye-catching. Though the pages are broken up with visual elements, many include dense blocks of text. The photos are sure to engage reluctant readers, but the text itself may be better utilized by those with previous background knowledge. The comprehensive back matter is well organized and great for reports. There are student-friendly print and online resources, as well as lists of conservation organizations and international zoos and research centers where sharks and pandas can be seen. VERDICT Purchase for collections where HMH’s “Scientists in the Field” is popular or for schools with active conservation clubs.–Celia Dillon, The Brearley School, New York

Lemke, Donald. Super Humans! ISBN 9780062341730.

Webster, Christy. Biggest and Smallest! ISBN 9780062341785.

ea vol: 176p. (Guinness World Records). photos. HarperCollins. Feb. 2016. pap. $12.99.

Gr 4-7 –Records set by humans doing everyday and extraordinary things are the focus of Super Humans! Clear, up-close photographs of people doing skateboard tricks and a watermelon being smashed by a human head will intrigue the upper–elementary and middle school set. The text boxes are imbedded in the photographs they describe to reduce confusion. Additional fact boxes are inserted to clarify vocabulary new to readers. The graphics are well designed for clarity of content as well as visual appeal. Because size always matters to kids (whether it has to do with cookies, cars, or critters), the new Biggest and Smallest entry will be read and reread until it falls apart. Beautiful, full-color, close-up photos of dogs surfing in open water, the largest display of fruit, and a 15-pound wedding cake will certainly grab their attention. This volume is divided into sections such as “Animals,” “Games,” “Food,” “Artistry,” “Vehicles,” “Curiosities,” and “Achievements.” The inclusion of people of diverse ages and ethnicities and various geographical areas throughout these volumes ensures readers will be introduced to different world cultures in a high-interest way. VERDICT Fans of the series can’t go wrong with these additions.–Elizabeth Swartz, Warrior Run School District, PA

Messi, Superstar: His Records, His Life, His Epic Awesomeness. illus. by Jon Stollberg. 140p. further reading. glossary. index. Duo Pr. Apr. 2016. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781938093579.

Gr 3-5 –A biography of the soccer star Lionel Messi, who has played for teams Barcelona and Argentina. The unfocused narration covers a wide range of soccer facts: the text jumps from biographical information and comparisons to other soccer players, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, to a brief exploration of famous soccer academy uniform shirts. Many quotes praising Messi are from lesser-known individuals such as teammates, managers, and coaches and are randomly inserted among the pages. Comments from an intrusive narrator detract from information that might possibly be useful for a report. For instance, when discussing the routine of players who live at La Masia Youth Academy, where Messi once spent some time, the text ends with “You know all that exciting stuff.” Five short quizzes are appended; however, there are no photographs. Rather, the artwork consists of digital cartoonlike illustrations. While picture graphs of goal records are intriguing, some of the remaining illustrations are used as filler and are subsequently pointless. VERDICT Not recommended due to the unorganized and often confusing nature.–Blair Christolon, Prince William Public Library System, Manassas, VA

Schneider, Steven P. The Magic of Mariachi/La magia del Mariachi. illus. by Reefka Schneider. 64p. ebook available. Wings Pr. Apr. 2016. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781609405052. BL.

Gr 9 Up –Twenty-four bilingual poems, observations, and essays are featured opposite soft-hued portraits of mariachi musicians. The large trim size invites an appreciative perusal of the myriad faces of musical passion. Youthful twin trumpeters and a more mature gentleman with his green guitar are but a sample of the grace inherent in mariachi conjuntos worldwide. Highlighting the elaborate moños tied carefully around proud necks and the embroidered jackets of the trajes de charro (fancy, stylized suits), Schneider’s pastel, charcoal, and watercolor compositions evolve into the kaleidoscopic image that is mariachi culture. Some of the poems pay tribute to the elaborate dress of a youthful guitarist and some to the instruments held within calloused hands, but all strive to give voice to the discipline and struggle each musician embraces. The illustrations are more successful as a whole than the text. There are instances where the verse plods and others where the imagery merely fails to ignite. “He has mastered the ratios/The proportions of the notes.” Yet there are stanzas that create a vivid sense of place. “The moonlight shines on the marichera/A silver hoop dangling from her right ear—/Her bow is poised on the violin’s strings;/The music she plays is rapturous and clear.” VERDICT The previous collaboration of this husband-wife team, Borderlines: Drawing Border Lives, was a more balanced effort, but this labor of love will nonetheless be welcomed by mariachi aficionados.–Mary Margaret Mercado, Pima County Public Library, Tucson, AZ

Thomas, Isabel. 23 Ways To Be an Eco Hero: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creative Ways You Can Save the World. illus. by Chris Andrews. 64p. (23 Ways To Be). diag. glossary. index. websites. Quarto. Mar. 2016. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781609929213.

Gr 4-6 –This title takes a crafty approach to cleaning up and sustaining the environment. Concrete suggestions for 23 activities that are both kid- and classroom-friendly are presented in each well-organized, numbered, and illustrated spread. Adult help is required for those projects that involve cutting or sawing, which is clearly noted. Several ideas stand out; for example, creating a “Power Ranger” (a door or window draft stopper) from old socks is proposed. “Let It Rain,” waters potted plants by collecting and filtering rainwater from two-liter plastic bottles. Even using old comics to decoupage a table is suggested as a way to refurbish a table and recycle old papers. Almost all activities are accompanied by sidebars explaining or expanding on an ecological issue. The “Super Stool” project details how corrugated cardboard is made and why it is important to come up with new uses for it (like making a cardboard chair). VERDICT Altogether this is an accessible and useful collection of highly doable, eco-friendly activities.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

Weird but True Gross: 300 Slimy, Sticky, and Smelly Facts. 208p. (Weird but True). illus. index. photos. National Geographic. Mar. 2016. lib. ed. $17.90. ISBN 9781426323362. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781426323355.

Gr 2-4 –For many children, “gross” and “fascinating” are synonymous. This latest series installment provides plenty of fodder over which readers can marvel and exclaim. This volume reads like a collection of Pinterest quotes. Each page contains one or two brief facts, most of which are related to bodily fluids or processes—all illustrated with photos and typeset in colorful, eye-catching fonts. Some are historical: “During the 1500s, Brits soaked fabrics in stale urine to help bind color dyes to cloth.” Others refer to world records or interesting statistics. There is a detailed subject index and a complete listing of photo credits, but no source references. VERDICT Visually appealing and absolutely disgusting, this highly browsable book is best for the “general facts” shelves in public and school libraries.–Maggi Rohde, Ann Arbor Public Schools, MI

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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