April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction: Yoga, Space, Sharks, and More | May 2017 Xpress Reviews

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The Art of Memory/El arte de recordar. 26p. glossary. illus. Lectura. Oct. 2016. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781604480405. BL

Gr 3-5 –Ten artists share childhood memories and lovely artwork in this treasure of a collection. A young girl receives a playhouse from her beloved grandfather, a child arrives in New York City as an immigrant and immediately wants to return home to Puerto Rico, and a young boy imagines that the train next to his house is actually made up of elephants. Each recollection is one that left a lasting impression on the artist, and most of them are events that children will easily relate to. The illustrations reflect the unique styles of the featured artists and greatly enhance the stories. The book is bilingual, and a subtly dotted line distinguishes the English from the Spanish text. Not to be missed are the opening letter from the publisher and the list of Spanish/English vocabulary at the end. Fans of Carmen Lomas Garza will appreciate this powerful example of memoir. This title would serve well as a writing mentor text and launching point for children to tell their own personal stories. VERDICT An excellent choice for bilingual and Spanish-language collections.–Katie Darrin, Boulder Valley School District, Boulder, CO

Carter, Andy. Margarito’s Forest/El bosque de Don Margarito. illus. by Allison Havens. 36p. Hard Ball. Oct. 2016. pap. $12.50. ISBN 9780997979701. BL

Gr 3 Up –A reverence for natural ecological cycles, ancestral heritage, and the importance of environmental preservation are the focus of this bilingual biography of Don Margarito Esteban Álvarez Velázquez, or Margarito. Told from the perspective of his daughter, Doña María Guadalupe, the story is set in Saq Ja’, Guatemala, and is, in part, a retelling of the Mayan cosmovision of paying tribute to one’s ancestral past by loving the earth. Margarito, who devoted his life to planting trees as a way to honor his family and to bestow a gift upon future generations, steadfastly plants more trees instead of giving in to pressure to use the land to grow crops. But when Guatemala is torn apart by genocide and widespread deforestation beginning in 1954, Margarito’s forest is destroyed. Worse, Mayan villagers are killed or displaced, including Margarito himself, who dies during the unrest. But his daughter is able to return to the village to restore the forest herself and resettle the surviving indigenous villagers. She continues to plant trees to this day and aids in the education of a new generation of villagers there. Mixed-media illustrations capture the story’s cultural essence and are a combination of original drawings, paintings, photography, traditional Guatemalan textiles, and artwork made by children at the Saq Ja’ Elementary School. Readers and educators will benefit from thoughtful discussion questions and a study guide. VERDICT A timely addition to any children’s collection, this colorful bilingual biography is as poignant as it is relevant, and will serve as a critical conversation starter for young, eco-conscious minds.–Natalie Braham, Denver Public Library

Crownover, Rebecca. Texas Farm Girl: Aquaculture Farming. illus. by Brian Daigle. 38p. photos. Mascot. Mar. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9781631779602.

PreS-Gr 2 –Crownover fictionalizes her journey from Sunray, TX, to the Gulf city of Taft (complete with a cartoon version of herself), in order to learn about aquaculture farming. She visited Global Blue Technologies (GBT), an indoor shrimp hatchery that offers an alternative way to harvest shellfish. The story line is straightforward, and new words are highlighted and defined on each page, although the text is cramped and may present a challenge for newly independent readers. Also, the text color occasionally blends in with the brightly colored digital illustrations, making it hard to distinguish words from pictures. The book often reads like an advertisement for GBT rather than an overview of the field of aquaculture, as the subtitle suggests, and it lacks proper source material to back up facts that appear throughout (e.g., “The ocean is 90% overfished and that means that many types of aquatic life were in danger because of it.”). VERDICT While libraries may be seeking aquaculture literature for this age group, this title does an inadequate job of covering the subject and does not provide substantiated information in an unbiased way.–Lindsay Jensen, Nashville Public Library

Highway, Tomson. The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito. illus. by Sue Todd. 72p. Fifth House. Mar. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781927083383.

Gr 3-5 –Sporting stubs instead of wings, Canadian-born Mary Jane Mosquito is constantly belittled by her nasty teacher and cruel mosquito classmates. Moving to Winnipeg to live with her aunt, she attends a diverse school open to insects of all types. However, when they, too, reject her, she takes out her frustrations by threatening the housefly Minnie Matouche with a can of Raid. When Aunt Flo finally explains that one acquires friends only through kindness and love and by sharing one’s gift, Mary Jane decides to go on tour and share her talent for song with others, who become her friends. In an oversize format filled with intensely colored block prints, this print version of a one-act, one-woman musical commissioned by Stratford Summer Music (a multiweek festival in Canada) features stylized figures in both full- and half-page illustrations. Dedicated to disabled children, the story uses audience participation as Mary Jane sings in English, French, and her native “mosquito language,” but without an accompanying CD, elementary readers will have to invent the music. Despite the appealing premise, the plot is too obvious, and the idea that audience members whom the protagonist meets only briefly could be considered “friends” is a little forced. A couple of Canadian references are not explained and will likely be incomprehensible to American listeners. VERDICT The book has an interesting look, but it promises more than it delivers. Consider only where plays and musicals are popular.–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence

Jordan, Laurie. Yawning Yoga. illus. by Diana Mayo. 32p. glossary. Little Pickle. Feb. 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781939775108.

PreS-Gr 2 –Jordan walks children through 11 different yoga poses meant specifically to help them unwind and settle down before bedtime. The first page offers tips to readers, including holding each pose for three to five breaths and going through them at a comfortable pace. Each section describes a child-friendly position, including “dog-tired down dog,” “seashell,” and “jelly belly,” along with its name in Sanskrit. A rhyme describing each pose is also featured (“when muscles feel all tense and tight, I do this stretch each and every night”). The more complicated poses are accompanied by small instructional images. Mayo’s lush, colorful illustrations are striking and lend a dreamlike quality to the work. With the recent push toward mindfulness in schools, this is a helpful tool to extend those soothing practices at home. VERDICT Ideal for pre-nap or pre-bedtime relaxation. Consider for use in preschools or at home.–Kathryn Justus, Renbrook School, West Hartford, CT

Olson, Tod. Lost in Outer Space: The Incredible Journey of Apollo 13. 176p. bibliog. glossary. Scholastic. Jan. 2017. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780545928151.

Gr 3-7 –“Houston, we have a problem” is an iconic movie line to most people, and a variation on that very sentence was uttered during the actual Apollo 13 mission. The drama, instigated by a defective thermostat that caused an explosion and oxygen leak, was mirrored back on Earth. Barbara Lovell, the daughter of astronaut Jim Lovell (the mission commander), was aware that her father’s job was dangerous; however, during the Apollo 13 mission, she realized something particularly terrible was happening. Mission control in Houston immediately knew the situation was serious and scrambled to help Apollo 13. The safe return of all on board is no secret, but the full story of their trip and how those in space and on land became heroes is a thrilling one, full of heroism and suspense. The author’s recounting of the mission is detailed and gives equal coverage to the astronauts, the NASA engineers, and the families. The use of teen Barbara Lovell as a character for readers to identify with is effective and makes the story relatable. Technical language is not absent, but space concepts and tools are explained thoroughly in a manner that even reluctant readers will find accessible. VERDICT Fans of action-packed true survival stories will take to this real-life space episode—an easy pick for upper elementary schoolers.–Morgan Brickey, Arlington Public Library, TX

Sharks and Other Sea Creatures. 32p. index. photos. DK. Mar. 2017. Tr $8.99. ISBN 9781465456588.

PreS-Gr 2 –Featuring full-color photos layered atop cheerful design elements, this book alternates between factual spreads and craft projects throughout. Directions are consistently laid out in four steps, each with an accompanying photo. The index permits efficient searching for popular sea favorites, such as the regal blue tang. The title’s emphasis on sharks is a bit deceptive, as only one informational feature and one activity focus on those particular animals. The editors successfully and concisely represent four categories of ocean wildlife (mammals, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates) with easy-to-understand definitions and fascinating, little-known facts. The need for adult support is acknowledged on the colophon page, and instructions suggest that adults should help cut things out. Though the shapes are simple enough, preschool children may actually require the most assistance with the drawing aspect, as no stencils or templates are provided. Adults will be pleased that supplies, such as ribbons, cardstock, googly eyes, and paint, are inexpensively procured or perhaps already on hand. Only the “egg carton ocean” necessitates a recyclable item. Four of the five projects require drying time between steps. VERDICT A strong combination of nonfiction information and crafts. Recommended for a lively collaboration between young ocean enthusiasts and educators or parents.–Maria O’Toole, Carroll Manor Elementary School, Adamstown, MD

Strauss, Gwen. The Hiding Game. illus. by Herb Leonhard. 40p. further reading. photos. websites. Pelican. Feb. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781455622658.

Gr 2-4 –This nonfiction picture book sheds light on Varian Fry, an American journalist who, with the Emergency Rescue Committee, helped Europeans escape Nazi rule. Fry and his assistant, Danny Bénédite (the author’s great-uncle), facilitated the escape of thousands of refugees, including famous artists and writers such as Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, and Marcel Duchamp. This tale follows young Aube and her family as they flee the German army in France and find refuge in the Villa Air-Bel with Fry. Aube and her family are present during a raid on the villa, and they endure a long, cold winter before they escape via ship to South America. Aube is an ideal narrator, giving the events a childlike innocence that softens the harsh realities of refugee life, and Leonhard’s illustrations are equally soft and gentle. The subject matter is likely to be unfamiliar to most readers, and the book might be used as a companion text in discussing the current refugee crisis. However, the narrative lacks a consistent thread, so it reads more as a collection of facts than a cohesive story, making it less relatable to its intended audience. The title ends abruptly with the attempted murder of the author’s great-uncle by the Nazis, which could be confusing to young listeners and potentially upsetting because of the accompanying illustration. VERDICT A compelling subject gets short shrift in picture book form and struggles to find its focus. Consider for large history collections.–Casey O’Leary, Mooresville Public Library, IN

This article was published in School Library Journal's May 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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