February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Presidents, Outlaws, and Icons: U.S. History | Series Nonfiction

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1611-sms-ushistory“Great.” “Amazing.” “Powerhouse.” These are just a few of the telling and well-deserved descriptors that appear in these volumes about the United States. This season’s offerings provide a clear and expansive presentation of the who, what, when, where, and why of U.S. history. Curriculum connections abound, while a few series deliver material that examines more nuanced aspects of our shared history. All things considered, this is a meaningful, well-written, and accessible batch of series.


Blake, Kevin. The Golden Gate Bridge. ISBN 9781944102449; ISBN 9781 944997113.

––––. The Statue of Liberty. ISBN 9781944102418; ISBN 9781944997144.

––––. The White House. ISBN 9781944102425; ISBN 9781944997151.

Goldish, Meish. Colonial Williamsburg. ISBN 9781944102463; ISBN 9781 944997106.

––––. The Empire State Building. ISBN 9781944102432; ISBN 9781944997120.

––––. The Hoover Dam. ISBN 9781944102456; ISBN 9781944997137.

ea vol: 32p. (American Places: From Vision to Reality). bibliog. chron. diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bearport. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $26.60. ebk. $39.93.

Gr 3-5 –Using eye-catching graphics, this series illuminates the fascinating histories of a few iconic U.S. sites. For instance, readers discover that in its infancy, the Statue of Liberty was so little regarded by the U.S. government that Congress refused to pay for the statue’s pedestal, thereby inspiring a nationwide fund-raising campaign among school children. Many images depict the early stages of planning and building, giving a rare insider’s look at how these famous places came to be. This mix of history and architecture with just a dash of archeology allows students to encounter each subject from a variety of angles (e.g., how did archeologists contribute to the rebuilding of Colonial Williamsburg, what are the architectural similarities between James Hoban’s design for the White House and the Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland?). VERDICT A multifaceted look at some of the top historical destination spots in the United States. Recommend.

Caravantes, Peggy. Guarding the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. ISBN 9781503808119; ISBN 9781503813694.

Cernak, Linda. Guarding Fort Knox. ISBN 9781503808126; ISBN 9781503813656.

Sherman, Jill. Guarding Nuclear Weapons Facilities. ISBN 9781503808133; ISBN 9781503813663.

Spalding, Maddie. Guarding Supermax Prisons. ISBN 9781503808072; ISBN 9781503813670.

––––. Guarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ISBN 9781503808102; ISBN 9781503813687.

Terrell, Brandon. Guarding Air Force One. ISBN 9781503808089; ISBN 9781503813632.

––––. Guarding Area 51. ISBN 9781503808096; ISBN 9781503813649.

Weitzman, Elizabeth. Guarding the Super Bowl Stadium. ISBN 9781503808140; ISBN 9781503813700.

ea vol: 24p. (Highly Guarded Places). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 3-5 –Well-written text and a copious amount of illustrations on an attention-grabbing subject make for an attractive series. Each title begins with a real-life account concerning an immense peril to U.S. citizens or property. After the hook, the text delves into where the recognizable (and highly guarded) U.S. landmark is and why it is important to our history. In addition to the brief background on each location, kids will especially hone in on the information detailing what it takes to keep these locations secure, be it underground chambers in Federal Reserve, concrete walls in CDC, or remote control gates and doors in Supermax Prisons. The writing style is light and conversational, but packed with amazing facts. For example, in Fort Knox, the author writes: “Want to visit Fort Knox? Not so fast. You would not be able to get near the depository. No visitors are allowed. This is a strict rule with no exceptions. Today, even the U.S. president cannot get into Fort Knox.” VERDICT Informative and exciting, this is a series that will not sit long on shelves.

Ford, Jeanne Marie. How Elections Work. ISBN 9781503809024; ISBN 9781503813793.

––––. How the Government Works. ISBN 9781503809048; ISBN 9781503813816.

Krueger, Naomi J. How the Judicial Branch Works. ISBN 9781503809055; ISBN 9781503813823.

Lusted, Marcia Amidon. The Bill of Rights. ISBN 9781503809000; ISBN 9781503813847.

––––. The U.S. Constitution. ISBN 9781503809079; ISBN 9781503813861.

Meinking, Mary. The Declaration of Independence. ISBN 9781503809017; ISBN 9781503813854.

Spalding, Maddie. How the Executive Branch Works. ISBN 9781503809031; ISBN 9781503813809.

––––. How the Legislative Branch Works. ISBN 9781503809062; ISBN 9781503813830.

ea vol: 24p. (How America Works). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. reprods. websites. The Child’s World. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $28.50. ebk. $28.50.

Gr 3-5 –With 24 pages per book, these titles are brief. Even so, elegant design and substantive content make them strong contenders. Each one tackles a specific component of U.S. government and describes, in brief, the influences and other formative issues surrounding it. For instance, in How the Government Works, the author explains that even though the original 13 colonies technically rebelled against Great Britain, they still borrowed ideas from the British government when forming their own. Contemporary aspects of each subject are described as well, such as the ongoing debate about the merits and demerits of the electoral college in How Elections Work. The nature of how the U.S. government is structured means that some content overlaps (the need for a constitutional convention is described in The Bill of Rights and The U.S. Constitution), but not so much that one title can be overlooked when ordering. The illustrations are a solid balance of archival paintings, maps, photographs, and graphics. VERDICT Just in time for the election season, a great primer for U.S. government classes.

Halvorson, Alesha. The Ojibwe: The Past and Present of the Anishinaabe. ISBN 9781515702405; ISBN 9781515702443.

Smith-Llera, Danielle. The Chumash: The Past and Present of California’s Seashell People. ISBN 9781515702375; ISBN 9781515702412.

––––. The Creek: The Past and Present of the Muscogee. ISBN 9781515702382; ISBN 9781515702429.

––––. The Powhatan: The Past and Present of Virginia’s First Tribes. ISBN 9781515702399; ISBN 9781515702436.

ea vol: 32p. (American Indian Life). chron. further reading. glossary. index. maps. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $20.49. ebk. $7.95.

Gr 3-5 –Content in each book is divided into four basic categories: origins, contact with Europeans, contemporary tribal life, and efforts to protect or preserve traditions. The writing is clear and accessible. The series excels at highlighting characteristics that make each tribe unique. For instance, in Creek the author explains how a network of rivers and creeks in now present-day Alabama and Georgia facilitated travel and led to the growth of Muscogee villages and towns along these waterways hundreds of years ago. Though they were separated geographically, they were united by common tribal interests. The authors do not shy away from injustices these groups faced at the hands of the U.S. government and people. However, ample space is given to explore and celebrate each group in the present day. Illustrations are an attractive, well-curated balance of etchings, maps, and photographs. A consultant is listed for each title, but it is unclear if any tribal leaders or experts were also consulted. VERDICT Informative and nuanced, this series will make a nice addition to most school and public library collections.

Hinman, Bonnie. Famous Lawmen. ISBN 9781680782554; ISBN 9781680779417.

Murray, Laura K. The Oregon Trail. ISBN 9781680782585; ISBN 9781680779448.

Rea, Amy C. The Pony Express. ISBN 9781680782592; ISBN 9781680779455.

––––. The Trail of Tears. ISBN 9781680782608; ISBN 9781680779462.

Rowell, Rebecca. The Louisiana Purchase. ISBN 9781680782561; ISBN 9781680779424.

Yasuda, Anita. Notorious Outlaws. ISBN 9781680782578; ISBN 9781680779431.

––––. Women of the American West. ISBN 9781680782622; ISBN 9781680779486.

Zuchora-Walske, Christine. The Transcontinental Railroad. ISBN 9781680782615; ISBN 9781680779479.

ea vol: 48p. (The Wild West). diag. futher reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. ABDO. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $22.95. ebk. $37.95.

Gr 2-4 –The American West has a history that has grown to mythic proportions. This series brings the time period into perspective without losing any of its vitality or wonder. The syntax is spot-on for the audience and the content is abundant in facts, figures, and compelling details. In Outlaws, for instance, the Manifest Destiny and its implantations are succinctly and accurately described this way: “Still the promise of a better life drew Americans westward. It did not matter to them that [Native Americans] already lived there. Americans believed it was their right to expand the nation…For native people, however, Manifest Destiny meant the loss of their traditional lands and their culture.” Occasional sections “Straight to the Source,” “Perspectives,” and “Stop and Think” place primary source excerpts in context, describe an alternative viewpoint, and provide writing and critical thinking prompts. The inclusion of titles about the Trail of Tears and the Transcontinental Railroad widen the scope of what is typically considered to be Wild West fare, but effectively demonstrate that there was more to the Wild West than herding cattle and shoot-outs. VERDICT High-interest, curriculum-related content attractively presented. A sound purchase.

Kirkman, Marissa. The Life and Times of Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War. ISBN 9781515724742; ISBN 9781515724827.

––––. The Life and Times of George Washington and the American Revolution. ISBN 9781515724766; ISBN 9781515724841.

––––. The Life and Times of Pocahontas and the First Colonies. ISBN 9781515724773; ISBN 9781515724858.

––––. The Life and Times of the First Americans. ISBN 9781515724759; ISBN 9781515724834.

ea vol: 24p. (Life and Times). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $18.99. pap. $6.95.

Gr 2-4 –In this history-in-a-thimble series, Kirkman balances brevity with substance. The history of each era is described by honing in on the role of a key individual during that time. Each title opens with background information that provides readers with an understanding of why and how the featured event came to be. For instance, before delving into the Civil War, the author describes how state laws about slavery and different styles of commerce caused a rift between the North and South. Or before tackling the pivotal moments of the American Revolution in George Washington, the author explains how the colonies came to be and why they were ruled by Britain. These brief backstories segue easily into the topic events and individuals. However, there is a weak link. First Americans is a general introduction to four regions in the United States and the common characteristics of tribal life in those areas in the past (“Tribes in the North used trees from the forest to make their homes. Some tribes lived in longhouses. Others lived in wigwams.”). Furthermore, there is no mention of native peoples in the South or Southeast in this title. Across the board, the layout is attractive and the content is well-organized and concisely written. The illustrations are full-color and complement the accompanying text nicely. VERDICT With the exception of First Americans, these titles are sound purchases.

Marx, Mandy R. Amazing U.S. Air Force Facts. ISBN 9781515709510; ISBN 9781515709831.

––––. Amazing U.S. Army Facts. ISBN 9781515709534; ISBN 9781515709855.

––––. Amazing U.S. Marine Facts. ISBN 9781515709541; ISBN 9781515709862.

––––. Amazing U.S. Navy Facts. ISBN 9781515709527; ISBN 9781515709848.

ea vol: 24p. (Amazing Military Facts). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $19.99. pap. $6.95.

K-Gr 2 –Simple but not simplistic, this series is ideal for new readers. The verso of each spread consists of a few concise sentences. The writing is informative and hones in on military superlatives. Young readers will eat up facts such as “Many soldiers use the M4 rifle. This gun shoots 700 to 950 bullets per minute. That is 11 to 16 shots per second” and “Marine recruits train for 12 weeks. Their final test is the Crucible. It lasts 54 hours. Recruits march 48 miles (77 kilometers) as part of the test.” The photograph on each recto fills the page and is in full color. The scenes captured are vivid and telling. For instance, a photo in U.S. Navy shows a sailor in his bunk and depicts clearly the extremely cramped living quarters referenced in the accompanying page of text. VERDICT A great purchase for libraries serving very young children.

Prior, Jennifer. American Indians of the Plains: Surviving the Great Expanse. ISBN 9781493830701.

Rice, Katelyn. American Indians of the West: Battling the Elements. ISBN 9781493830695.

Schwartz, Heather E. American Indians of the East: Woodland People. ISBN 9781493830718.

––––. Pocahontas: Her Life and Legend. ISBN 9781493830725.

ea vol: 32p. (Primary Source Readers: Early American Indians). glossary. index. maps. photos. Teacher Created. Jun. 2016. pap. $8.99.

Gr 3-5 –Each title covers four subjects as they relate to each group of Native Americans: their geographical region, how the region’s resources influenced their culture, first contact with white settlers and its effects on tribal life, and tribal life today. The end of one chapter segues easily into the first part of the next chapter. For instance, in Plains, the second chapter, “The Hunt for Buffalo,” ends with a description of ways in which the Comanche interpreted changes in nature as portends for finding buffalo. The next chapter, “Plains Culture,” begins by elaborating on tribal religion. At times, the constant shifting from one tribe to another and back again is distracting. In addition, the tendency to group tribes together (“Many of these tribes exist today. Life has changed for them, and the tribes remain strong.”) unnecessarily homogenizes the complex and diverse histories of each group. While a number of consultants are listed for each title, there are no tribal ones. In all titles, the writing is complemented by a bevy of paintings, maps, and photographs. VERDICT These general overviews provide very little new information. A supplemental purchase.

Rodgers, Kelly. The Middle Colonies: Breadbasket of the New World. ISBN 9781493830763.

––––. The New England Colonies: A Place for Puritans. ISBN 9781493830756.

––––. The Southern Colonies: First and Last of 13. ISBN 9781493830770.

Smith, Emily R. Phillis Wheatley. ISBN 9781493838820.

ea vol: 32p. (Primary Source Readers: Thirteen Colonies). glossary. index. photos. Teacher Created. Jun. 2016. pap. $8.99.

Gr 3-5 –Brief chapters describe when and why each region was settled by Europeans and how encounters with indigenous groups played out. There are also details that highlight the differences among the various colonies. For instance, the long growing season in the South contributed to the region’s economy being driven by cash crops. On the other hand, the New England colonies utilized their diverse natural resources to create a booming mercantile economy. Phillis Wheatley provides an engaging look at this remarkable person’s life. The content on each page is made up of about one-third text and two-thirds illustration, making these titles attractive to reluctant readers and visual learners alike. VERDICT The format is substantive, attractive, and accessible. A worthwhile purchase for libraries serving elementary school age students.

Middle to High School

Burgan, Michael. A Chronology of U.S. Special Ops. ISBN 9781515718505.

Larson, Kirsten W. Statistics about U.S. Special Ops, Past and Present. ISBN 9781515718529.

Leavitt, Amie Jane. Stories from Those Who Fought in America’s Special Ops. ISBN 9781515718512.

ea vol: 48p. (U.S. Special Ops). further reading. glossary. photos. websites. Capstone. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $21.99.

Gr 4-8 –Made all the more intriguing because every bit of it is true, this series examine the roles these specialized forces have played throughout U.S. history. Each book manages content in a different way. However, as a result, there is a fair bit of overlap among the volumes. For instance, in Statistics, readers learn through text and infographics about what made Confederate John Singleton Mosby’s group of rangers (aka Mosby’s Rangers) special during and after the Civil War. In Stories, Mosby’s group is approached through narrative. Most of the focus is on U.S. missions, but there are accounts of groups with whom the United States collaborated, such as the Jedburgh teams of World War II. Throughout the series, the photos are full of action and the font suits the content well. VERDICT A high-interest topic sure to appeal to military and history buffs alike.

Hill, Christina. Racing to Colonize the New World. ISBN 9781493830749.

Maloof, Torrey. Early Explorers. ISBN 9781493830732.

ea vol: 32p. (Primary Source Readers: Age of Discovery). glossary. index. maps. photos. Teacher Created. Jun. 2016. pap. $8.99.

Gr 4-8 –In Early Explorers, the author begins by describing the challenges faced by the first European explorers: rudimentary navigational aids, nil or nearly nil foreknowledge of non-European regions, and the general danger of travel by sea. The author also describes what drove them—curiosity, wealth, competitiveness, etc. As the author traces the origins of European exploration from the early days of the Vikings in the 11th century to the last voyage of Henry Hudson in the early 1600s, facts about the Silk Road, the spice trade, and advances in navigational science are woven in. In Racing to Colonize the New World, the author summarizes the content of Early Explorers, then describes in depth the conflict that arose when Europeans fought each other and Native Americans in order to claim territory for their own respective countries. In addition, the author explains how contact among different cultures fostered the exchange of ideas and goods. In each book, maps appear periodically to show the reaches of exploration and trade. VERDICT These are adequate additions to collections interested in pre- and early American history.

Kenney, Karen Latchana & Catherine M. Andronik. Abraham Lincoln’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779258.

Oachs, Emily Rose. Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779234.

Schwartz, Heather E. Theodore Roosevelt’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779302.

Zuchora-Walske, Christine. Andrew Jackson’s Presidency. ISBN 9781467779265.

ea vol: 108p. (Presidential Powerhouses). bibliog. chron. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. notes. photos. websites. Lerner. Aug. 2016. lib. ed. $35.99.

Gr 8 Up –These titles effectively encapsulate the lives of men whose reputations are so nearly mythic as to make most of them recognizable by their last names only. The authors include episodes that are at odds with the lionized reputations, but add an emotional and psychological dimension. For instance, the hotheaded, occasionally violent Andrew Jackson was deeply committed to his tender, sweet wife Rachel Donelson Robards, and the outdoorsy, boisterous Theodore Roosevelt was grief-stricken to the point of despondency when his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, died at the age of 22. The illustrations are well-curated and excellently reproduced. The sepia-toned stars and stripes motif in the borders and backgrounds complements the presidential subject matter. VERDICT Succinct, informative, and compelling, this series is a must-have for most libraries.

Just as Mother Nature saves some of her most spectacular feats for autumn, so too it seems does the world of series nonfiction. Any of the selections reviewed here would make solid additions to school and public library collections. For those looking for a multifaceted approach to popular landmarks or icons of the United States, check out Bearport’s “American Places” and The Child’s World’s “Highly Guarded Places.” Consider Capstone’s “American Indian Life” to update collections on Native American tribes. And lastly, for those with election-hungry students, Creative Education’s “How America Works” is a great primer for government classes. Librarians and teachers, purchase these series with confidence.

Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

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