February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

13 Nonfiction Titles for Kids and Teens | October 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Anton, Carrie. Digital World: How To Connect, Share, Play, and Keep Yourself Safe. illus. by Stevie Lewis. 63p. (Smart Girl’s Guides). American Girl. Aug. 2017. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781683370437.

Gr 4 Up–Readers are taken on a tour of the digital world and are provided with tips on best practices, including using memes and emojis, connecting with classroom resources online, creating secure passwords, and much more. American Girl’s trademark quizzes are sprinkled throughout the book. For example, “Are You On Autopilot?” helps readers evaluate their levels of digital usage and how well they’re doing with taking time to “unplug” and enjoy “real world” activities. The success of the title as a whole is due to its mix of solid information and conversational tone, one that doesn’t lapse into condescension towards its intended readers. Despite its coverage of heady topics like cyberbullying, the author doesn’t engage in fearmongering. Lewis’s illustrations are colorful and feature a diverse representation of girlhood; however, most figures are drawn with a similar body type. Though best for upper elementary schoolers, the quality of the information as well as the more mature design of the book makes this a fine selection for middle schoolers, too. VERDICT A title that will be at home in any nonfiction collection, especially where discussions on web privacy and safety are needed.–Ann Santori, Cook Memorial Public Library, Libertyville, IL

Berger, Melvin & Gilda Berger. The Byte-Sized World of Technology. illus. by Frank Rocco & Sarah Watanabe-Rocco. 96p. index. photos. Scholastic. Aug. 2017. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781338041866.

Gr 2-4–Filled with accurate facts, humorous cartoon images, real photographs, and age-appropriate information, this book will fly off the shelves of both public and elementary school libraries. The thoughtful content covers technological advancements from the invention of stone tools through rocketry, and highlights advancements from a wide range of scientists and inventors including George Washington Carver, Louis Braille, Sir John Harrington, and Grace Hopper. A balanced mix of cartoon images and real photographs illustrate each of the hundreds of facts breaking up the text and preventing the book from being too dense. Readers looking for in-depth content should look elsewhere. Well designed with large print, a logical flow, and easy-to-locate text, this nonfiction easy reader is great for children learning to read or reluctant readers. VERDICT A high quality and engaging easy reader for fans of Guinness World Records, almanacs, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!–Jo Schofield, Cuyahoga Library, OH

Coelho, Joseph. Overheard in a Tower Block. illus. by Kate Milner. 112p. Otter-Barry. Aug. 2017. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781910959589.

Gr 5 Up–Coelho’s phantasmagoric collection of poems takes readers on a journey from childhood to fatherhood. From the first poem, “A Story of Fear,” he invokes loss, deception, and elements of fantasy. Coelho couples the tragic mundane (red sneakers from an absentee father, the woman down the hall throwing china, the trials of puberty) with the wondrous and horrific (statues that watch silently, bonfires, and the imprisonment of Prometheus). Collectively, the poems recount a coming- of- age story in all its painful richness. While the earlier poems may seem to appeal to younger children, the overall content of the book skews towards older readers, especially as the narrator grows, reaches puberty, adulthood, and fatherhood. Fans of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming or Christine Hepperman’s Poisoned Apples will find the personal narrative and allusion-rich style of Coelho’s poems attractiveappealing. Milner’s black-and-white line drawings add to the dreamy atmosphere. The shadowy figures are always in line with the tone of the verse, at turns menacing or tender. The explosive nature of Coelho’s language—his use of alliteration, sibilance, and rhyme—make this work a pleasure to read aloud. THowever, the introspective nature of the poems lends the collection to independent reading as well. VERDICT A solid addition to middle school poetry collections.–Bridgid Gallagher-Sauter, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH

Feldman, Thea. Katherine Johnson. illus. by Alyssa Petersen. 48p. S. & S./Simon Spotlight. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781534403413; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781534403406.

Gr 2-4–This lively biography of Katherine Johnson traces her love of mathematics from her childhood to her retirement from NASA in 1986. Feldman has captured Johnson’s joy in learning and her determination to use her math skills to the best of her ability. Illustrations show her following older siblings to school, graduating college, and joining the workforce at NACA (the predecessor of NASA). The tone is upbeat, but the text does acknowledge segregation. Readers with an eye for details will notice that even the chapter headings are linked to numbers with phrases like “A Family to Count On” or “An Infinite Contribution.” Terms such as satellite or cosmonaut are defined within the story. Back matter offers more to learn about topics including celestial navigation by sailors, careers in mathematics, and interesting numerical facts from the space program. A 10-question quiz on the last page checks for comprehension and recall of the main text. This title would work well in a unit on U.S. history, specifically ones covering the space race. VERDICT An engaging biography for elementary schoolers that ties in with the blockbuster sensation Hidden Figures.–Suzanne Costner, Fairview Elementary School, Maryville, TN

Head, Murray. I Can Run. ISBN 9780823438310; ISBN 9780823438464.

Rotner, Shelley. I Like the Farm. ISBN 9780823438334; ISBN 9780823438488.

ea vol: 32p. (I Like To Read). photos. Holiday House. Aug. 2017. Tr. $14.95. pap. $6.99.

PreS-Gr 1–Two new additions to a strong series. The layout is consistent throughout both titles: short sentences on the left page and a full-page photo on the right. In Rotner’s Farm, the repetitive “I like” statement is applied to adult and baby animals (“I like the cat. I like the kitten”), which makes this book ideal as a read-aloud guessing game. In Head’s I Can Run, a squirrel is the main character. The squirrel performs a number of routine actions before the photos take a suspenseful turn when “I can see” shows the squirrel and a bird in a stare down. “I can run” appears, though, with more urgency than previously expressed in the text. Educators can use I Can Run to teach kids about narrative structure by identifying climax and resolution. (The squirrel makes it to safety.) VERDICT Both titles convey a straightforward simplicity with high returns on reader participation and engagement. An easy addition to young nonfiction collections.–Joanna K. Fabicon, Los Angeles Public Library

Jules, Jacqueline. Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva. illus. by Yevgenia Nayberg. 32p. Kar-Ben. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781512420906; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781512420913.

K-Gr 3–Rabbi Akiva, the second century Jewish sage, is considered to be one of the greatest rabbinic scholars and was the inspiration for many legends. Jules, who previously focused on biblical heroes in Abraham’s Search for God, Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, Miriam in the Dessert, and Sarah Laughs, illuminates one of the many legends about Rabbi Akiva. A poor, illiterate shepherd, he falls in love with a wealthy man’s daughter. Rachel admires how gently Akiva tends his flock, visits the sick, and helps those in need, and she agrees to marry him against her father’s wishes. The couple live a poor, simple life but they are happy. Rachel encourages her husband to learn how to read and write and he starts school at the age of 40. But Akiva doubts himself. One day, Akiva stopped by a brook and noticed a hole in the bottom of a rock. “Water is soft…And yet, drop by drop, it has managed to cut through this hard stone. My mind is not harder than a rock! I can learn—just like water cuts through stone—a little bit each day.” After he masters the Hebrew alphabet, Akiva leaves his wife to study far away with the best teachers. When he finally returns home, he introduces Rachel to his students and insists that she share the credit for his success because she has always believed in him. Nayberg’s textured, stylized paintings, in warm green and brown earth tones, beautifully complement the story and the brief author’s note provides additional information about Akiva and Rachel. Despite his prominence and importance in Jewish history, this is the first picture book to introduce Rabbi Akiva to young readers and teachers in Jewish settings will welcome it wholeheartedly. VERDICT This engaging read-aloud can serve as an inspiration to all readers.–Rachel Kamin, North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, Highland Park, IL

Natterson, Cara. Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys. illus. by Micha Player. 109p. American Girl. Aug. 2017. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781683370260.

Gr 3 Up–Natterson, the pediatrician behind the bestselling The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls, pens a similarly comprehensive title for boys. Opening with a letter from “Your Friends at Guy Stuff,” the book’s tone is familiar and informative—at times even funny—without being condescending. The layout is attractive with ample spacing, minimal paragraphs per page, and occasional sidebars featuring useful facts. Sections cover general wellness, providing directives on how to live a healthy lifestyle and care for the various parts of one’s body. These include multiple entries on dealing with emotions. The colorful cartoon illustrations feature a racially diverse array of human characters. Still, there is mostly only a single, thin body type depicted—even though the text mentions body positivity. Each section also embeds developmentally appropriate information about puberty but stops short of delving into sexual education. For example, the book describes erections and how they happen physiologically, but completely avoids sexuality and attraction. The text also fails to introduce the possibility of one’s gender identity not conforming to societal norms. Those looking for a more comprehensive discussion of gender identity and sexuality for the same age group should instead turn to Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth’s Sex Is a Funny Word. VERDICT A conservative choice for library collections, and a good one for children (and parents) who aren’t quite ready to delve into “the talk” in full.–Alec Chunn, Eugene Public Library, OR

Nogar, Anna M. & Enrique R. Lamadrid. Sisters in Blue/Hermanas de azul: Sor María de Ágreda Comes to New Mexico/Sor María de Ágreda viene a Nuevo México. illus. by Amy Cordova. 88p. University of New Mexico Pr. Jun. 2017. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780826358219. BL

Gr 2-5–This bilingual picture book, with full text in both English and Spanish—and featuring words from languages indigenous to New Mexico—serves as an introduction to Sor María de Jesús de Ágreda, or, the “Lady in Blue,” a nun who lived in 17th-century Spain. Sor María, described in the essay following the main text as “a legend in her own time,” is said to have made miraculous, out-of-body spiritual travels to colonial New Mexico and other parts of the Southwestern United States, interacting with native populations there and writing extensively about these journeys. The narrative is an imagined encounter between Sor María and Paf Sheuri, a fictional character and native of the Pueblo of Cueloze, New Mexico. During their brief conversation, Sor María and Paf form a quick friendship, discussing their faiths and the possibility of peace between colonists and indigenous people. The story and its real-life basis are fascinating and sure to captivate young readers with interests in history and religion—though the lengthy text and academic introduction and back matter probably make this work more suitable for guided reading than casual perusal. Córdova’s full-color illustrations are striking and emotive; the interactions between Sor María and Paf Sheuri are particularly beautiful. VERDICT A comprehensive introduction to an important religious figure and her legacy. Hand to educators teaching units on colonial America and religion and students with a strong appreciation of history.–Molly Hone, Pequannock Township Public Library, NJ

Oxlade, Chris. A Journey Through Transportation. illus. by John Haslam. 48p. Quarto/QEB. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781682971529.

Gr 2-5–This visually bright book takes youngsters on a journey through the history of transportation. The text is written in an expressive, conversational tone. The author begins with the earliest methods of travel before segueing into a discussion on how these methods have changed over time, from makeshift rafts to contemporary cruise ships that are three soccer fields in length. With a page dedicated to the future of transportation, readers can begin to imagine even greater leaps in travel-related technological advancement. The book includes activities for readers and a short quiz at the end. The dust jacket doubles as a poster. This book can be enjoyed one-on-one or as a read- aloud, and pairs nicely with Gail Gibbons’s Transportation!: How People Get Around. VERDICT Car-obsessed kids will take to this with ease. An easy pick for general nonfiction collections.–Annette Herbert, F. E. Smith Elementary School, Cortland, NY

Roker, Al. Al Roker’s Extreme Weather: Tornadoes, Typhoons, and Other Weather Phenomena. 48p. glossary. photos. websites. HarperCollins/Harper. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062484994.

Gr 3-5–Roker, television’s well-known weatherman, explores a variety of weather phenomena in this fact-filled work. Along with the usual extreme weather occurrences (tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning storms), topics such as derechos and fogcicles are discussed. Plentiful full-color photographs show examples of the topics. Roker’s enthusiasm shines through in the text as he ranges through an abundance of information about floods, droughts, landslides, avalanches, and other related topics. Advice concerning safety during these storms is offered. Climate change brought on by human activity is only briefly mentioned. Many unfamiliar words are highlighted within the text and their meanings are given, although they are often not listed in the glossary. Students interested in or doing research on weather events will find this work useful as an introduction to a variety of often neglected areas but it will likely need to be supplemented by other books for a more thorough discussion of climate change. ­VERDICT A fine starting point for environmental studies.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY

Sanders, Bernie. Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution. adapted by Kate Waters. 240p. glossary. index. Holt. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250138903.

Gr 9 Up–Sanders’s elaborates on his objections to the status quo and his recommendations for change for teen readers. He addresses issues relevant to young people, such as climate change and higher education reform, but other topics such as corporate taxes and reforming credit-rating agencies might be of lesser appeal. A proliferation of statistics makes the narrative difficult to follow. In addition, the level of detail included with this data suggests a very involved readership. For example, when explaining his views on renewable energy, Sanders writes, “The solar investment tax credit is an up-front credit equal to 30 percent of the cost of building a commercial or residential solar project, and the production tax credit is a 1.8-cent credit for every kilowatt hour of energy generated by wind projects in their first ten years.” A two- to three-page section appears at the end of each chapter. Each section consists of “Mobilize,” “Further Reading,” and “Playlist”. “Mobilize” describes agencies that deal with the featured subjects, and offers ideas for those who want to get involved with community change. Many of the prompts require entering personal information online and/or suggest monetary donations. VERDICT Satisfactory for those interested in a younger take on Sander’s adult title Our Revolution, but as a book that attracts teens to political action it misses the mark.–Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

Shaefer, Lola M. Hidden Dangers: Seek and Find 13 of the World’s Deadliest Animals. illus. by Tymn Armstrong. 40p. Chronicle. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452134291.

Gr 1-3–Children who are into the thrill of learning about—and possibly encountering—deadly creatures will enjoy this brief overview. While the author doesn’t mention specifically where each animal can be found in the world, she does include the specialized way in which each defends itself or attacks its prey. Readers may be surprised, though, by the author’s inclusion of mountain goats, porcupines, and bald eagles in the lineup. But as the author speculates, readers could encounter a mountain goat atop a high cliff, be butted off, and fall to their death. Armstrong’s illustrations, rendered digitally, depict the creatures in their environments, but it is up to readers to find all of them semi-hidden within the pages, a challenge most children will enjoy tackling. For example, 26 Australian box jellyfish are scattered amidst two briny blue pages while 31 tarantula hawk wasps fly across a southwestern desert studded with cacti and orange flowers. The back of the book contains information about what items should be included in a backpack, such as a map, compass, snack bars, whistle, and matches, and a final page explains the difference between poison and venom. Key words stand out from the information by the use of capital letters and contrasting colors. VERDICT An amusing but unnecessary animal book.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

Simone, Gianni. Tokyo Geek’s Guide: Manga, Anime, Gaming, Cosplay, Toys, Idols & More – The Ultimate Guide to Japan’s Otaku Culture. 144p. illus. maps. Tuttle. Jul. 2017. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9784805313855; ebk. ISBN 9781462919703.

Gr 9 Up–Japanese Otaku culture refers to the hype surrounding popular Japanese anime and manga, encompassing video games, toys, and other aspects of popular fandom. Though initially a disparaging term, it has gained acceptance as anime and manga have won loyal fans all over the world. Tokyo is the center of Otaku culture, particularly neighborhoods such as Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Harajuku. Chapters focus on one or two adjacent neighborhoods and their Otaku offerings. Each includes a map, along with descriptions of landmarks, stores, eateries, and nightclubs. Though the travel information is aimed at adults, the book will appeal to younger manga and anime fans. Plentiful color photos show cute and quirky toys, along with attractive costume-clad young men and women. Aspects of Otaku culture, such as cosplay, maid cafes, Japanese Idol mania, and Godzilla’s Tokyo are discussed in short overviews. There are also interviews with anime and manga creators, including Goda Tsuneo, who created the kind-hearted monster figure Domo-kun. Unfortunately, this interesting topic is marred by poor , cliché-ridden writing, which makes for a dense, slow read. Better organization, along with an index, would have been helpful. VERDICT Though this doesn’t succeed as a stand-alone travel guide, eye-catching photos and plenty of information about this popular topic will undoubtedly appeal to fans and browsers.–Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA

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

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