April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | November 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Picture Books

Chapter Books

Middle Grade


Graphic Novels

Andrus, Aubre. Five-Minute True Stories: Animal BFFs. 160p. photos. Scholastic. Jul. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780545914192.

Gr 2-5 –Warm and fuzzy tales paired with equally squee-worthy photos provide a gentle read for animal lovers. The 12 vignettes describe unlikely friendships among animals, such as a lion, tiger, and bear raised together, or a dog and her “pet” guinea pigs. Each section introduces the creatures and discusses how they met, what they like to do together, and what their friendship can teach humans about our own relationships. The book itself is kid-friendly in design, with big type and brightly colored pages. The photographs are large, although some are a bit blurry. The conversational and enthusiastic tone makes it easy to follow each story. However, excessive exclamation points and the glossing over of heavier issues (e.g., animals in captivity, irresponsible owners) might distract discerning readers. The title guarantees that these are true accounts, but no sources are listed. VERDICT Purchase where lightweight short stories about cute animals are in high demand.–Elissa Cooper, Helen Plum Memorial Library, Lombard, IL

Angus, Laurie Ellen. Octopus Escapes Again! illus. by Laurie Ellen Angus. 32p. bibliog. websites. Dawn. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781584695776.

PreS-Gr 3 –This introduction to octopuses begins with a simple but dramatic question: “Will she eat today? Or be eaten?” Readers follow along as an octopus encounters a variety of tasty treats but is thwarted by several sea animals that are higher up on the food chain. Asides in a smaller font often accompany the octopus’s narrow escapes, giving scientific explanations for her evasive actions. Budding marine biologists will enjoy the vivid, collage-style illustrations, while teachers and parents will be satisfied with the back matter, which includes additional info on octopuses and activity ideas. VERDICT While not for hard-hitting research, this selection is a fun introduction to octopuses. Recommended for school libraries in need of more cephalopod titles.–Brittany Drehobl, Eisenhower Public Library District, IL

Hoffman, Mary. The Great Big Body Book. illus. by Ros Asquith. 40p. (Great Big Book). glossary. Frances Lincoln/Janetta-Otter Barry Bks. Aug. 2016. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781847808721.

K-Gr 2 –From birth to death, the five senses to genetics, Hoffman and Asquith cover it all in this quirky offering. This volume takes a simple yet informative approach to explaining how human bodies develop and operate. Gender and gender identity are also tackled through the inclusion of transgender and nonbinary characters. Speech bubbles and captions provide many opportunities for jokes, facts, questions, and ideas to enhance the experience, whether the work is read independently or shared with an adult. This title would make a great occasion for family reading, as many passages naturally lead to further conversation. VERDICT Librarians would be glad to add this all-things-bodily book to their lower elementary collections.–Joy Poynor, formerly at Rogers Public Library, AR

Lawrence, Sandra. Trials and Trickery: All the Grim, Gruesome, and Gory Parts of History’s Dark Side. ISBN 9781499800814.

––––. Death and Destruction: All the Grim, Gruesome, and Gory Parts of History’s Dark Side. ISBN 9781499800821.

ea vol: 64p. (Hideous History). glossary. illus. index. little bee. Jul. 2016. Tr $11.99.

Gr 6-8 –A presentation on various macabre-themed episodes of history, from Julius Caesar’s assassination to 20th-century gangsters. Readers will learn of the terrible ways in which humans have tortured, killed, and maimed one another over the course of history. The text occasionally caricatures entire peoples (“With 300 years of pillage and plunder under their tooled leather belts, the Vikings still rank as some of the blood thirstiest bad guys in history.”). Bright red blood splotches appear on most pages. The cartoonish illustrations can be rather violent: severed heads and other wounds are portrayed. VERDICT A selection more at home with Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark than with other history titles. Recommended for collections that serve horror fans or in need of Halloween-related materials.–Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant Public Library, IA

Leibold, Jay. Neuron Galaxy: A Story from Morphonix About Your Brain. illus. by Max Weinberg & Christine Gralapp. 40p. Morphonix. Sept. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780692747667.

Gr 2-5 –The illustrations within this title personify neurons as one-eyed cells with tentacles in search of “friends.” (“The baby neuron was lonely. It wanted to connect to neuron friends.”) The importance of learning is a running theme throughout this work. The text explains that neurons make connections in the brain as it develops (“their branches connect like shaking hands”), which is how humans are able to learn new things. The use of white lettering on a dark blue background gives the volume a spacelike appearance. However, the specificity of the topic makes this an unlikely draw for readers. VERDICT Purchase to supplement basic lessons on neurons. Otherwise, consider JoAnn Deak’s Your Fantastic Elastic Brain for a more kid-friendly choice covering brain functions.–Sandra Welzenbach, Villarreal Elementary School, San Antonio

Mack. All About Forests. tr. from Dutch. illus. by Mack. 80p. (Mack’s World of Wonder). photos. Clavis. Sept. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781605373010.

K-Gr 3 –Short and simple passages, peppered with relevant vocabulary (e.g., deciduous, coniferous), introduce young students to all things forest related. The format is fairly standard; large photos and cartoon illustrations ease students into the topic, while reader-directed questions allow them to reflect on the content as they read. The book is fairly long (for this age group), but it is divided into several sections, so there are obvious stopping places if time or attention spans are limited. A few of the flora and fauna featured may be unfamiliar to U.S. readers (the book was originally published in Holland); however, the majority of the information is applicable to those in most parts of North America. VERDICT A solid selection for read-alouds or as a lap book for those interested in introducing forests to kindergartners.–Debbie Tanner, S D Spady Montessori Elementary, FL

Meltzer, Brad. Heroes for My Son. 128p. photos. HarperCollins. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062439314.

Gr 5-7 –What makes a person a hero? Meltzer’s book offers 52 uplifting life stories as examples of everyday heroes. Featuring a host of famous and lesser-known people, each mini-biography explores the drive and inner motivation of these true role models. Tales of selfless acts and personal struggles are told in short snippets; each is accompanied by a picture and quote. A theme of resilience emerges when all of the accounts are read together. The book features figures such as Bella Abzug, a social equality activist and U.S. congresswoman; Officer Frank Shankwitz, cofounder of the Make-a-Wish Foundation; and Dan West, founder of Heifer International. The individuals who appear in these pages are remembered for the honorable acts they performed rather than the offices they held or the popularity they gained. Meltzer also includes stories about his mother and grandfather, both of whom had a profound impact on his life. Space is allotted for readers to chronicle their personal heroes. VERDICT A browsable addition to libraries with large budgets.–Jocelyn Charpentier, Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, MA

Prinja, Raman. Night Sky Watcher: Your Guide to the Stars and Planets. 120p. bibliog. glossary. illus. index. photos. QED. Jul. 2016. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781609929541.

Gr 4-7 –Astronomer, professor, and author Prinja returns with a vibrant and comprehensive kid’s guide to amateur astronomy. Content on the night sky is divided into sections, with a chapter on the basics so that readers with even no prior knowledge of astronomy will be able to jump right in. The tone of the text is informative and succinct; it flows conversationally rather than like a textbook. Vocabulary words are defined contextually and in a glossary. Illustrations support the text and are captioned using a different font than that of the main text. However, this typeface is comprised of dashed lines, and while artistically representing stars or constellations, it can be difficult to read in comparison to the other fonts used. Housed in a plastic zippered case to potentially also hold a journal or a pencil, this guide is the perfect companion for stargazing. (The book can easily be removed from this protective case if desired.) VERDICT A well-researched, in-depth guide for novice astronomers. A recommended selection for school and public libraries, science educators, homeschoolers, and astro-enthusiasts.–Doneanne Soult, Westampton Middle School, NJ

Schaefer, Lola M. & Adam Schaefer. Because of an Acorn. illus. by Frann Preston-Gannon. 36p. glossary. Chronicle. Aug. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452112428.

PreS-Gr 1 –This small book provides an elementary-level look at the way even an acorn plays an important role in the ecosystem. From the acorn comes a tree. The tree is a home to birds that scatter seeds. Seeds become flowers that bear appetizing fruit. The fruit attracts hungry chipmunks that entice hunter snakes. A watchful hawk, however, swoops down to catch its slithering prey. As the hawk stands guard in the oak tree, an acorn falls. And so another tree is born, and another, and soon there is a forest. Each page is laid out with only a few words or a single phrase. The pen-and-ink illustrations have an earth-tone palette and are enhanced digitally. The back matter consists of a glossary of important terms, such as ecosystem and saplings, and provides further information on how acorns nourish the forest animals. A few paragraphs explaining the importance of forests to the environment, specifically those in the Cumberland Plateau, is appended. VERDICT For the youngest readers and listeners, this is a simple but attractive introduction to nature’s life cycles.–Roxanne Burg, Orange County Public Library, CA

Snyder, Robert C. What Is a Veteran, Anyway? illus. by Ronald Himler. 32p. websites. Blue Marlin. Sept. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780988529557.

Gr 3-5 –Snyder, an educator and a veteran of the Iraqi War, describes in general terms what life is like for a variety of veterans. The text and the soft illustrations, rendered in pencil and gouache, portray the jobs and living conditions of servicemen and servicewomen during their deployment. Food, types of shelter, exposure to the elements, time away from family, injury, and death are also mentioned. A list of all the wars in which the United States has been involved is included. The final page provides several suggestions for honoring veterans and active duty personnel. The endpapers are a collage of cropped portions of the main illustrations. VERDICT Consider this illustrated title on veterans for collections that serve military communities or are in need of an introduction.–Eldon Younce, Anthony Public Library, KS

Sundem, Garth. Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character: Choices That Matter Around the World. 168p. index. maps. Free Spirit. Aug. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781631980268.

Gr 5-8 –This brief, accessible book tells the true stories of 30 kids and teens who have demonstrated positive character in their lives, specifically courage, creativity, resilience, and responsibility. Some of the entries are truly inspiring; for instance, 10-year-old Arit from India challenged the caste system, and 13-year-old William in Malaki built wind-powered generators from junk. However, many of the accounts included come across as trite in comparison. The writing style is conversational and friendly but not particularly engaging. These are positive stories with a good message, but this volume is unlikely to fly off shelves. VERDICT Consider for collections in need of positive personal interest stories only.–Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI

Wooster, Patricia. So, You Want To Be a Leader?: An Awesome Guide to Becoming a Head Honcho. 192p. (Be What You Want). ebook available. further reading. glossary. illus. notes. websites. S. & S./Aladdin. Aug. 2016. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781582705484; pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781582705477.

Gr 4-8 –This book, the ninth in the series, comes close to packing more information than some might deem necessary into its pages. The content is organized well, and the author’s tone is conversational and readable—students can peruse the chapters at their convenience. After an introductory chapter that highlights what it means to be a leader and describes the skills one might need, the book is organized by the type of leadership readers might aspire to, from political to spiritual. Spotlights that describe past and present leaders, as well as “Like a Boss” and “VIP” profiles, which include interviews with prominent teens and adults, are littered throughout. Each chapter also features simple ways in which tweens or teens can start a project that makes sense given their age. There’s a lot of material crammed into a small space, but it works. VERDICT A worthwhile purchase for tween and teen self-help sections for the sheer amount of information contained and the inspiration it can provide.–Marie Drucker, Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, NY

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