Wednesday, October 30, 2013

10 Plants that Shook the World

Wondering what the 10 plants are?  

Spoiler alert!  Drumroll...

1) Papyrus
2) Pepper
3) Tea
4) Sugarcane
5) Cotton
6) Cacao
7) Cinchona
8) Rubber
9) Potato
10) Corn 

In reading about each of these world shaking plants, it occurred to me that early civilizations were really onto something.  I am also writing this post on Columbus Day though it won't post until later, and though I'm not at all a fan of his methodology, it makes me think of Chris and all those other explorers of the late 1400's and their shock at early cultures valuing plants or spices in higher regard  But the joke's on the explorers because once you have gold, you use it to get...your hands on those super valuable plants and spices.  Am I right?

Author Gillian Richardson does an awesome job of engaging readers with fun factoids, history, and even present day anecdotes as well as frame of reference for the impact we have on the growing climate for many of these plants and conservation as well.  

Artist, Kim Rosen, has a unique style that lends itself to creating artwork to complement the Richardson's text.

One more spoiler - herbal tea does NOT contain tea.  Who knew?

Reading about wars waged for control of supply and supply routes of many of these natural resources made me think of the present day situation we find ourselves in waging wars or...conflicts to protect what seems to always end up being countries that are situated with vast access to oil.  Coincidence?  I think not.

Likewise, for the first time, Great Britain's land grabs and colonization efforts made sense to me for the first time.  Again, not that I agree with the methods.  At all.  But it made sense.  They needed tropical lands to grow plants in the "right" climate in order to control the supply chain.  The Revolutionary War and the dumping of ALL that tea in the Boston Harbor must have REALLY ticked them off.  Just saying.

And the revelation that potatoes did not originate in Ireland was an eye opener for me.

I do so love to learn and 10 Plants that Shook the World kept me engaged and wanting to read more.  Kudos to Richardson and Rosen!

10 Plants that Shook the World
ISBN: 968-1-55451-445-8
Published 2013 by Annick Press
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Tapir Scientist

Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop are a super team when it comes to collaborating on "Scientists in the Field" type books.  Following in the footsteps of:

  • Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot
  • Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia
  • Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea
  • The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America's Largest Mammal 
Takes the reader to an exotic destination, The Pantanal.

Quite frankly, just writing out that list of amazing nonfiction titles makes me want to be in on this "Scientists in the Field" writing team. Traveling to New Zealand, Mongolia, New Guinea and now South America for "work" doesn't sound too bad to me.  Having wild animals still roaming from prehistoric times named after you (spoiler alert), also not too shabby.

In Tapir Scientist, Sy Montgomery captures the daily trials and successes of Pati Medici and her tapir team.  Nic Bishop's photography helps the reader to feel as if they are there.  The photographs capture the landscape of the Patanal and the diverse population of wildlife besides the tapirs that are found there.  In addition to learning more (much more than I had known before) about tapirs, I learned how to properly pronounce their name.  I never thought to question my pronunciation before, pronouncing it tuh-peer when in fact, it should be pronounced tay-peer.  Good to know.  I liked reading about the length to which the veterinarians and scientists go to not stress out the animals when they are trying to collect data or radio collar the tapirs.  Interesting too was Gabriel's, the master marksman's, backstory of learning to hunt and not liking the feeling of hunting a creature, so he turned his skill to a good cause of helping to learn more about the animals and hopefully justify further conservation of their land by helping to sedate them from afar by a dart instead of having them caught in traps which can cause higher anxiety.

Tapirs are such interesting looking creatures.  So cool that they have remained unchanged since the Miocene period.  They must be doing something right if evolution hasn't touched them!  Likewise, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop have also been doing something right to create such awesome nonfiction reads that take the reader to places they might not otherwise encounter.  Although, evidently we are all welcome to stay at the ranch.  I'm booking my flight there now.  Check it out: Baia das Pedras

The Tapir Scientist
ISBN: 978-0-547-81548-0
Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny)

The Beatles were (and their music still is) fab.  Reading about their instrument choices on page one made me wonder.  What if Paul continued to play the trumpet instead of the guitar?  Could have been a whole different music scene!

Stacy Innerst's illustrations are perfect for this book.  The caricature-esque style of the Fab Four on the cover and the picture of Ed Sullivan capture the moment.  The end papers with jelly beans remind us that jelly beans are harder than "jelly babies" and hurt when thrown.  I love the guitar roller coaster image as well as the speech bubbles to show the joking nature of their interviews.  

Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer show how Beatlemania got dangerous and ended when the Beatles got to the "Toppermost".  This book is tops too, just like the music of the Beatles.

The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny)
ISBN: 978-0-547-50991-4
Published 2013 by Harcourt Children's Books
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My First Day

So, I had a baby.  And before I had that baby, I visited the library to stock up on books to read while I was (inevitably) feeding that baby and staying up late at night to do so.  One of the books I picked up was “My First Day.”  Thinking it would be a sweet book to read to my sweet baby boy on his “First Day.”  And it was. 

Fast forward three months and I was delighted to see “My First Day” on my Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction nominee list for the CYBILS. 

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page bring to life the first days of 22 very interesting animals.  Each animal is labeled with its name and illustrated in Jenkins’ unique and endearing style.  Children (and their parents/teachers/older readers) will learn some fun new facts about little ones in the wild.

Did you know a zebra mother will memorize her young’s pattern of stripes and would be able to find baby among the thousands of zebras in a herd?

In the end matter, there is a paragraph about each animal highlighted throughout the book with information about the size, location, diet, and interesting facts. 

“My First Day” is a great introduction to many different rare animals and their baby behavior.  It makes for a great read aloud or bedtime book for young readers or independent readers.  I can see many young readers searching for more nonfiction books about some of the animals featured in “My First Day.”  Speaking for myself, I’d like to read more about

My First Day
ISBN: 978-0-547-73851-2
Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America's Heart

We all know Amelia Earhart as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and later went famously missing.  One of our true mysteries. 

But, she wasn’t the first woman to attempt to fly across the Atlantic.  Ruth Elder didn’t let the fact that she was a beauty queen define her entirely.  Though, it didn’t hurt.  Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America’s Heart by Julie Cummins and illustrated by Malene R. Laugesen is the story of Ruth’s first flight highlighting that fact that she didn’t make it across the Atlantic.  It also highlighted her ingenuity in staying alive and seeking rescue with the help of a ship, its captain and crew.  Ruth was still lauded upon her arrival in Europe. 

Even more fascinating to me was the cross-country all female plane race which took place in 1929.  Navigation meant following road maps, literally looking down at the roads below to know in which direction to fly.  In the favorite story from the derby, Ruth’s maps flew out of her plane and she landed to get her bearings.  In an instance like this, I wondered: Would a man have stopped to ask for directions? 

I love a good author’s note.  This one starts out: “It’s hard to imagine a time when American women didn’t have the choices or freedoms that we do today.”  On this point, I disagree.  It’s not hard to imagine at all.  I’m glad that women have come such a long way in gaining equal rights, but it was one hurdle after another.  “Flying Solo” tells an important story, putting faces on the fight for women’s rights in America.  The illustrations are well paired to the story.  I especially enjoyed the interspersed newspaper front pages with information about Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic and Ruth Elder’s crash and rescue in the Atlantic.  The marquee on the title page and framing of the text were reminiscent of the timeframe of the story in the late 1920’s. 

The author’s dedication: To the young women who see the horizon of their dreams and soar toward it – fly, girls, fly!  - J.C.

Flying Solo: How Ruth Elder Soared into America’s Heart
ISBN: 978-1-59643-509-4
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Librariesfor Children

I LOVE that Anne Carroll Moore advocated for children of the day and their rights to access the library.  Through her groundbreaking work, libraries more often than not have children's sections with age appropriate materials.  These areas lay the groundwork for young children to become lifelong library patrons with fond memories of what a library has to offer.  I may be partial (being a school librarian) but I really do LOVE this story and the way it is presented from Annie's own childhood up through her ability to travel the country teaching others how to create welcoming spaces for children. 
Perhaps my favorite illustration is the removal of the "SILENCE" sign from above the circulation desk.  It is astonishing to me how many people think libraries still should be silent at all times.  Granted, having quiet space is important, but having space to explore, collaborate, and read aloud is equally important.  The color palette of illustrations is bright and cheerful, as is the idea of children's areas in libraries.  Debby Atwell does a lovely job of incorporating variety in her color scheme.  The backdrop of the marble face of the New York Public Library helps to enhance the bright colors used for clothing and the multicultural facet that including bringing children together from all of New York's diverse neighborhoods and giving those children amazing opportunities to interact with famous authors, illustrators, and dignitaries of the day.
Jan Pinborough is a debut author - amazing!  In this, her first children's book, she incorporates the phrase "Miss Moore thought otherwise (Annie when she was younger)" as a refrain to show how she did things differently than other people of the time.  The title/refrain really ties the ideas of the story together well. 
ISBN: 978-0-547-47105-1
Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I borrowed this copy from the public library to read and review.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On a Beam of Light

As the author, Jennifer Berne, states in her author's note, there are hundreds of books written about Albert Einstein and she read more than 50 of them.  In "On a Beam of Light" she presented information about Einstein in such a way that my 4 year old daughter asked to read it twice at bedtime tonight.  That is an achievement in and of itself.  And telling that such a young child was engrossed by his story.  I've seen images of his messy workplace before stating it was the workplace of a genius to justify colleague's desks and those of students, but I hadn't known before that Einstein was a late talker.  Makes sense that he was, perhaps, absorbing the natural world around him.  My daughter asked what the word behaved meant and I tried to explain that the teachers didn't think he was being "good" because he was asking so many questions but that we know questions are good.  And that it's not always good to act the same as everyone else.  Reading the story to her helped me to see and hear it from her perspective.  Hopefully, she will recognize the genius of wondering, thinking, and imagining.

Vladimir Radunsky's illustrations felt playful to me and as I read more of Berne's author's note, that seemed very fitting as Einstein was playful as well.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein
ISBN: 978-0-8118-7235-5
Published 2013 by Chronicle Books
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

I first picked up this book when it was published and I immediately placed it within our art curriculum.  As our school is outside of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, I connected with the fact that Horace Pippin was a native Pennsylvania artist.  Fourth graders in my school district study Pennsylvania artists, like Andy Warhol of Pittsburgh fame.  So, Pippin's hometown of West Chester (even closer) made me think he would be a perfect fit.  

Horace Pippin's story is remarkable in that his art was his passion and one that he returned to, even after a disabling injury.  His characteristic splash of red created a vibrance in works of art that might have had a seemingly dull colorscape.  As a result, the red pops.  

Working together to research and put the story together, Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet do a beautiful job of creating a patchwork quilt feel.  The story is pieced together and the pictures are too.  

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin
ISBN: 978-0-375-96712-2
Published 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf 
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker's Strike of 1909

Melissa Sweet sure has been busy!  She illustrated last year's nonfiction picture book CYBILS winner: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda which was one of two nominees last year along with "Balloons Over Broadway" and there are two nominees in the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category as well: A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin and Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 is written by Michelle Markel whose book, "The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau" was also nominated in the nonfiction picture book category for a CYBILS award last year.  Michelle and Melissa bring to life the famous garment worker's strike of 1909.  This book reminds me of why I absolutely love reading all of the amazing nonfiction on the shelves for our young readers today.  Brave Girl takes a moment in our country's history when workers as young as 12 stood up for their rights and changed the way business was done in America - for the better!  Photographs from 1909 are powerful, of course, but Melissa Sweet's illustration of young women hunched over sewing machines crowded into a room with overseers yelling to work faster is remarkable.  

The story is also timely when unions and workers are under attack in the media.  As a teacher, I often hear the sentiment, "I support teachers, but not teacher's unions."  Who, exactly, do they think are in teacher's unions?  Likewise, Brave Girl highlights exactly what was being fought for - safe and healthy working conditions.  Like Esperanza Rising and Kira Kira, Brave Girl helps young readers to understand unions in the context of the history.

The text also tells the story but left me with questions.  The kind of questions that would lead me to further reading.  The BEST kinds of questions.  For example, Clara's father could not find work.  Was it because of his immigrant status?  I can make assumptions, but even better would be to turn to one of the resources from the Selected Bibliography.  The section titled "More about the Garment Industry" tells that the Triangle Waist Factory was one that would not negotiate and I can infer from the illustrations that Clara did work there.  I want to know more.  Books that leave the reader wanting more kindle a passion for learning.  Brave Girl does just that.

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909
ISBN: 978-0-06-180442-7
Published 2013 by Balzer + Bray
I borrowed this copy from my library to read and review.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Helen's Big World

This very different look into Helen Keller's world, her truly big world, is breathtaking.  

Reading the illustrator's note explains what Matt Tavares was thinking as he pictured Helen Keller and what she COULD do instead of focusing on what she could not do.  

Like the author, Doreen Rappaport, I am most familiar with Helen Keller through the story of her relationship with Annie Sullivan via The Miracle Worker.  Though there is an epilogue, for me her story ended when she understood that w-a-t-e-r meant water, the substance being poured over her hand from the pump. Rappaport and Tavares open up a whole new world for me of what Helen Keller went on to do in and for the world.  It's also remarkable what she went on to do at such a young age still.  Writing by the time she was eight, reading braille, and even more impressive - reading lips.  More that I did not know about Helen - that she spoke out against war, child labor, in favor of worker's unions, women's right to vote, and equality for black Americans.

Doreen Rappaport weaves together the story of Helen's life and her ability to explore the world along with quotes from her very own writing about her life.  My favorite quote is: 

"I do not like the world as it is; so I am trying to make it a little more as I would like it."

I couldn't agree more!  I was able to see a social activist speak today who focused on the importance of free speech and reading Helen's Big World made me happy that even though Helen may not have had the audible words, she did not let that keep her from speaking her mind, learning more, and standing up for those who could not stand up for themselves.  She is a remarkable figure and this book is a remarkable telling of her story.  

Helen's Big World
ISBN: 978-0-7868-0890-8
Published 2012 by Disney Hyperion Books
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

That's a Possibility! A Book About What Might Happen

Sadly, I was not a math whiz as a kid.  I also wasn't exposed to much math based nonfiction as a kid either.  I like to think that if I were I might have had a better understanding of some tricky concepts.  Bruce Goldstone does an excellent job of explaining possibility, probability, certainty, impossibility, improbability, and permutations in his book "That's a Possibility!".  The accompanying photographs help to illustrate each concept.  

That's a Possibility: A Book About What Might Happen
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8998-1
Published 2013 by Henry Holy and Company
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Gandhi: A March to the Sea

Mind. Blown.  I love learning what I didn't know I didn't know.  I knew that Gandhi was a peaceful protester.  Maybe the first famous one who inspired many others like MLK, and I thought I knew why he was protesting.  In reading this book, I realized I actually had no idea.  Sad, very sad, but that situation has (at least partially) been rectified.  British colonization was pretty bad stuff, generally speaking, but I never realized the extent to which they took their rule in India.  Gandhi's march to the sea, the main story of "Gandhi: A March to the Sea" by Alice B. McGinty and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez, was his effort to draw national and international attention to the injustices of foreign rule and taxation of materials Indians could have literally scooped from the earth, or the earth right next to the salty sea at least.  British rule made it illegal for Indians to scoop salt from the sea to make their own salt and they forced Indians to buy British salt and taxed it.  Sound familiar?  This reminded me (loosely) of our very own Boston Tea Party.  Likewise, Gandhi taught the people to weave their own cloth so as to avoid buying British cloth that was also being highly taxed.

Enough about the story itself and onto the book, writing, and illustrations.  

The refrain "One more step toward freedom" ties the pieces of Gandhi's march together highlighting not just the trek to scoop salt but also the stops along the way to treat the "untouchables" as equal and to preach peace among different religious groups.  Each small step brought the country together and that much closer to freedom.  The illustrations by Thomas Gonzalez are  vague and dream-like.  They feel breezy.  I can feel the change in temperature as the sun sets on another day.  The spread with photographers from around the world documenting the march's end at the sea is jarring and perfect.  Each illustration is unique as each step of Gandhi's journey must have been.

Gandhi: A March to the Sea
ISBN: 9781477816448
Published 2013 by Amazon Children's Publishing
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hoop Genius

"Hoop Genius: How a Despatate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball" by John Coy and illustrated by Joe Morse tells the story of the origination of the sport of basketball (as the title implies).  The endpapers show the first set of rules created by teacher, James Naismith.  Naismith's flash of genius is explained when he was inspired by a childhood game he played called "Duck on a Rock."  

I found it interesting that the game could spread just by the boys going home for the holidays and teaching their friends, but the Author's Note gives some more pertinent information that the school Naismith taught at was the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts and the YMCA helped to spread the game around the world.  

Hoop Genius
ISBN: 978-0-7613-6617-1
Published 2013 by Carolrhoda Books
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Frog Song

Frog Song, written by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Gennady Spirin is gorgeous.  Lyrically written, featuring an abundance of onomatopoeia for the reader, Frog Song offers opportunity for teachers to incorporate engaging nonfiction with beautiful figurative language.  Readers will be fascinated with some of the frog behavior surrounding hatching their young.  The Darwin's Frog was also featured in "My First Day" and I was intrigued to learn more about the frogs hopping out of papa's mouth which had protected the tadpoles in a sac in his throat.  Mission accomplished!  I now know a little more than I did before.  Like "My First Day," Frog Song includes information about the habitat, size, and a quick fact about each featured frog (11 in total) in the section titled "Frogs of the World."  The section titled "Frogs in Trouble" helps the reader to draw concrete personal connections between the loss of habitat of these frogs and the impacts on human life as well as the impact humans have on the frog's habitat.  A bibliography and online resources help readers to learn more.  

Spirin's illustrations capture the details of these beautiful creatures and their surroundings.  At first glance, the cover looks photographic as Spirin captures the beauty of a Strawberry Poison Dart Frog and the seeming reflection off its slick skin.  Gorgeous.

Frog Song
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9254-7
Published 2013 by Henry Holt and Company
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nelson Mandela

 Kadir Nelson's artwork is stunning in  "Nelson Mandela."  Kadir always uses the expanse of a spread to convey emotion and depth.  The first illustration of two boys sparring on a hillside above a village features a sun rise.  It seems symbolic to me of Nelson Mandela's rise to lead his country.  His given name, Rolihlahla, translates to "troublemaker" as explained in the author's note.  Never was these a better kind of trouble to make than the fight to end apartheid and inequality in South Africa.  Kadir Nelson does an artful job of summing up a spectacular story to capture its essence.

Nelson Mandela 
ISBN: 978-0-06-178376-0
Published 2013 by Katherine Tegen Books
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Friday, October 11, 2013


For the second year, I am honored to be a part of the first round panel for what is now known as Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction for the CYBILS.  Public nominations are rolling in and will continue to until October 15th.  Don't miss your chance to nominate a favorite book published from October 16, 2012 and October 15, 2013.  The categories are:

You can click on any of the category links to see what has already been nominated to date.
Make sure to load up my "to read" list!!

Sunday, October 6, 2013


What an awesome book!  So, this book sat at the top of my CYBILS list for a long time.  It seemed like a no brainer to me that it should be included in our finalist shortlist.  Several other panelists seemed to agree based on their shortlists.  But some did not.  And their opinions made my own waver.  But don't worry, I'm still "on board".  Get it?  

During our discussions surrounding this book, it was pointed out that it has received wide praise and acclaim as well as seemingly unanimous glowing reviews.  I didn't know.  Granted, I'm on maternity leave.  I'm a little "out of touch". But I didn't realize I was that out of touch.  

I thought I had some clairvoyant ability to spot this amazing book.  Evidently a few other people have also recognized that this one is pretty special.  Full disclaimer, this book got knocked out of my top top spot at the eleventh hour by a book I hadn't gotten my hands on earlier in our reading, but I'm so very happy that Locomotive was included on our final list.  A few terms that I have heard or used but hadn't considered their origin prior to reading this book:

Full Steam many times have you said this?  When a straight path opened ahead of a train, it could pick up speed safely.  In order to pick up speed, it needed more steam or...full steam.

Double Header - I've thought of this expression as two baseball games in the same day.  Is that really even accurate.  Maybe I'm wrong about that, but in reading Locomotive I realize the origin of a double header is when a train needs two engines to climb a steep incline, this becoming a double header.

In addition to those fun facts, this book is full of onomatopoeia and offers great opportunity for teaching this figurative language element.  The book itself seems to naturally read much like a train trip.  I found myself reading as if we were chugging along.

ISBN: 978-1-4169-9415-2
Published 2013 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.