February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | September 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Anderson, AnnMarie. Giant Pandas. 32p. glossary. index. photos. Scholastic. Jun. 2016. pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780545935494.

PreS-Gr 1 –A simple introduction to giant pandas. The photos are the key element here. Images depict everything from a tiny newborn to details of panda teeth, claws, and paw shape. The text is age-appropriate and even includes a bit of phonetically explained Chinese. A cute cartoon panda acts as a guide on several pages. Did you know pandas eat around 40 pounds of bamboo every day? Nonfiction text features like the glossary and index will help young students strengthen their newly developing research skills. VERDICT A useful addition to animal collections for the preschool set.–Dorcas Hand, Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX

Bingham, Jane. Anglo-Saxons. illus. by Giorgio Bacchin & Clive Goodyer. ISBN 9780723294429.

Senker, Cath. Ancient Greeks. illus. by Emmanuel Cerisier & Clive Goodyer. ISBN 9780723294436.

ea vol: 64p. (Ladybird Histories). chron. glossary. index. Ladybird. Jun. 2016. pap. $9.99.

Gr 3-6 –These British imports provide accessible, illustrated overviews of select parts of world history. Anglo-Saxons covers how people from Germany and Denmark invaded the British Isles around 400 CE and settled there until the Norman conquest of 1066. Readers learn about daily life in Anglo-Saxon Britain, including a wide variety of subtopics such as food, clothing, sports, religion, and more. A discussion of the impact of the Anglo-Saxons on contemporary culture concludes the title in a meaningful way. Ancient Greeks is more expansive in scope, covering Greek civilization from 2000 BCE till around 250 BCE. Readers learn about daily life, culture, and politics. Students interested in these subjects will find the final chapter of each volume, “Places To Visit,” especially rewarding. While the narrative can occasionally be a bit dry, children will appreciate the humorous, comiclike sidebars and anecdotes that appear throughout both titles. VERDICT Great additions for robust European history collections.–Seth Herchenbach, McHenry City College, Crystal Lake, IL

Burns, Ken. Grover Cleveland, Again!: A Treasury of American Presidents. illus. by Gerald Kelley. 96p. glossary. photos. Knopf. Jul. 2016. lib. ed. $28. ISBN 9780385392105.

Gr 4-8 –Almost 30 years ago, documentary filmmaker Burns told his daughters that he would one day write a book on the U.S. presidents for children: this volume fulfills that promise. Each of the 44 presidents receives a spread covering his time in office, including information on significant historical events and legislation, biographical data, a famous quote, and the president’s official portrait. Soft, muted colors are used in the exquisite illustrations that highlight major events associated with each figure. Although there are no references or bibliography there are a glossary and listing of presidential birthplaces, libraries, and historical sites. Burns acknowledges troubling aspects of U.S. history, and while straightforward, the tone is upbeat. Burns emphasizes the personal abilities of each president and how he used those qualities to serve the nation. VERDICT Consider this superbly illustrated volume for U.S. history and biography collections.–Patricia Ann Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mt. Carmel

Carson, Mary Kay. Life on Mars. 32p. glossary. index. photos. Scholastic. Jun. 2016. pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780545935487.

K-Gr 2 –Carson packs a lot of information on the eponymous red planet in this effort. Six short chapters offer readers informational bits in large type on fully illustrated backgrounds. “New Word” bubbles (robot, microbe, nutrient) give pronunciation tips and definitions. “It’s a Fact” segments run along the bottom of several pages. The text explains how Mars and Earth are similar; for instance, they both have ice caps and seasons. Spacecraft such as Viking 1 and Viking 2, and rovers Spirit and Curiosity are mentioned. The book details how there might be, or might have once been, life on Mars. A new rover, ExoMars, is scheduled to head to Earth’s space neighbor in March 2018. VERDICT A well-researched and accessible work on a popular topic, great for independent readers.–Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI

Evans, Shira. Peek, Otter! 24p. photos. National Geographic. Jul. 2016. pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781426324369.

PreS-K –Making great use of the publisher’s trademark high-quality photography, Evans presents a slim, fun volume on otters for the smallest of readers. Following the title page is a “Vocabulary Tree” that diagrams important words found in the book. The text clearly narrates and explores each accompanying photograph. The words are large and bold and presented on clean backgrounds. After a busy day swimming, eating, and running about, the otter settles down to sleep. At the back of the book is a “Your Turn” section where readers can relate their own daily activities to the otters’. VERDICT Libraries and classrooms looking to expand their preschool and kindergarten collections would do well to consider this title as an economic and engaging addition.–Taylor Worley, Springfield Public Library, OR

Finger, Brad. 13 Skyscrapers Children Should Know. 48p. chron. glossary. photos. Prestel. May 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9783791372518.

Gr 4-8 –While the cover design lends this a textbooklike appearance, the content is anything but. Using sharp photographs and easy-to-read explanatory text, Finger describes the origins and unique architectural features of world-famous buildings such as the Woolworth Building in New York City, the Shard in London, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Included are details about what makes each building special in terms of design, use of materials, and aesthetics. For example, the tree trunk–like Shanghai Tower twists as it rises to give it greater stability. The tower also contains sun-drenched parks on every floor so that workers and residents can enjoy greenspace without leaving the building. For each building, there is a sidebar with quick facts: the number of years it took to build, the architectural style, the height, the number of floors, and the designer. A time line spanning 115 years shows what else was happening in the world before and after each building’s completion. Finger includes information and photos about other buildings similar to those featured. VERDICT Students interested in structural design elements, architecture, urban living, or the integration of greenspaces will find plenty to glean from this fascinating look at the evolution of skyscrapers. A solid purchase for collections in need of kid-friendly books on building design.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

redstarFink, Nadia. Frida Kahlo para niñas y niños. Bk. 1. ISBN 9780997328004.

redstar––––. Violeta Parra para niñas y niños. Bk. 2. ISBN 9780997328035.

redstar––––. Juana Azurduy para niñas y niños. Bk. 3. ISBN 9780997328028.

ea vol: illus. by Pitu Saá. 26p. (Colección Antiprincesas). Books del Sur. May 2016. pap. $12.99.

Gr 3 Up –In this “antiprincess collection,” young readers will have a chance to investigate the lives of women who have not followed what their cultures would deem traditional lives. Children may know about Frida Kahlo and her art, but they might not know about the terrible accident she had while riding a bus. While the books are written in a fun, conversational tone and the illustrations are inviting, the books also do not hide the difficulties these women experienced. The titles explore topics such as poverty and injustice and show how they played important roles in the subjects’ lives, as in the story of Juana Azurduy. Facts about these amazing women are combined with interesting anecdotes, such as the conversation between Violeta Parra and Don Antonio as he gives her a guitarrón. Activities and games follow each story, providing additional ways to explore life as the subject did. While the vignettes at times seem too short, the endings encourage further research. The often graphic novel–like art—vibrant, bold colors outlined in black—depicts scenes from the text and enhances the view of the subjects as strong heroines. In Frida Kahlo, reproductions of a few of Kahlo’s works are featured in Saá’s style. VERDICT An excellent choice for libraries seeking works in Spanish for elementary students, especially where biographies are needed.–Selenia Paz, Helen Hall Library, League City, TX

Lacey, Saskia. The Presidential Masters of Prehistory: Discover America’s Prehistoric Forefathers. illus. by Sernur Isik. 40p. (Jurassic Classics). chron. Walter Foster. Jul. 2016. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781633221093.

K-Gr 4 –Lacey presents the lives of six U.S. presidents as if they were dinosaurs governing “prehistoric America.” Each subject receives four pages and a minibook devoted to facts about the dinosaur leader, followed by a spread on the human president that repeats many of the same points but with the actual dates and place names. In each dinosaur section, Isik depicts the presidents as cartoonish green-skinned lizards with large round eyes and toothy snouts, upright and clothed. (Though the presidents are identified as different types of dinosaurs in the text, each portrayal is about the same, distinguished only by differences in attire and hairstyle.) The effort to set U.S. historical events into a fanciful prehistory is sometimes strained, as when the Great Depression is presented as the “Great Ice Age,” a time when President Franklin D. Rex put unemployed dinos to work “building canals to help lava flow to cold areas.” Some omission of facts means that presidents (dinosaur and human) can be shown in the most favorable light. For instance, the human president Andrew Jackson is said to have been “tough enough to survive life in the Wild West—and the jungle of politics” but no mention is made of his policies and actions toward American Indians. The text contains a few errors (e.g., the year of George Washington’s death), and although Lacey includes some quotations, there are no source notes. VERDICT An engaging concept, but this volume is unlikely to satisfy readers interested in dinosaurs or U.S. history.–Jennifer Costa, Cambridge Public Library, MA

Montalván, Luis Carlos with Bret Witter. Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and His Service Dog. photos by Dan Dion. 48p. websites. Post Hill. Jun. 2016. Tr $17. ISBN 9781682611067.

K-Gr 2 –Another charming tale of service dog Tuesday and his owner Montalván. In this title, Tuesday and Montalván, a 17-year army veteran who now advocates for veterans with disabilities, travel to a variety of tourist sites in the New York City and Washington, DC, area. Tuesday is the narrator throughout the story, explaining how she supports Montalván from morning to night. Dion’s great photographs show the duo having fun throughout the trip. The work highlights key attractions in each city. It is definitely a whirlwind tour: Tuesday and Montalván ride 12 forms of transportation and eventually end up in a library—just in time for storytime. Montalván read his book to an audience of children while Tuesday sleeps. A website that includes activity sheets for teachers is featured. Young readers in need of information about service dogs or reassurance about post-traumatic stress disorder will appreciate the light tone of this book. VERDICT A general purchase for dog lovers and fans of Tuesday.–Dorcas Hand, Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston, TX

Nicolaides, Selene. Gods, Heroes, and Monsters: Discover the Wonders of the Ancient Greek Myths. 80p. illus. photos. Barron’s. Jul. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780764168543.

Gr 4-7 –This selection introduces readers to the basics of Greek history and mythology. As explained in the spooky introduction, Nicolaides’s father was a Greek scholar who ran a small museum. After he passed away, he left her a box of supposedly cursed artifacts with a note stating that they should be sent back to Athens. What makes this selection stand out is the author’s inclusion of photographs of said artifacts interspersed with illustrations of Greek myths and icons. The layout of this oversize volume is fun and easy to follow, with text and illustrations appearing in balance. The lack of a glossary and an index makes this more appropriate for casual reading than for research. VERDICT A beautifully packaged and engaging volume that would be most successful in libraries where Greek mythology books are in demand.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

Peete, Holly Robinson with Ryan Elizabeth Peete & RJ Peete. Same but Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express. 224p. ebook available. further reading. websites. Scholastic. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545094689.

Gr 6 Up –In this book that’s told in alternating narratives and uses pseudonyms, two twins—one with autism (Charlie) and one without (Callie)—share stories of growing up. Courageously honest, their tales illustrate that autism is not an isolated condition but that it affects everyone in the family. The real heart of the work is in the narratives of Charlie and Callie; their authentic, open thoughts and discussions on autism will resonate with readers. Charlie’s narrative reveals that he wants to be treated like any other “normal” kid, make friends, and have a social life. But his actions also show how autism impedes some of his decision-making, ability to read nonverbal clues, and tendency to act impulsively. He finds solace in video games, sports statistics, and solitude. Callie is an outgoing, popular athlete and a constant protector when it comes to Charlie. But watching over her brother is a challenge. Her sincerity about how she wishes Charlie was “normal” and how grating it has been to constantly look out for him shows how deeply autism has shaped their relationship. Bookending the two narratives is Peete’s account of learning of her son’s autism and his accomplishments in spite of the disorder. The last chapter is a plea for more research and advocacy on behalf of children with autism. Acknowledgements and a resource guide are also included. VERDICT A powerful and honest look at autism and a solid choice for most libraries that serve middle school students.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH


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

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