February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | July 2016

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1607-Xpress-Nonfic-CVsAnderson, Holly Lynn. The Presidential Election Process. ISBN 9781619000940.

Ziff, John. The Modern Democratic Party. ISBN 9781619000919.

ea vol: 64p. (American Politics Today). chart. chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Eldorado Ink. Mar. 2016. lib. ed. $33.95.

Gr 9 Up –These titles set out to demystify some of the complexities of contemporary U.S. politics. In Presidential Election Process, Anderson begins by describing how the election process has evolved from the 18th century until now—covering eligibility requirements, the functions of primaries and caucuses, fund-raising and attention-getting, the general election, and the inauguration. In Modern Democratic Party, Ziff discusses how the party has evolved over the years, and recounts events that spurred a trend of Democratic election losses in the 1970s and 1980s, the rise of the “New Democrats,” the setbacks and successes of the 1990s and 2000s, and  what the future of the party looks like. The text is dense with statistics, quotes, political terminology, and definitions, but all are presented in a straightforward manner. Occasional color photographs break up the dense text. Both titles contain little to no bias. Even Modern Democratic Party, which focuses on one party, has a clinical, detached approach that does not champion the party. The only wrinkle in an otherwise smooth presentation is the explanation of the electoral college in Presidential Election Process. Anderson explains correctly that the popular vote does not directly determine the winner; however, some aspects are confusing. She writes that in the 2000 election, Al Gore won the popular vote by more than half a million votes. She goes on to say that George W. Bush won the popular vote in 30 states and Gore won the popular vote in 20—making it seem like Bush won the popular vote as well. A works cited list is lacking. VERDICT These informative volumes are good for reports, especially with the upcoming election.–Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

Cherry, Georgia. City Atlas: Travel the World with 30 City Maps. illus. by Martin Haake. 64p. Wide Eyed Editions. May 2016. Tr $27.99. ISBN 9781847807014.

K-Gr 3 –This effort highlights 30 international cities. Each spread offers a sidebar listing the city name, population, language spoken, country, and country’s flag along with a short summary. Readers are greeted with a local salutation for each place: “Merhaba,” says a girl from Istanbul, while New Yorkers say, “Hi, there!” and Chicagoans say, “Hello.” These aren’t really maps per se—waterways are named, but streets are not; there is no scale; the divisions between city and country are not clear or often missing; and the coverage is spotty. For instance, the New York spread does not name Staten Island, Queens, or the Bronx (a sliver of Brooklyn is labeled). The distribution of the cities featured is largely uneven—most of the maps are European or North American, and there is only one map representing Africa. The appeal is in the folksy and colorful illustrations of each location’s top sites. In the Budapest spread, right next to a portrait of Stephen I on a horse is an ice-skating penguin (“Get your skates on at the city park ice rink”), along with the Hungarian Parliament Building, and much more. Lacking an index, this is suitable for browsing only. VERDICT Attractive but lacks real substance.–Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI

Crazy, Totally Awesome Facts. 224p. photos. little bee. Apr. 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781499802115.

Gr 3-6 –Did you know that the world’s largest burger weighs 134 pounds? Or that the Statue of Liberty is hit by around 600 bolts of lightning every year? These are just two of the 1,250 facts readers will discover in this volume covering everything from animals to outer space. There is also a chapter on crazy records, which is sure to please fans of the “Guinness World Records” series. While not all of the photographs are particularly eye-catching, the layout of each page is sure to attract reluctant readers with accessible sidebars in the form of notecards, spiral paper, and general circles. Pair this title with National Geographic Kids’s “5,000 Awesome Facts (About Everything!)” books to satisfy your most voracious fact finders. VERDICT A general purchase where fact books are in demand.–Joy Poynor, formerly at Rogers Public Library, AR

Healy, Nick & Kristen McCurry. Image & Imagination: Ideas and Inspiration for Teen Writers. 256p. photos. Capstone/Switch. Mar. 2016. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781630790448.

Gr 8 Up –A wonderful tool to inspire even the most unambitious student writer. This self-proclaimed nonworkbook (“This isn’t a workbook…you don’t have to do what the prompts ask”) reads like a personal diary: a space for students to throw caution—and all writing rules—to the wind. One hundred and fifty writing and imagery prompts attempt to get those creative juices flowing with an emphasis on the basics: getting the words out, revising, and sharing with others (if desired). Each prompt is paired with an image. Some are directly related to each other (a photo of a wacky house has the prompt “Write a poem about the person who lives here”), while others are a bit more tenuous (“What’s your problem?” is paired with an image of a lion in a cage). Other exercises use quotes by famous authors to demonstrate or clarify the prompt (“Describe the feeling of impact” is accompanied by a related excerpt of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief). Each page is more beautiful than the next. VERDICT Plenty of writing space is waiting to be filled with ideas, poems, and stories—inspired by this volume—from the mind of teens. Perhaps not a good choice for circulation. Still, use this in creative writing exercises or give the book to students and watch the magic happen.–Elizabeth Anne Ragain, Springfield Public Schools, MO

Hill, David. First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure. illus. by Phoebe Morris. 32p. chron. Puffin. May 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780143506874.

Gr 2-4 –This enjoyable picture book biography of famed mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary crafts a vibrant picture of Hillary and offers just enough information for a biography report. While the primary focus is on the inaugural climb of Mount Everest, this New Zealander’s whole life is explored. The conversational style of the text in this import includes some vocabulary from New Zealand that may be unfamiliar to American children but whose meaning is easily gleaned from context. The font is effectively enlarged to emphasize the danger of scaling Everest. Morris’s evocative drawings ably convey the incredible effort it took to achieve the historic task. Subtle details will attract readers, such as when Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are walking in a garden but their shadows show them in their climbing gear. The whirl of the wind atop the mountain on a freezing night is dramatically rendered to enhance the description of solitude and peril of their undertaking. The book avoids the controversy over whether Hillary or Norgay was actually first atop Everest, instead making it a shared victory. The readable text and Morris’s expressive illustrations combine to create a winner. VERDICT Recommended for most biography collections.–B. Allison Gray, Goleta Public Library, CA

Jorgensen, Katrina. Ballpark Eats: Recipes Inspired by America’s Baseball Stadiums. 144p. (Sports Illustrated Kids). chart. glossary. index. maps. Capstone. Feb. 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781623706470.

Gr 4-8 –Chef Jorgensen features more than 70 ballpark style recipes from all 30 Major League ballparks. A brief introduction discusses the importance of this type of food. Organized into four-page sections about each Major League team, starting with the American League and moving into the National League, the book pairs recipes significant to the specific region with cool drinks, fun facts about baseball, and humorous food anecdotes. The cookbook provides accurate information and mouth-watering recipes; however, the recipes are too complex for children and there is no note advising adult supervision. Tasks like braiding dough, melting almond bark, and creating a pastry shell could prove quite difficult for children, especially without the assistance of a responsible adult. A glossary explains various tasks and measurements but could be easy to overlook. Page layouts are overwhelmed with a mix of recipes and facts. VERDICT This book is engaging, but children will need adult guidance.–Emily Bayci, Naperville Public Library, IL

Lacey, Saskia. How To Build a Motorcycle: A Racing Adventure of Mechanics, Teamwork, and Friendship. illus. by Martin Sodomka. 64p. (Technical Tales). diag. Quarto/Walter Foster Jr. Apr. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781633220577.

Gr 4-6 –With the same mix of plot and specific mechanical detail that went into building a car and an airplane in previous volumes of the series, the all-animal Scrap Pack reunites to construct a racing motorcycle from frame up. Head swollen by his role in previous projects, crew chief Eli annoys all but the worshipful young Fritz with exaggerated versions of his exploits, but mends fences with apologies after Fritz is seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. With another rider, the motorcycle goes on to win a race. In addition to scenes of the crew at work, illustrated diagrams of key motorcycle parts such as the suspension, engine, and clutch are featured throughout. A close-up of standard controls and a brief safety note may be helpful to prospective motorbike owners. VERDICT Though far from being a step-by-step manual for would-be young makers, this does impart a better sense of how (smaller) motorcycles work than standard-issue browsing items like Amicus’s Motorcycles from the “Motorsports” series.–John Peters, Children’s Literature Consultant, New York City

Lacey, Saskia. The Prehistoric Masters of Literature: Discover Literary History with a Prehistoric Twist! illus. by Sernur Isik. 40p. (Jurassic Classics). Quarto/Walter Foster Jr. Apr. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781633220980.

Gr 3-6 –In this prehistoric introduction to classic literature, Lacey mixes fiction with fact as readers learn about six famous writers in the context of dinosaurs. Readers can expect excerpts from such famous works as Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeareasaurus, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontesaurus, and more. Short and concise biographies of the real literary geniuses are intertwined with playful information about their dinosaur counterparts. Edgar Allan Terrordactyl “always found solace soaring about the treetops. The author delighted in swooping down on unsuspecting jungle creatures and dreamt up his scariest stories during long flights.” Lists of popular works are also included to encourage readers to seek other offerings by the masters. The illustrations by Isik are cartoonlike and add a feel of fun and adventure to a topic that can be dry. As enticing as dinosaurs are to youngsters, this book may be more engaging for upper–elementary students, who can learn about the classics, have fun with the mash-ups, and maybe even write their own. VERDICT Not a necessary purchase, but a fun introduction to classic literature in the vein of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.–Annette Herbert, F.E. Smith Elementary School, Cortland, NY

Laidlaw, Rob. Elephant Journey: The True Story of Three Zoo Elephants and Their Rescue from Captivity. illus. by Brian Deines. 40p. index. photos. Pajama Pr. Apr. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781927485774.

Gr 2-4 –The story of three zoo elephants and their journey to a new home. Toka, Thika, and Iringa were not thriving in the barren, small, and often frozen enclosure at the Toronto Zoo. When the zoo decided to send the unhappy pachyderms to another location, animal advocates spoke up and convinced officials to send the elephants to Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), a California animal sanctuary. Thus began their three-day trek across the continent. On a stormy October night in 2013, the caravan set off. Along the way, the animals encountered a number of difficulties but ultimately reached the safe haven that was their destination. Laidlaw chronicles the trip, combining key facts with absorbing storytelling. His forthright narrative is complemented by Deines’s luminous oil paintings, which expertly use color and light to track the emotional trajectory of the elephants from discomfort and misery to anxiety and fear and then, finally, to delight and contentment. The image of the newcomers being greeted by the waving trunks of the three elephants already residing at PAWS glows with golden light and reflects the joy of the occasion. A supplementary appendix includes background information and photographs of the actual trip. VERDICT A great addition for lessons on wildlife and the ethics of zoos. Pair with Sandra Markle’s The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins or Toni Buzzeo’s A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

Macnair, Patricia. Sensational Senses. illus. by Richard Watson. 14p. (Flip-Flap Journeys). Jelly Pie/Egmont UK. May 2016. Board $14.99. ISBN 9781405271639.

Gr 1-3 –Boasting more than 50 flaps, this effort to encourage readers to learn about the senses as they discover facts about the human body is an amusing experience. With spreads dedicated to sight, hearing, balance, smell and taste, and touch, this lift-the-flap book will have readers occupied for quite some time. Students are asked to uncover the hidden mysteries behind optical illusions, why amusement park rides can make us dizzy, how we taste things, and the role of pressure sensors in navigating our environment. The cartoon illustrations of families enjoying the sights and rides of the Sensational Theme Park are lively enough that kids can catch new things with additional reads. Occasional animal-related comparisons help broaden the appeal (in the spread on hearing, readers learn that “snakes don’t have external ears like we do, but sound waves can travel through their skull bones into hearing organs in their heads.”). The intended audience for this title is a bit unclear, as the advanced content and vocabulary, presented in a small font, does not fit well with the oversize board book format. The story is nonlinear—students can jump around and explore whatever piques their curiosity. VERDICT An entertaining ride through the human senses; consider for large STEM collections in need of fun materials.–Gwen Collier, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, NY

Steinmetz, Katy. Awesome America: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About the History, People, and Culture. 208p. (Time for Kids). chart. chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Time. May 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781618931498.

Gr 3-6 –This resource is bursting with color photographs and information. Divided into 14 chapters on topics such as U.S. government, immigration, civil rights, life in the United States, and more, this volume aims to not only provide historical information but also explore the impact the United States has had on the world. The concluding chapter is a time line of U.S. history from 1600 to 2008. This title presents a wide array of Americana, from major events to quirky bits such as common idioms (“When pigs fly”) to influential artists, athletes, and activists. The 2016 election, a future Supreme Court judge, and changes in currency will make the resource date quickly, but there’s a plethora of enjoyable and educational information here that will be read and revisited. VERDICT A serviceable browsing resource.–Helen Foster James, University of California at San Diego

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

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