February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | August 2016

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Amstutz, Lisa J. The Ultimate Guide to Gardening: Grow Your Own Indoor, Vegetable, Fairy, and Other Great Gardens. 112p. (Craft It Yourself). photos. Capstone. Apr. 2016. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781623706494.

Gr 3-5 –Children and parents will learn about a variety of gardening styles with this charming DIY guide. The book opens with some general tips about gardening and plant care and then presents ideas for growing edible, indoor, creative, and enchanted gardens. Many of the ideas can easily be altered to use materials available to readers. Amstutz provides suggestions for different varieties of plants, containers, and decorations for readers looking to modify the projects. While some suggestions, such as the Teacup Garden or the Scrappy Kitchen Garden, could be accomplished by children, most activities require adult assistance. Some of the projects, such as the Topsy Turvy Tin Cans and the Living Wall Art, are a bit advanced but could be fun for parent-child teams. The instructions are clear to follow, and the pictures give a good idea of what to expect. Sidebars offer interesting gardening tips and insights. The “Plant Problems” section in the back gives short but helpful explanations of issues that may plague plants. VERDICT A solid offering for libraries in need of additional DIY or gardening materials for young students.–Ellen Norton, Naperville Public Library, IL

Bedell, Jane (J.M.). So, You Want To Be a Coder?: The Ultimate Guide to a Career in Programming, Video Game Creation, Robotics, and More! 256p. (Be What You Want). chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. illus. notes. websites. Beyond Words/Aladdin. May 2016. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781582705798.

Gr 5-7 –Bedell has packed this title with information perfect for aspiring coders. Sections cover writing code, website coders, artificial intelligence and robots, coding languages, and more. Early on, readers are asked to take an “Is Writing Code Right for Me?” quiz. Each chapter is prefaced with a cheesy but fun joke (for example, “What do you call a programmer in Scandinavia? A Nerdic.”). The writing is chatty and engaging. The text is peppered with biographical spotlights of famous and influential people in the coding world—from Charles Babbage (1791–1871), the father of computing, to Henry Edward Roberts (1941–2010), the father of the personal computer. Profiles of more current people are also included, for instance, Kelly Clarke, a software engineer for NASA, and Louise Stinnett, a retired senior systems programmer, who in her profile explains what it was like to be a woman coder in the 1960s. Cartoon illustrations dot each page. Although the pictures aren’t colorful, they don’t hamper the overall upbeat tone. A glossary and an extensive list of resources finish off the text. VERDICT A timely and lighthearted addition to the careers section for tweens.–Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI

Brockenbrough, Martha. Shark Week: Everything You Need To Know. 160p. index. photos. websites. Feiwel & Friends. May 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250097774.

Gr 4-6 –Promoting the conservation of these feared—and often misunderstood—sea creatures, this work emphasizes the awesomeness of sharks. It covers dozens of shark species, from the smallest (the pale catshark at eight inches long) to the most elusive (the pocket shark, with only two recorded sightings). Shark anatomy, how scientists study fossilized remains, and common shark myths are discussed. Reproduction is covered in detail. A “Who Would Win?” section that pits sharks against other fearsome animals is high in kid appeal. The winner is calculated based on physical features and attack modes. Stories about shark attacks bring this thick read to a close. A useful index helps pinpoint areas of interest. Readers will appreciate the high-quality photos throughout. The advanced vocabulary, in combination with minimal pronunciation guides for scientific terms, makes this title suited for upper elementary and middle school readers. VERDICT This volume will swim off the shelves. Catch it to beef up shark collections.–Sandra Welzenbach, Villarreal Elementary School, San Antonio, TX

Burk, Rachelle. Painting in the Dark: Esref Armagan, Blind Artist. illus. by Claudia Gadotti. 36p. further reading. notes. photos. websites. Tumblehome Learning. Jul. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781943431151; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781943431144.

Gr 2-5 –Blind since birth, Esref Armagan is a well-known painter of landscapes and portraits. With the support of his father, Armagan mastered many techniques to assist his painting process, including carving into cardboard to reproduce shapes he felt with his hands, placing his colored pencils in a specific order, using stencils, and making relief paintings with raised surfaces so he could paint by touch. The narrative begins with Armagan’s childhood and discusses the challenges he faced pursuing a career in art as a blind man. Letters of encouragement from other blind people, television fame, and the support of doctors kept him working. Gadotti portrays elements of Armagan’s story alongside a peppering of photographs of the artist’s paintings. The color palette of Gadotti’s illustrations mirrors Armagan’s own work. VERDICT A thoughtful biography that celebrates diversity and perseverance. Recommended to expand and deepen elementary school art collections.–Jessica Cline, New York Public Library

Colson, Rob. Dinosaur Bones: And What They Tell Us. illus. by Elizabeth Gray & Steve Kirk. 96p. chron. glossary. index. Firefly. Feb. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781770857179; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781770856943.

Gr 2-5 –A field guide to 20 unique prehistoric creatures. Each topic is given two spreads, with the information moving from specific to general. In the first spread, a specimen is presented in skeletal form accompanied by facts related to its physical structure. In the following spread, it is then fleshed out in color and discussed in relation to other members of its group or closely related species. Thus, readers gain an appreciation for the various families of dinosaurs. There are the usual favorites, like Tyrannosaurus rex, Ankylosaurus, and Apatosaurus, as well as lesser-known species, such as Psittacosaurus, Scelidosaurus, and Montanoceratops. Flying reptiles and marine reptiles are also included. Scale silhouettes that compare the size of certain dinosaurs to humans are helpful. Colson provides a general chronology of natural history, beginning with life before dinosaurs and concluding with the Ice Age and saber-tooth cats and mammoths. Every folio is a visual feast, brilliantly illustrated by Gray and Kirk. Some images reveal the sheer size and majesty of these creatures. Others show action poses of predators stalking prey. The illustrations vary among color paintings, computer graphics, and color photos of fossils. The text flows around the images, providing readers with material about each creature’s anatomy and behavior and the origin of its name. The book concludes with a handy geologic time line that illustrates the movement of the continents. VERDICT Exactly what young paleontologists are looking for: big, beautiful pictures of dinosaurs. A solid addition to school and public libraries for elementary students to pore over.–Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant Public Library, IA

de la Bédoyère, Camilla. Bugs in the Backyard. 80p. glossary. index. photos. Firefly. Mar. 2016. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781770856974.

Gr 3-6 –An overview of all the scary and slimy, winged or spineless, creatures found in most backyards. Each bug is given its own spread, complete with close-up photos and short paragraphs. Life cycle, diet, predators, and habitat are covered. “Fact File” sidebars go on to list class and order, size in inches and millimeters, and further information on where they commonly proliferate. Readers will come to learn how most of the insects featured are essential for a healthy ecosystem. The content is not limited to bugs: earthworms; tardigrades (water bears), a close relative of arthropods; and gastropods like snails, which inhabit the same environment as many of the covered insects, are included. VERDICT Recommended as an additional purchase for students with a strong stomach and a passion for our creepy-crawly friends.–Debbie Tanner, S.D. Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Hamilton, Sian. Now I Can Sew: 20 Hand-Sewn Projects To Make. 128p. index. photos. websites. Guild of Master Craftsman. Jul. 2016. pap. $17.25. ISBN 9781784941161.

Gr 3-6 –An adorable introduction to hand sewing for children. The title begins with an overview of the tools needed (e.g., needles, scissors, thread, needle threader), instructions on how to measure and mark fabric, and directions on how to use the aforementioned tools. Step-by-step instructions on specific stitches (e.g., blanket stitch, angled straight stitch) are also included. The 20 projects are organized by increasing difficulty and make good use of the skills introduced in the beginning of the work. Most of the activities are low-key, from finger puppets to book covers and cushions; these are simple but enjoyable projects. Templates to trace and cut out are located at the end of the book. A list of popular stores to find supplies is listed in the back matter. However, this is a UK import—most of the resources listed are in the UK. A list of resources for the U.S. is included, though it is small. VERDICT A colorful volume sure to appeal to rookie crafters.–Cynde Suite, Bartow County Library System, Adairsville, GA

Keizer, Joost. This Is Leonardo da Vinci. illus. by Christina Christoforou. 80p. photos. reprods. Laurence King. May 2016. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781780677514.

Gr 7-10 –This title mixes Christoforou’s beautiful pencil illustrations among reproductions of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous works. Within these images are also brief descriptions of da Vinci’s life, from his beginnings as an illegitimate child to his apprenticeship with Andrea del Verrocchio, a highly respected artist in 16th-century Florence. Through this experience with Verrocchio, da Vinci was commissioned for many projects and was able to prove himself on the art scene with this unique talent. It is interesting to note that owing to da Vinci’s upbringing with his grandfather, a notary, he was an exceptional notetaker. This title pieces together much of the master’s life through his notes and rough sketches of projects. Limited descriptions of various aspects of the artist’s life are accompanied by full-page illustrations with captions or asides in a difficult-to-read font. The short passages also include advanced vocabulary words. VERDICT A brief but creative portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. An additional purchase for teen libraries where art biographies are popular.–Jessica Lorentz Smith, Bend Senior High School, OR

Mills, Andrea. The Soccer Book: Facts and Terrific Trivia. 64p. chart. glossary. illus. index. photos. Firefly. Mar. 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781770857308; pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781770857292.

Gr 3-6 –With this year’s Copa America tournament, the UEFA Champions League, and the Olympics, interest in soccer will be at an all-time high. Enter this slim resource on soccer that focuses on the quirk and fun of the game. Covering everything from coaching strategies and notorious rivalries to the biggest on-field bloopers, this volume offers a general but engaging sense of the sport. A spread on the evolution of men’s and women’s soccer uniforms also informs kids on the tendency of highly successful players to have a pair of custom cleats made for each match. A “Dream Team” spread, which rounds up players from all over the globe, is bound to produce reader response, as some familiar faces (for instance, David Beckham) are absent. The past winners of the UEFA Champions League from 1955 to present are charted as well as the winners of the men’s FIFA World Cup from 1930 to present. The basic rules and setup of the game are listed and explained in the back matter. The large number of bright photographs and graphic elements in combination with short passages of text make this an easy read. VERDICT A great addition to libraries with a dedicated soccer fan base.–Debbie Tanner, S.D. Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Nippert-Eng, Christena. Gorillas Up Close. photos by John Dominski & Miguel Martinez. 176p. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Holt. Apr. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781627790918.

Gr 4 Up –In this visually arresting work, Nippert-Eng bridges the gap between gorillas and humans. Using contemporary and relatable terms (for instance, “A gorilla family is often a blended family” and “Kwan tickles his children with his teeth the way a human dad might with his hands”), the book begins with commonalities between humans and gorillas before branching off to explore biological and emotional differences. This beautifully photographed examination of the gorilla troop living in captivity at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo brings their habitat alive with a variety of shots and perspectives. So many of the animals’ facial expressions are captured throughout the book, driving home what the author also seeks to convey with words: gorillas are not so different from humans. Readers will enjoy seeing happiness, puzzlement, concentration, and more articulated on each face. Subject matter includes the expected (habitat, diet, and care for this endangered species) to the delightfully unanticipated (how to identify a gorilla and tips for watching and photographing). An extensive, usable index guides those readers doing homework or school projects. VERDICT The latest in engaging animal nonfiction for upper elementary and middle school collections. Highly recommended.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

Proujansky, Alice. Go Photo!: An Activity Book for Kids. 108p. illus. photos. Aperture. May 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781597113557.

Gr 3-6 –Students looking for projects that give them the opportunity to practice photography skills will treasure this selection of 20-plus photo-related activities. Basic background knowledge of cameras and how to use them will be helpful when approaching this work. Among the projects are a photo scavenger hunt, “selfie fest,” photo face masks, treasure hunt, rainbow book, and time capsule. In addition to a camera, users will also need photo paper and a printer. The work opens with a few introductory pages of guidelines and background info. Descriptions for each project average two pages in length and include a supply list, numbered step-by-step directions, tips, and supplementary photos or drawings. The format is consistent. Informally written, the volume is occasionally a bit wordy and sometimes uses trendy vocabulary such as photobombed and wonky. Bright yellow endpapers and solid binding add to the book’s packaging. The work lacks a glossary, but terms such as point of view and composition are nicely explained within the text. VERDICT Recommended for libraries in need of stimulating photography projects for upper elementary students.–Lynn Vanca, Freelance Librarian, Akron, OH

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

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