March 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Nonfiction: The Buzz on Bees, Dipping into Chocolate | June 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Barroso, Marta. Rafa Nadal. illus. by Mónica Carretero. ISBN 9788416733071.

Bosch, Albert & María Sala. Pablo Pineda. illus. by Silvia Álvarez. ISBN 9788416733231.

Eulate, Ana. Lopez Lomong. illus. by Nívola Uyá. ISBN 9788416733156.

ea vol: 32p. (What Really Matters). Cuento de Luz. Apr. 2017. Tr. $16.95.

Gr 2-4 –Written in a narrative style, each book in the series tackles the life of a real person who faced adversity and eventually discovered a “universal value.” The story of Pablo Pineda is inspiring and engaging and candidly examines the fears his family expressed about him living with Down syndrome. Lopez Lomong’s journey out of poverty and danger in Sudan and into a successful Olympic career is punctuated with violence and terror as well as love and support from far-off places. The title exploring the life of Rafa Nadal is arguably the weakest of the three, struggling with a lack of clear story structure, including unexplained characters who distract from the larger narrative describing his successful tennis career. The illustrations in each book are done by different artists in different media but are made similar by their oil pastel backgrounds, uniting the titles with a stylistic touch. The entries are honest though a little heavy-handed about the lessons imparted. Spanish-language editions are also available for each of the titles. VERDICT Certainly not short on heart, these selections are recommended for specific topical studies or as general additions to biography collections.–Chelsea Pemberton, Arlington Public Library, TX

Bearce, Stephanie. Insane Inventors. illus. by Erica Bolli. 125p. (Twisted True Tales from Science). bibliog. illus. photos. websites. Prufrock. Feb. 2017. pap. $8.95. ISBN 9781618215703.

Gr 4 Up –With color illustrations and a smattering of black-and-white photographs, this addition to the series offers a taste of the wacky drive that inventors often need in order to innovate. Each short chapter details an inventor’s truly wild decision, such as the duel that resulted in the loss of astronomer’s Tycho Brahe, or uninformed choice, such as various scientists’ pursuit of radiation and radioactive elements, resulting, almost universally, in their deaths. While the book does touch on some familiar inventors, such as Marie Curie, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison, other chapters explore lesser-known scientists such as Stubbins Ffirth, who consumed all manner of bodily fluids to prove that humans could not transmit yellow fever to one another. Given the brevity of the chapters and the cartoonish artwork, even reluctant readers will garner insights from this title. While this is not a solid research resource on its own, the detailed bibliography provides a wealth of further sources. VERDICT Elementary and middle school libraries, as well as public libraries, should consider this title for purchase.–Sarah Knutson, American Canyon Middle School, CA

Dwyer, Anne, retel. The Silly Parade and Other Topsy-Turvy Poems. illus. by Nikolai Popov. 48p. Rovakada. Jan. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780984586769.

K-Gr 2 –Popov illustrates this collection of Russian nursery rhymes, songs, and folk poetry translated and retold by Dwyer. Dwyer’s biographical note states that she is a professor of Russian studies and was inspired by Popov’s art to create an “appealing [volume] for children of all ages and places.” Unfortunately, the uneven text and off-putting illustrations fail to achieve that goal. The short, silly poems skew toward a young audience. Some of them are too simple, offering little payoff, challenge, or fun wordplay for readers. Longer poems occasionally suffer from confusing, inconsistent rhyme schemes or stanza lengths. The poems use Russian terms and names, but the only cultural context provided is Popov’s art. His fanciful, vintage illustrations of children and animals cavorting in rural settings of isolated houses, spare plains, and dark woods create an ominous feel bolstered by the earth-toned palette. The content of the images range from whimsical to unsettling (a “topsy-turvy” procession features what can be described as a decapitated horse). All in all, this is a muddled effort that is more likely to confuse or frighten children than delight them. VERDICT Not recommended, except perhaps to adults with professional interests in Russian translations.–Kate Stadt, Manchester-by-the-Sea Public Library, MA

Grajkowski, Wojciech. Bees: A Honeyed History. tr. from Polish by Agnes Monod-Gayraud. illus. by Piotr Socha. 80p. Abrams. Mar. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419726156.

Gr 4-6 –Comical and informative, this oversize, weighty compendium from Poland introduces an impressive array of bee and human history. Two-page topical entries are dominated by large, detailed illustrations with text running along the lower half of the pages. Bee bodies and behavior; hive building; social roles; the work of pollinating and honey production; the relationship between bees and prehistoric people, ancient Greeks, and Egyptians; and many, many other topics race along here. Illustrations of enlarged bees and humorous, stylized people are fun but also suggest that the work is meant to entertain more than inform. Some topics and explanations are sophisticated (biometrics, the Emperor Nero’s wife Poppaea Sabina), and some are sketchy (how does pollen actually produce beets and cabbages?). Animal threats to bees are described, and the collapse of bee colonies in the United States in recent years is also mentioned. There’s plentiful coverage of beekeeping throughout history and in today’s world. Many topics nicely augment and complement other books on this familiar insect. However, the lack of typical nonfiction text features (table of contents, index, etc.) does limit the title’s usefulness. VERDICT This big, browsable offering would be attractive where there’s curriculum emphasis on bees or community interest in beekeeping.–Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston

Gray, Amy & Lucy Holland. Myths, Angels, and Masquerades: Exploring European Art. 104p. chron. glossary. reprods. Balboa. Mar. 2017. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780692391013.

Gr 3-6 –In this art book for younger readers, European art created between the 14th and 19th centuries from the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art is explored in an excellent, easy-to-read layout, with colorful insets, text in a legible serif font, and bold vocabulary words. The works are grouped thematically, including “Winged Ones: Angels in Christian Art,” “Let’s Celebrate!: Parties and Dancing in European Art,” and “Clashing Styles: Art at the End of the 19th Century.” The title is enlivened with invitations for readers to find hidden surprises, reimagine pieces of art, and make text-to-self connections with “Did You Know” blurbs and “Your Turn” activities. Stickers, flaps, and invitations to make art in the book may provide cataloging challenges similar to those that arise with Candlewick’s “Ology” books. The focus on the museum’s collection limits the art that is included: there’s no Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, the authors fail to mention the influx of African art in Europe in the late 1800s, and the Renaissance-era obsession with science is overlooked. VERDICT This bright, informative, and engaging volume, while limited in scope, renders European art accessible to elementary schoolers. Consider for large art history collections.–Lisa Nowlain, Nevada County Community Library, CA

Lawlor, Laurie. Super Women: Six Scientists Who Changed the World. 48p. bibliog. index. notes. photos. Holiday House. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823436750. POP

Gr 5 Up –This compilation of short biographies of six pioneering women scientists is a welcome and fascinating addition to STEM resources. Several of these women are lesser known, but some readers will recognize Katherine Coleman Johnson, the central subject of the hit movie Hidden Figures. All six women overcame great prejudice and bias in scientific fields such as aerospace, marine biology, oceanography, archaeology, astronomy, and medical research. The biographies are short but thorough and illustrated with black-and-white photographs of the scientists and their work. All the entries highlight the women’s determination, dedication, strength, and passion. Almost all mention the impact of early support, demonstrating the power of affirming adults in the lives of children. The book also emphasizes the power of teamwork. These women endured insults, poor working conditions, condescension, and restricted access to equipment and information simply because of their gender. Put this in students’ hands to inspire and encourage scientific pursuits. VERDICT This book hits the right notes—women, biography, and STEM—and does it excellently. Buy for school and public libraries.–Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI

Newquist, HP. The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy. 160p. chart. glossary. index. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Viking. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780670015740.

Gr 9 Up –This comprehensive history of chocolate summarizes its evolution from its origins as a Mesoamerican spicy drink to its contemporary status as the worldwide confection of choice. Much of the book concentrates on the efforts to change that bitter drink into an edible sweet food, describing how entrepreneurs such as John Cadbury and Milton S. Hershey experimented for years to balance ingredients and create processes that resulted in a stable product with mass appeal, making fortunes and sparking development of further goods, such as chocolate chips, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and M & M’s. The passages on the business of chocolate (the formation of corporations, modern factory production, chocolate chemistry, and contemporary trends in chocolate products) are somewhat dry. Newquist discusses European exploitation of the regions where cocoa beans were and are grown and the role of historical and contemporary slavery and the mistreatment of workers in cocoa production but doesn’t explore these themes in depth. Illustrations are small and colorful, mostly consisting of reproductions of period art and advertising for chocolate products. This book is more attractive and positive about chocolate and those who produce it than Kay Frydenborg’s Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, which includes more coverage of slavery and the environmental and ecological costs of chocolate production. VERDICT Chocolate lovers may nibble at this book, but most won’t consume the entire thing.–Mary Mueller, Rolla Public Schools, MO

Salinas, Stefan. A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope: A True Story from Bosnia and Herzegovina. illus. by Stefan Salinas. 50p. Camelopardalis. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780998608808.

Gr 3-5 –Salinas begins this personal narrative with an introduction to his family of woodworkers, his country of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and his Muslim faith. While there are mostly amicable relations between Muslims and Christians in his village, his country overall has a long history of conflict between members of these two groups. This truth underscores the significance of Salinas’s story. When Pope Francis planned a visit to the capital city of Sarajevo in 2015, Salinas’s carpentry workshop was selected to design and craft a beautiful wooden chair to honor him. Although Salinas was initially hesitant to dive right in (“As a Muslim making a chair for the Catholic Pope, am I crazy?”), he recognized that loyalty to his own faith was in no way sacrificed by creating an object of beauty for another set of beliefs (“By making this gift…perhaps I am building a bridge.”). The text does meander a bit before concluding with the pope’s arrival and use of the chair during mass. Salinas’s color pencil, ink, and acrylic illustrations are expressive and communicate much of the text well. VERDICT A heartfelt story that simply conveys the importance of positive interfaith relations. An addition purchase for large collections.–Gloria Koster, West School, New Canaan, CT

Wing, Natasha. When Jackie Saved Grand Central: The True Story of Jacqueline Kennedy’s Fight for an American Icon. illus. by Alexandra Boiger. 48p. bibliog. HMH. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547449210.

Gr 1-5 –Beginning with a few pages of background about Jackie Kennedy and the work she put into restoring the White House, this book then delves into the history and cultural significance of New York City’s Grand Central Station. For the most part, the author uses the diminutive “Jackie,” depicting the former first lady as a determined but approachable figure who made preserving Grand Central a personal mission, participating in press conferences, fund-raising, lobbying, and demonstrations. Wing does an admirable job of describing a complex situation, making it understandable for a young audience and conveying the amount of time and effort required of Kennedy and many others to achieve the ultimate victory. The illustrations—rendered in watercolor, gouache, and ink, with spot colors and hand lettering added digitally—employ a variety of perspectives that give the book a cinematic quality. Whether using extreme close-ups, large-scale landscapes, or multi-illustration pages suggesting the passage of time, the visuals are energetic and multidimensional. In an artistic choice that may be puzzling to readers, Kennedy and other female characters often have sticklike legs that end in points rather than feet, while male figures are presented proportionally. Even the cover image portrays Kennedy more as a paper doll than human, which is strange in a book about a powerful woman who used her influence for the greater good. VERDICT While the text makes this title a great addition to nonfiction shelves, some of the illustrations may distract from the message.–Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher’s School, Richmond, VA

Workman, Chris. The Spectacle: Celebrating the History of the Indianapolis 500. illus. by Chris Workman. 64p. Apex Legends. Mar. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780996286954.

Gr 3-5 –Workman shares his joy of auto racing with readers. The author uses the chance find of an old toy car and his enthusiasm as a father as a stiff framework on which to hang a plethora of facts and incidents celebrating the iconic Indy 500. Occasional text boxes contain staged snippets of conversation between a father and child—a thread on which the cars, drivers, races, and instruments are strung like beads. The cartoonish illustrations depict the evolution of cars and drivers from the first win by a yellow Marmon Wasp in 1911 to the 100th anniversary race in 2016. A final dad/kid episode in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum features a chance meeting with Indy legend A.J. Foyt. The ending page encourages readers who have stayed the course to seek out other titles in the series. VERDICT A smorgasbord of facts strung together by a weak story line. Only the most ardent of NASCAR fans will pick this up.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY

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



  1. Regardless of the quality of the book, your reviewer for *The Spectacle: Celebrating the History of the Indianapolis 500* should know that Indy car racing and NASCAR are two different things, and thus the last line of the review doesn’t exactly make sense. While there is some crossover between the fans, they just aren’t the same kind of race cars, making this error fairly egregious.

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