March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction Xpress Reviews | December 2016

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For more of this month’s
Xpress Reviews:

Picture Books


Graphic Novels

Allmer, Patricia. This Is Magritte. illus. by Iker Spozio. 80p. (Artists Monographs). bibliog. reprods. Laurence King. Sept. 2016. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781780678504.

Gr 9 Up –This durable, cardboard-covered volume boasts a succinct, provocative biography accompanied by lively illustrations in René Magritte’s style. Students using the engaging text for an art assignment will find inspiration, but the book lacks solid back matter. Also, unfamiliar art movements and terms go undefined in the text. Those with prior knowledge of art history will likely appreciate this selection more, as it does have its strengths, notably, the strong narrative voice. Spozio’s illustrations and the reproductions of Magritte’s work are also quite captivating. However, this title could easily live on the shelves of adult nonfiction. Perhaps it might be of use to those developing a crossover (teen/adult) collection. VERDICT Readers looking for a work of art will be satisfied, but those seeking an informational tool should turn elsewhere.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

Arlon, Penelope. Knights & Castles: A LEGO Adventure in the Real World. illus. by Tory Gordon-Harris. 64p. glossary. illus. index. photos. Scholastic. Jun. 2016. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780545947671.

Gr 2-4 –This romp through medieval times is an easy selection for kids interested in the time period. Each two-page chapter is packed with a variety of images and features that accompany the main text: photos, cartoons, extra fact boxes in the shape of shields, LEGO figures that carry on an amusing but informative side plot, labels, captions, and many activity-based “Build It” suggestions that match the chapter topic. Brief descriptions of legendary folks, such as King Arthur, Saint George, Edward the Black Prince, El Cid, and Roland the Jester, are also included. Students hungry for facts about knights and castles won’t be disappointed. Those with no prior knowledge on this subject will likely be drawn in, too, thanks to the popularity of the franchise and the overall bright design. VERDICT For libraries using learning stations or ones with fully launched maker spaces, this book is ideal for encouraging exploration and creativity.–Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT

Carney, Elizabeth. Las Ranas (Frogs). 32p. glossary. photos. National Geographic. Sept. 2016. pap. $4.99. ISBN 9781426325939.

Gr 1-3 –Stunning, colorful photographs are used throughout this slim Spanish-language title and are sure to grab the attention of young readers interested in amphibians. The photos are thoughtfully placed and support the rich text. Numbered photographs and fact boxes are used to describe the life cycle of a frog. A spread highlighting the differences between frogs and toads is a neat addition for the aspiring nature walker. VERDICT An engaging reading group choice for elementary students who are beginning to read independently in Spanish.–Katie Darrin, Boulder Valley School District, Boulder, CO

Claybourne, Anna. The Amazing Animal Adventure: An Around-the-World Spotting Expedition. illus. by Brendan Kearney. 64p. index. Laurence King. Aug. 2016. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781780678450.

Gr 1-3 –An oversize “find-the-pictures” book where none of the animals are particularly well-hidden and the illustrations often contradict the stated animal facts. This British import features 21 different illustrated habitats, along with answer keys, three pages of infographics, and an index. Kearney’s cartoon-style art is enjoyable, and the colors are well saturated and vary in hue from spread to spread; causal browsers are likely to be pleased. However, young animal aficionados could easily be disappointed by the title’s inaccurate depictions. Hydrothermal vent scale worms are described in the text as “pretty and pink” but are illustrated as a beige, pale yellow. Andean flamingoes, which are the only species of flamingo to have yellow legs, are portrayed with black legs. Claybourne states that the Karoo bustard is “usually seen in pairs,” but the accompanying scene shows only one. VERDICT Not recommended.–Kacy Helwick, New Orleans Public Library

Elliott, Rob. Laugh-Out-Loud Christmas Jokes for Kids. 144p. HarperCollins/Harper. Sept. 2016. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780062497918.

Gr 2-5 –The jokes may be a tad cheesy, but elementary students will delight in retelling these simple one-liners. (“Why wouldn’t the skeleton go snowboarding down the mountain? He didn’t have the guts.” “Which baseball player makes the best Christmas cakes? The batter.”) Containing everything from knock-knock to question-and-answer jokes, this slim title is sure to entertain kids right in time for the holiday season. Families can share a laugh around the fireplace or the kitchen table. VERDICT Recommended wherever joke books are in demand.–Elizabeth Anne Ragain, Springfield Public Schools, MO

Hutt, Sarah. Animals Are Delicious: 3 Foldout Food Chain Books. illus. by Dave Ladd & Stephanie Anderson. photos by Michael Corridore. 48p. Phaidon. May 2016. Board $17.95. ISBN 9780714871448.

K-Gr 2 –In this set of informative foldout board books, Hutt explores natural food chains in three different habitats. “High in the sky, all around the forest, and deep in the ocean, everyone is hungry.” At the bottom of each chain, the warmth and energy from the sun nourishes plants, which are eaten by a tiny organism like a krill, a slug, or an aphid. The chains then proceed through a line of ever-larger creatures until “no one is hungry anymore.” The candid narrative highlights a variety of interesting animals ranging from ladybugs to owls, silverfish to whales, and shrews to bobcats, explaining how animals hunt and catch one another to survive. The books open up into six-foot-long, double-sided panels. As each volume unfolds, bright illustrations spotlight each creature in a singular fashion. Handmade figurines are set against paper and mixed-media backgrounds and photographed. A small, luminous pink squid floats at the bottom of the cerulean ocean. A yellow-eyed great horned owl perches on a tree branch. A red fox leaps through the dark green forest brush. On the reverse side of the panels, black-and-white pictures accompany additional animal dietary facts. VERDICT Although the quirky title may startle some sensitive animal lovers, these offerings, presented in a straightforward, unvarnished style, will work well in classrooms and programs.–Linda L. Walkins, Saint Joseph Preparatory High School, Boston

Lawley, Kian & Jc Caylen. Kian and Jc: Don’t Try This at Home! 224p. photos. HarperCollins. Jun. 2016. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780062437167.

Gr 7 Up –Although light on substance, even compared to other browsable pop culture titles, this volume on the two YouTube stars will, without a doubt, appeal to their admirers, who sent waves of “ily” (I love you) responses to each tweet promoting the book. Fans will appreciate this quick read for its details about the guys (their childhoods, rise to semi-fame, and lives on tour). The design resembles that of a notebook/yearbook, but the alignment and page breaks are often off and detract from the already slim information present. For the uninitiated, this book will do nothing to clarify why Lawley and Caylen have fans in the first place, much less well over two million followers. Online, their chemistry as friends and their personal charisma are easier to see, albeit through a haze of self-referential bro culture. In print, a sense of entitlement is what mostly comes through, particularly via photos of the pair wearing Afro wigs and short basketball uniforms for laughs. VERDICT Consider only for collections where this YouTube duo is popular.–Miriam DesHarnais, Towson University, MD

Quattlebaum, Mary. Together Forever: True Stories of Amazing Animal Friendships! 112p. further reading. index. photos. websites. National Geographic. Sept. 2016. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9781426324642.

Gr 2-5 –This title contains all the ingredients for great, accessible nonfiction: stories featuring unlikely and heartwarming animal friendships, adorable photographs, and engaging trivia. However, the tales are uninspiring and meandering, and the overall result is somewhat flat. Visually, the book is appealing, with colorful borders, informational sidebars, and fun “Did You Know” tidbits. But the three main stories (each divided into three chapters) are slow and bland. VERDICT With so many exceptional animal selections already on library shelves (e.g., K.A. Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan and Lindsay Mattick’s Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear), this mediocre offering will be easy to pass up.–Laura Lintz, Henrietta Public Library, Rochester, NY

Scarborough, Kate. A Wasp Builds a Nest: See Inside a Paper Wasp’s Nest and Watch It Grow. illus. by Martin Camm. 18p. Firefly. Aug. 2016. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781770856950.

K-Gr 2 –Wasps are often a source of fear and discomfort for children, but this title does a compelling job of showing wasps in a more favorable light. The book opens with a queen wasp awakening from hibernation and follows her through the creation of a colony to her eventual death in the fall. The information is presented scientifically but is also accessible for young readers, with any potentially unfamiliar words well explained. The illustrations are detailed and support the text. The view of the inside of a wasp’s nest is likely new to most, and students will find it helpful to see the structures in question. The pages are shingled, starting as a quarter-page and gradually expanding in size until they fill the full dimensions of the book, which works well to mimic the growing colony depicted in the illustrations. The material emphasizes the growth of the wasps and the colony rather than what wasps do outside of the hive; however, this narrow focus keeps the text from becoming confusing for younger readers. VERDICT A pleasing introduction to wasps and their life cycle, suitable for young entomology fans. Consider for most libraries.–Ellen Norton, Naperville Public Library, IL

What in the World: A Closer Look; Fun-tastic Photo Puzzles for Curious Minds. 48p. further reading. photos. websites. National Geographic. Sept. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781426325380.

Gr 4-7 –Vibrant colors, fabulous photography, and lively text make this a feast for young minds. A number of exercises challenge readers to unscramble words, detect false images, spot the difference, and discover optical illusions in this nicely packaged work. (An answer key is provided at the end.) An emphasis on training and strengthening cognitive skills within and beyond the book elevates this title from just a general activity selection. Suggestions for outdoor deep-looking (noticing natural patterns, etc.) and adapting independent exercises for larger groups further add to the value. Most of the puzzles center on animals and their habitats. VERDICT A browsable selection for collections in need of photo-driven puzzles.–Cynde Suite, Bartow County Library System, Adairsville, GA

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