April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | October 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Anderson, Amy & Brian Anderson. Space Dictionary for Kids: The Everything Guide for Kids Who Love Space. 192p. illus. index. photos. Prufrock. Aug. 2016. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781618215154.

Gr 3-6 –This specialized dictionary features fascinating information paired with stellar illustrations. The book is organized into six major sections. The first four are alphabetically ordered definitions of words related to cosmology, stars, galaxies, our solar system, astrobiology, and exoplanets. The last two sections are an overview of space exploration, from the creation of telescopes to manned missions and the International Space Station. Detailed images and sidebars help to keep the reading level in the upper elementary range. However, the “for Kids” in the title may lessen its appeal to tweens. The book is as up-to-date as possible in a field that is constantly making new discoveries, with major findings from 2015 included and numerical facts consistently prefaced with “As of 2016….” Though a dictionary format may not appeal to all readers, the design is attractive and the content is especially useful as a counterpoint in collections that already contain narrative nonfiction titles on the topic. VERDICT A valuable astronomy resource with a place in juvenile collections of any size.–Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library

Christopher, Neil. Those That Cause Fear. illus. by Germaine Arnaktauyok. 40p. Inhabit Media. Jun. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781772270853.

Gr 3-6 –The Arctic contains many known perils, but there may be even greater, unknown dangers lurking about. This book introduces 20 strange beings from Inuit mythology, giving each a full-page illustration and a few paragraphs of descriptive text. Most accounts are straightforward and perhaps a bit dry, though a few expand on the lore surrounding the subjects. Christopher says in the introduction that he “spent many years listening to these old stories, and researching the journals of Arctic explorers from long ago.” However, readers are not made privy to his actual research, as a bibliography or list of sources is not included. An ending note urges readers to “study Inuit oral history and talk to the people who have lived in the Arctic for generations.” A pronunciation guide breaks down the Inuktitut words previously featured in the text. Arnaktauyok’s captivating illustrations, rendered primarily in brown with touches of gray, blue, and green, add to the eerie tone. Readers who are drawn to tales of cryptids, giants, and fantastical beasts will enjoy perusing the pages of this well-designed volume. VERDICT A brief introduction to Inuit mythology for folktale collections.–Misti Tidman, Licking County Library, Newark, OH

Davis, Julia A. I Like My Brown Skin Because…: Celebrating the Heritage of African American Children. 162p. glossary. illus. photos. Epps-Alford. Feb. 2016. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780996788021.

Gr 4 Up –In response to her grandson’s surprising question (“Does your brown skin ever make you sad?”), Davis has written a set of 12 engaging essays celebrating African American heritage. Titled with positive mantras, such as “I Am Beautiful,” “I Am Brave,” and “I Believe in Myself,” the selections highlight African Americans who have made significant contributions to U.S. history. Readers will meet historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Daniel Hale Williams, and Ida B. Wells; sports stars like Jackie Robinson; and brave fighters like the Buffalo Soldiers. Each essay presents facts in an anecdotal style that is appealing. Accomplishments of Americans who are not black are also featured in many of the essays. Dramatic pencil illustrations are interspersed throughout the text along with photos and portraits of the individuals mentioned. Each essay ends by encouraging children to see how the people profiled can inspire their own lives. Messages of positivity abound, and opportunities for conversation are limitless. VERDICT A great option to accompany a discussion and celebration of African American history.–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH

Edge, Christopher. How To Write Your Best Story Ever!: Top Tips and Trade Secrets from the Experts. 128p. illus. Barron’s. Aug. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781438009094.

Gr 2-5 –A great guide for students interested in developing their creative writing skills. This manual takes prospective writers on a journey to create new worlds and tales, with spelling, grammar, and punctuation tips along the way. The topics are arranged in a manner that allows students to browse and flip through to find whatever interests them most. A range of genre-specific subjects are explored; for example, the chapter “How To Write Your Best Scary Story Ever!” includes tips on how to set the scene and avoid clichés, as well as a word web (“The Language of Horror”) with relevant vocabulary (e.g., poisonous, catacombs, macabre). Everything from character development to script writing to genre mash-ups is covered and accompanied by brightly colored cartoon illustrations. The layout can be a bit busy, but overall this is a valuable resource. VERDICT Recommended for elementary classroom collections in need of an accessible introduction to creative writing.–Elizabeth Anne Ragain, Springfield Public Schools, MO

Eliot, Hannah. Monsters Are Real!: And Other Fun Facts. illus. by Aaron Spurgeon. 32p. (Did You Know?). S. & S./Little Simon. Jul. 2016. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781481467810.

Gr 2-4 –Using a humorous, conversational tone, Eliot takes her readers through a substantial gallery of monsters that fall roughly into three categories. The first describes real animals that have characteristics that could be considered monsterlike, but are nonetheless real, such as the platypus, the giant squid, and the Komodo dragon. The second category covers creatures that are the result of vivid imaginations, such as King Kong, Godzilla, and Dracula. The third category includes beings possibly based on or inspired by real animals (e.g., did the narwhal and the oryx inspire tales of unicorns?). Spurgeon’s colorful cartoon illustrations match the lighthearted tone of the text and will have lots of child appeal. VERDICT While not an essential mythology purchase, this title is sure to find an enthusiastic audience.–Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ

Evans, Shira. ¡Sígueme!: Animales papás y bebés. 48p. photos. National Geographic. Jul. 2016. pap. $4.99. ISBN 9781426325991.

K-Gr 2 –This Spanish-language beginning reader introduces children to the daily lives of animals and their young. With chapters about hunting, movement, habitats, and tools, the short volume presents a quick overview that animal lovers will enjoy. The left-hand page of each spread has longer text for adults to read to kids, and the right-hand page has a simpler narrative for children to read, with the same keyword highlighted. These keywords are in bold but are never defined. Higher-level vocabulary words are often not explained in context, either, such as manada (herd) or sabana (savannah). Though the subtitle uses the paternal descriptor “animales papás,” most of the parent animals are female. The engaging photographs are the star here; they depict images of creatures and their young in various activities. The occasional round insets make the presentation even more dynamic. Each chapter concludes with an activity that children can participate in, such as fill-in-the-blanks and matching the critter with its young. These exercises can be done at home but might be more appropriate for classroom use. VERDICT A serviceable addition to early elementary nonfiction collections.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

Harrington, Jamie. The Unofficial Guide to Crafting the World of Harry Potter: 30 Magical Crafts for Witches and Wizards—from Pencil Wands to House Colors Tie-Dye Shirts. 192p. illus. index. Adams Media. Jul. 2016. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781440595042.

Gr 6 Up –What happens when serious crafters combine with devoted Harry Potter fans? Cue this well-organized batch of ideas for the creation of Potter-related items. The book begins with wearables such as tie-dyed T-shirts (in the school colors of Hogwarts, of course), and accessories, and each chapter takes on a different aspect of the series, including characters and related objects. Directions for making a “sorcerer’s stone paperweight,” “dementor soap,” a “lumos/nox light switch,” and “nargles for the yard” encourage the use of themed crafts throughout the house, as gifts, or as unique school supplies. While clever and clearly explained, the ideas presented here are not for novices or young children but rather for more mature and experienced crafters. Additionally, specialized material (e.g., sheets of Shrinky Dinks, a glue gun, charcoal capsules) may not be readily available and could become costly. VERDICT Recommended for the sophisticated crafter who doubles as a Harry Potter fan.–Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library

Hughes, Katherine D. Little Kids First Big Book of Birds. 128p. glossary. index. photos. National Geographic. Jul. 2016. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781426324321.

PreS-Gr 3 –Parents, teachers, and curious children will be fascinated by this excellent introduction to birds. The chapter divisions reflect the features and behavior of a broad range of birds. End-of-chapter games and interactive questions encourage children to personally engage with the subject matter, while the “Parent Tips” section provides activity ideas and further resources. Sidebars with basic information about specific avian species also show the scale of those birds by depicting the animals next to a child’s hand. Subject headings, a wealth of fact boxes, a glossary, and an index make this a great choice for teaching nonfiction text features. Use a small section for read-alouds or storytime and then encourage children to pore over the pages on their own. VERDICT Lush nature photography, concise language, a large print size, and a browsable layout: this offering is ideal for home, school, and library use.–Rachel Anne Mencke, St. Matthew’s Parish School, Pacific Palisades, CA

Korpella, Bob. Dinosaur Dictionary for Kids: The Everything Guide for Kids Who Love Dinosaurs. 176p. bibliog. illus. index. websites. Prufrock. Jul. 2016. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781618215130.

Gr 3-6 –Dinophiles, rejoice! One hundred and seventy-six dinosaurs lead the big parade, alphabetically within their periods in the Mesozoic era, followed by floats of mostly Mesozoic fish, insects, early birds, flying reptiles, and more. Each of the entries includes a small illustration and a paragraph or two of facts: name (and pronunciation), size, weight, global distribution, diet. Their brevity will leave some fans champing at the bit for more, but this is a “dictionary,” not an encyclopedia. The Mesozoic era and its periods (Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous) are given tidy explanatory expositions, and interspersed among the dino facts are boxes on a variety of topics such as just how much vegetation a herbivore might need daily, the size of dinosaur eggs, and the niceties of becoming a paleontologist. Note to educators: a final segment includes activities such as matching dino tracks, creating a “new” dinosaur, and visiting geological sites where fossil hunting by the public is permitted, along with a list of sources and websites. VERDICT Ample, up-to-date grist for the dino-mill, sure to have youngsters wheedling for a vacation to those geological sites. While not an essential purchase, this title sure won’t gather much dust on the shelf!–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

Lewis, J. Patrick. The Navajo Code Talkers. illus. by Gary Kelley. 32p. bibliog. notes. Creative Editions. Aug. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781568462950.

Gr 5 Up –In this follow-up to Lewis and Kelley’s And the Soldiers Sang and Harlem Hellfighters, readers are introduced to the Navajo code talkers of World War II. Lewis’s lyrical, enlightening text offers a broad outline of historical events, while Kelley’s evocative illustrations add emotional weight to the narrative. Beginning with the traumatic Long Walk of the 1860s, when the U.S. government ordered the forced removal of the Navajo from their homeland, Lewis goes on to mention the boarding schools that banned the use of the Navajo language, and emphasizes the irony of the U.S. government relying on that same language for military advantage during World War II. Kelley’s atmospheric pastel panels capture the landscape of the Navajo homeland in bright, sandy oranges and browns, while military scenes appear in a contrasting dull gray. Back matter citing the National Museum of the American Indian includes more detailed information on the historical events of World War II involving the code talkers, and a brief bibliography is also appended. However, no sources are provided for any of the material presented, including direct quotes from those involved and an artist’s note that refers generally to the incorporation of “ceremonial” and “traditional” Navajo blanket designs. A few problematic textual choices, such as referring to the Navajo in the past tense when describing how they “called themselves Diné” and stating that, in 1940, “the 20th century had yet to catch up with the desert dwelling Navajo,” unfortunately reinforce stereotypes of Native Americans as people of the past rather than the present. The striking illustrations will capture the attention of readers, but educators should be prepared to provide additional context and discussion. VERDICT Acceptable as an introduction to the subject, but best paired with supplemental resources.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN

Matthews, Rupert. 50 Things You Should Know About the Tudors. 80p. chart. chron. glossary. illus. index. maps. photos. Quarto/QEB. Jul. 2016. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781609929633.

Gr 4-6 –The reign of the Tudors in England was established in confusion and conflict and ended the same way. Between 1485, with the ascent of Henry VII, and 1603, with the death of Elizabeth I, the nation was transformed from a relatively isolated medieval kingdom to a nation engaged in international commerce. Using excellent time lines, pictures, photographs, and maps, this selection attempts to clarify this period of British history. Laid out in a sound-bite format consisting almost entirely of sidebars and snippets of information, the text highlights key events and people. While this will attract readers first delving into the history, it does not allow for much in-depth analysis. Most glaringly, the section on Elizabeth I does not even touch on the gender-specific issues with which she grappled during her reign. In addition, the format often adds to the confusion fostered by history itself. For example, the section on Henry VII states in a sidebar that the king lived in exile and was at one time so poor that he “borrowed money to buy food.” On the next page, however, the text states that Henry, while a virtual prisoner in exile, was “kept…in comfort.” A cursory glossary defines words bolded in the text, but there is no list of sources provided, limiting use for research purposes. VERDICT A good introduction to the Tudors that may spark further interest in readers. An additional purchase for world history collections.–Katherine Koenig, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Prince, Jennifer S. The Life and Times of Asheville’s Thomas Wolfe. 114p. (True Tales for Young Readers). bibliog. index. photos. North Carolina Office of Archives and History. May 2016. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780865264847.

Gr 5 Up –Born and raised in Asheville, NC, at the turn of the century, Thomas Wolfe went on to become a celebrated author. Although he achieved success in college as a budding playwright, as an adult he turned to writing lengthy, largely autobiographical novels. Initially, his writings made him unpopular in his hometown because of their candid depictions of specific people, but by the end of his life, in 1938, he had reconciled with the city of Asheville. Prince’s concise biography draws from primary sources, such as Wolfe’s letters and school assignments, to describe his upbringing, education, and career. She portrays him as gifted, commenting that “Tom’s writing talent became evident in his teen years” and asserting that “his importance to American literature is undeniable.” The story of Wolfe’s life is divided into 18 chapters, each just a few pages long, with photographs of Wolfe, his friends and family members, places he lived or visited, and famous people of his day. Prince also offers useful historical context by making references to historic events and popular culture, including the Wright brothers’ first flight, the popularity of the teddy bear, and the performances of Harry Houdini. Although this biography includes vocabulary best suited for middle schoolers or even high schoolers, the book’s brevity and illustrations make it accessible as a read-aloud for older elementary students. VERDICT A handy resource for students studying Thomas Wolfe, U.S. literature, or the history of Asheville, NC.–Magdalena Teske, Naperville Public Library, IL

Thiessen, Mark with Glen Phelan. Extreme Wildfire: Smoke Jumpers, High-Tech Gear, Survival Tactics, and the Extraordinary Science of Fire. photos by Mark Thiessen. 112p. glossary. illus. index. photos. websites. National Geographic. Aug. 2016. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781426325304.

Gr 4-7 –Wildlife photographer Thiessen shares stories of forest fires he has photographed. He recounts his experience of attending fire school and relates what students (mostly volunteers) learn there. Scientific terms explain how fires get started, what fuels a fire, and the causes of wildfires. Respectful accounts of the jobs these men and women do are detailed without glorification. For each role, the required training, the equipment commonly used, and the dangers involved are covered. Some stories of loss are included to remind readers of the reality of the work. The negative and positive effects of a wildfire on a habitat are presented. Most of the color photographs are Thiessen’s, and they clearly show the power of fires. Candid photos of firefighters battling blazes are also depicted. All contain a caption or additional information. VERDICT Beneficial material for a discussion on the pros and cons of forest fires. An additional purchase.–Sandra Welzenbach, Villarreal Elementary School, San Antonio

Trius, Angie & Mark Doran. Animal Doctors: Incredible Ways Animals Heal Themselves. illus. by Julio Antonio Blasco. 32p. Laurence King. Jul. 2016. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781780678320.

Gr 3-6 –How do animals in the wild deal with parasites, pain, digestive problems, birth, and more? This work explains the natural ways in which domesticated and wild creatures help keep themselves healthy without human assistance. An elephant about to give birth will go miles to seek out a beneficial tree that will ease her labor. Macaws will ingest clay to rid themselves of the toxins contained in some of their food supply. Dogs lick their injuries to spread their healing saliva, and cats eat grass to induce vomiting. Readers will be fascinated to learn butterflies, ants, rats, and even bears all have developed self-healing practices to ensure a longer, healthier life. Cartoonlike illustrations in muted colors enhance each spread. Information is given regarding characteristics, habitat, predators, and general behavior. Foldout flaps provide additional content in a concise manner. Children interested in animal behavior will find the material appealing, although the somewhat random organization makes this title less useful for research. VERDICT A complex but intriguing selection. Consider for robust animal collections.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY

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