February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Tenacious Trailblazers | SLJ Spotlight

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When discussing innovations, whether they are related to science, sports, or even backyard fun, it is important to give proper respect to those responsible. These titles provide an engaging and lively look at the individuals behind such beloved cultural artifacts as the Super Soaker and baseball or, in the case of Tiny Stitches, a poignant portrait of Vivien Thomas and his contributions to the medical community.

Barton, Chris. Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. illus. by Don Tate. 32p. ebook available. Charlesbridge. May 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781580892971. NF-Whoosh

Gr 2-5 –As a child, Lonnie Johnson was a “tinkerer,” or an avid collector of pieces and parts—all things that were considered scrap but that to Johnson were perfectly ripe for new applications. Early projects included rockets, a robot, and a powerful sound system for parties. Johnson’s engineering degree took him to NASA, where he worked on the Galileo orbiter and probe. What Johnson really wanted to do, however, was build his own inventions. When trying to find an environmentally friendly solution to refrigerator and air-conditioning cooling systems, he stumbled upon what would eventually become his opus, the Super Soaker. Readers follow the many obstacles and setbacks Johnson experienced as he tirelessly worked to launch his invention. The narrative—based primarily on personal interviews the author had with Johnson—adeptly captures the passion and dedication necessary to be an engineer. The cartoonlike illustrations, rendered digitally with Manga Studio, combine child appeal with enough realism to accurately convey various scientific elements. Great care is taken to portray the institutional racism Johnson experienced, such as school tests that tried to dissuade his interest in engineering and his competing in a 1968 science fair in the newly desegregated but unwelcoming University of Alabama. The author’s note explains Barton’s mission to diversify common perceptions of what scientists and engineers look like and who they can be. This engaging and informative picture book exploration of Johnson’s life succeeds in that right. VERDICT Highly recommended for STEM and maker collections.–Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA

Baseball: Then to WOW! 80p. chron. illus. photos. Time/Sports Illustrated. Apr. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781618931429.  NF-Baseball then to wow

Gr 1-3 –Every aspect of our national pastime is covered in this attractive title. Using a time line format to tackle various decades, the editors provide details on players, umpires, dynasties, minor league teams, and even marketing. Readers learn about equipment, the evolution of many of the game’s techniques and strategies, stadiums, and the best fielders, pitchers, and sluggers. Especially appealing are the lists of milestones for home runs, hits, and strikeouts. Though books such as Janet Wyman Coleman’s Baseball for Everyone and Howard Bryant’s Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Baseball contain more in-depth chapters, this title covers more ground. For instance, in addition to presenting a discussion of the first African Americans into the major leagues, this work offers information on Latin American players’ influence on the sport. The chapter entitled “Fan-tastic” covers the fan experience and describes everything from baseball cards to ballpark foods. The text is complemented by well-placed photographs of teams and players as well as pencil drawings. VERDICT The comprehensiveness of this book combined with an appealing format and colorful photographs makes this a smart purchase for libraries needing updated works on this perennially favorite topic.–Margaret Nunes, Gwinnett County Public Library, GA

Hooks, Gwendolyn. Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas. illus. by Colin Bootman. 32p. bibliog. further reading. glossary. notes. Lee & Low. May 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781620141564. NF-Tiny Stitches

Gr 2-5 –A picture book biography about the genius and research of Vivien Thomas, who pioneered open-heart surgery for infants, specifically to treat newborns afflicted with tetralogy of Fallot, or blue baby syndrome, a previously fatal condition. Trained as a carpenter and working alongside his father by age 13, Thomas dreamed of going to college. After losing his savings in the October 1929 stock market crash, Thomas accepted a job at Vanderbilt University as a research technician under Dr. Alfred Blalock. Expressive watercolor illustrations depict Thomas’s dedication. He is shown practicing techniques, working in the lab, and researching in the library. The narrative covers many examples of the racism that Thomas faced, including less pay, housing discrimination, and the press’s failure to acknowledge his development of what was later named the Blalock-Taussig shunt. By focusing on the enormous talent and skill of Thomas and depicting instances in which he was dismissed by white coworkers and by the media, the text is an insight into not only this innovator’s life but the social and institutional conditions that allow for African American contributions in medicine and science to go largely unrecognized. Extensive author’s notes provide more information about tetralogy of Fallot and about Thomas himself. VERDICT An important addition for STEM or biography collections for its exceptional coverage.–Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA

These reviews were published in School Library Journal’s May 2016 issue.

Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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