One More 2017 Round-Up of Nonfiction Picture Books

For my final set of nonfiction picture books of 2017, here are eighteen recent titles that feature history, biographies, animals, math, and natural science. I’m constantly amazed at the inventive ways picture book authors and illustrators approach and shape their material to engage and enlighten readers. I hope you find something here that will appeal to the young readers in your life.

Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of ConfusionDazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton

This is a terrific subject for a nonfiction picture book! The drama of war, the art of deception, and giant ships painted in dazzling colors and patterns all combine in Chris Barton’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion. During World War I, British ships were torpedoed by German submarines at a rate so alarming that the British food supply was threatened. Nothing seemed to thwart the attacks until Norman Wilkinson, a British naval officer, came up with the idea of painting the ships in bold patterns that would confuse the enemy’s tracking systems just long enough to avoid being torpedoed.

Barton’s narrative text has many touches of humor, which might seem out of place for such a deadly subject, but the point of Dazzle Ships is that sometimes the best way to solve a problem is “by trying the unlikely, the improbable, the seemingly bonkers.” Illustrator Victo Ngai’s picture book debut gives readers large, detailed images that are themselves dazzling. No one will hurry through this book. Each spread features Barton’s engaging narrative voice and Ngai’s complex but friendly visuals.

Dazzle Ships gets the history right, but more importantly for young readers, it makes history interesting and relevant to contemporary contexts. I can easily imagine a Dazzle Ships fan becoming the person in the room who says, “Other ideas aren’t working very well. What if we try a dazzle approach instead?”

The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News StoryThe Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story by Darcy Pattison

I won’t give away anything here, but the sea monster that spooked the Nantucket citizenry in 1937 turned out to be something other than a denizen of the deep. Darcy Pattison’s picture book The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story is a tale for our times as it reminds readers that reported facts need to be verified and that the media is sometimes used for purposes other than truth-telling.

Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist ExtraordinairePocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo

Pocket Full of Colors is a picture book biography of Disney artist Mary Blair. The through line of Mary’s story is her fascination with color. As a child, Mary “collected” colors; throughout her life, she traveled the world in search of more colors. When first hired by Walt Disney, Mary’s fanciful color schemes were rejected by the “Nine Old Men,” Disney’s primary animators. But Pocket Full of Colors is a persistence story, and Mary ends up in charge of her own animation. Mary Blair is the reason the pumpkin carriage in Cinderella is teal instead of orange. Mary Blair is the reason the Peter Pan mermaids are lime green. And Mary Blair is the reason “It’s A Small World” has such a unique look and feel. The text by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville is light and lyrical, and Brigette Barrager’s bright artwork expertly draws on Mary Blair’s fascination with arranging colors. Pocket Full of Colors will delight young readers as they recognize Mary Blair’s art from Disney films they love while learning the story behind those visual effects.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy WatersMuddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael James Mahin

Muddy is a powerful picture book biography of McKinley Morganfield, better known as blues legend Muddy Waters. As a child in Mississippi, little McKinley “was never good at doing what he was told.” That included keeping clean, so his Grandma Della just took to calling him Muddy. Muddy’s insistence on doing things his own way made it hard for him to stay employed in the Jim Crow South, so he came to Chicago to play music, his way. Author Michael Mahin emphasizes how Muddy was always true to how he felt his music should sound, even when others tried to exert control over it, and young rebel readers will find validation in Muddy’s story. Evan Turk’s artwork is just wild. The loud abstract page spreads capture the thrilling, stinging electricity of Muddy Waters’ voice and guitar. I’m not sure if Muddy has wide kid appeal, but it’s likely to be just the right book for some kids.

Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee!Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee! by Andrea J. Loney

Andrea J. Loney’s Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee is a picture book biography of one of the most important figures from the Harlem Renaissance. As a photographer, James VandDerZee created portraits that captured and celebrated the lives of Harlem residents in ways that eventually showed the rest of the world the lives of middle-class black citizens. In an age when photography studios are in our pockets, the story of James VanDerZee and the art of photography is important to remember, not only because of his role in elevating the art of portraiture but because of how his dignified work challenged negative stereotypes of black Americans.

Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote the Cat in the HatImagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat by Judy Sierra

I clearly remember the Dick and Jane books from my earliest grades of elementary school. Dr. Seuss came along in later grades in the form of read-alouds. I loved when our teacher read to us The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Yertle the Turtle. My parents read Dr. Seuss book to me too: Horton Hatches the Egg and Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. As I learned from Judy Sierra’s nonfiction picture book Imagine That!: How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat, the Dr. Seuss easy reader books came along just a little later, and apparently my teachers weren’t quite ready to replace Dick and Jane with Thing One and Thing Two.

Imagine that. Imagine That! helped me understand something about my early reading life that I’d never realized. I’m excited to think about this wonderful book doing the same for readers fifty years younger than me as they ponder when, how, and why Dr. Seuss books came into their lives.

The Cat in the Hat grew out of a realization that those Dick and Jane books are boring, and kids were more likely to read if their first easy readers were fun and exciting. Ted Geisel, the author known as Dr. Seuss, accepted a challenge from writer John Hersey to write a funny book using only words from the approved basal reader list. Imagine That! explains Geisel’s offbeat creative processes and how The Cat in the Hat became such a phenomenon.

Young Dr. Seuss fans will enjoy learning more about this subject matter that is likely already in their knowledge banks. Will this be their first exposure to literary analysis as they think about how Dr. Seuss worked within various constraints to create his delightful effects? Will it inspire them to write funny stories of their own? Imagine that.

Frida Kahlo and Her AnimalitosFrida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown

In Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos, Monica Brown tells the life story of artist Frida Kahlo through the lens of the animals in her life, how she shared traits with them, and how they inspired and inhabited her imagination. Kahlo’s life and art lend themselves to interpretation in many ways, and I admire how this picture book biography chooses a specific window that is accessible to young readers. The John Parra illustrations not only convey the biography of Frida Kahlo; they also emphasize the animal motif that runs through her life and work. Readers will likely want to see some of Frida Kahlo’s artwork after reading this book. The back matter helpfully includes a list of paintings that connect to this narrative, and kids will enjoy recognizing the animals from Monica Brown’s book in those Kahlo paintings.

The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston MarathonThe Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, The First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon by Kristina Yee

The Girl Who Ran is a persistence story. In 1966 Bobbi Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. As a little girl, Bobbi liked to run. Her friends did too, until they lost interest. Bobbi kept running. As an adult, she wanted to run in the Boston Marathon, but her application was denied because of her gender. So, Bobbi covered up her long hair, jumped out of the bushes, and ran the marathon anyway. We all need stories like this.

The images of Bobbi and other people in this picture book biography effectively show the emotions involved in each page spread, but when Bobbi is running, she is trailed by fiery streaks of red, orange, and yellow. Similarly, the primary narrative text is straightforward, but there are moments in the story when words burst across the top of the page. When Bobbi’s running is in flow, rhyming couplets appear in italics. I like how these various touches move Bobbi’s true story into something a little bigger than mere reality.

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de MéxicoDanza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México by Duncan Tonatiuh

Duncan Tonatiuh’s Danza!: Amalia Hernández and El Ballet Folklórico de México is a picture book biography about the founder of the most enduring Mexican dance company, El Ballet Folklórico de México. Danza! is the story of how a young girl in Mexico City was inspired by folk dancers to become a dancer herself. Amalia Hernández trained in classical ballet but found herself choreographing modern dance pieces resembling the dances she remembered seeing as a young girl.

Although Amalia took her dances to villages all through Mexico, she knew her artistic visions could not be complete unless they were performed in a theater. The company she formed became internationally famous for their dazzling fusion of ballet and modern dance with folkloric elements.

Much like El Ballet Folklórico de México itself, Danza! uses illustrations blending traditional Mexican styles with modern depictions. Danza!’s readers will learn about turning artistic dreams into reality, and the persistence necessary to achieve artistry on a large scale. This book will especially appeal to young dancers, and students with Mexican heritage will undoubtedly experience a surge of pride.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee BurtonBig Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton is a picture book biography celebrating the work of “Jinnee” Burton, the creator of such classic children’s books as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Maybelle the Cable Car, and The Little House, the Caldecott Award Winner in 1943. Young Jinnee’s imagination takes many forms, but the drawings she makes to delight her children become stories and eventually books beloved by generations.

Although Sherri Duskey Rinker’s narrative conveys a factual timeline, it is not exactly a straightforward biography. Big Machines is more of a salute to imagination, creativity, storytelling, and adults who inspire children. John Rocco’s warm realistic pictures, an homage to an earlier time in children’s book publishing, provide a bit of nostalgia for adult readers but will also allow young readers to experience how books looked and felt once upon a time.

From the endpapers to the back matter, this loving tribute to an author who cared enough about children to create stories for them is sure to delight both children and adults.

Dangerous JaneDangerous Jane by Suzanne Slade

The title Dangerous Jane is alluring, but it’s also ironic because the life mission of Jane Addams was to protect and serve whoever needed protection and support. Dangerous Jane tells the life story of Jane Addams with a focus on how she was inspired to serve others as a child, and moves on to how she established a settlement house in Chicago and an international women’s movement, both dedicated to helping those who need it without regard for nationality or any other consideration. After World War I, Jane Addams was considered a traitor and labeled “The Most Dangerous Woman in America” by some who thought she should be more selective about who she provided with assistance. She eventually became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Author Suzanne Slade’s text cover these milestones in the life of Jane Addams in finely crafted sentences. Slade’s economy with words provide her sentences with punch but never cross over into melodrama. I especially admire how the final phrase or image on each page is particularly thought-provoking. Because of Slade’s attention to the sound of her sentences, Dangerous Jane is one of the rare picture books that will work as a read-aloud.

The illustrations by Alice Ratterree enhance Suzanne Slade’s narrative with historically accurate and interesting backdrops. The faces are expressive and realistic, and all of this is rendered in colors that are not quite sepia but still create a nostalgic effect.

Young readers exposed to Dangerous Jane will learn about empathy, compassion, service, World War I, the role of women in the early Twentieth Century, and much more. In this time when some in our society want to build walls, I’m glad that “Dangerous” Jane Addams can still inspire the better parts of human nature.

Hidden Wildlife: How Animals Hide in Plain SightHidden Wildlife: How Animals Hide in Plain Sight by Jim Arnosky

Hidden Wildlife: How Animals Hide in Plain Sight is the latest In Jim Arnosky’s series of picture books about wild animals. The window here is Arnosky’s own experiences with these animals and how his artist’s eye interacted with the animal’s coloration and camouflage. Two striking aspects of Hidden Wildllife set it apart from similar books. The first is Arnosky’s stories about how he encountered each animal in its natural habitat and what he noticed about how it blended in with its surroundings. (Exposition is fine, but stories make the learning stickier.) Secondly, the colorful paintings are large and dramatic, and young readers will love the foldouts.

How to Survive as a FireflyHow to Survive as a Firefly by Kristen Foote

How to Survive as a Firefly explains the brief, dynamic life of a firefly, and how its metamorphosis differs from other life cycles. The energetic narrative voice effectively conveys what author Kristen Foote wants readers to understand about the firefly—it lives fast, changes quickly, and doesn’t have time to relax. (This contrasts with how I experience fireflies as they seem to quietly twinkle off and on during lazy summer evenings!) The illustrations are comical, but the appearance of the narrator becomes a little repetitive. The animated tone of the narrative text carries through to the back matter, which may lead young readers to engage with those pages rather than skipping them.

WalrusWalrus by Herve Paniaq

Animals Illustrated: Walrus by Herve Paniaq is full of interesting facts about walruses, and the Ben Shannon illustrations depict aspects of a walrus’s life not commonly considered. The text is easy to read, but I’m a little troubled by several variations of “it is said” or used in a book that is likely to be used as a credible source. For example, Paniaq writes, “Walruses that live in very deep water are said to enjoy eating seals.” Well, do they enjoy eating seals or not? That “said” formation leaves doubt.

The book’s short chapters offer intriguing information and pictures, but the last spread covers two topics, how walruses can be dangerous to humans, and how Inuit store walrus meat and used tusks as harpoons. If the book is read in one sitting, which is likely, the end just seems to trail off with no final thoughts or big idea to remember about the subject.

If your library doesn’t have a walrus book, this one will be serviceable.

Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald EagleBeauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D-Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle by Deborah Lee Rose

Beauty and the Beak begins as a bald eagle chick is born. The chick is followed to adulthood when she is wounded by a human predator. The weakened, disfigured bald eagle is discovered scavenging in a dump by a police officer and taken to a raptor sanctuary. Named Beauty, the eagle is not only nursed back to health, but with the help of 3-D dental technology she is successfully fitted with a prosthetic beak that restores much of her ability to function normally.

This book’s photographs are excellent. The first part shows how a bald eagle develops into maturity and fends for itself in the wild. The second part shows Beauty in rehabilitation and undergoing the procedure for attaching the prosthetic beak. The science is explained in accessible language and clearly demonstrates that humans are capable of helpful impulses that can ingenuity can harness with technology to improve our world and its varied inhabitants.

Beauty and the Beak’s extensive notes and back matter comprise roughly 40% of the book. While the primary narrative accompanying the photographs is geared toward younger-grade readers, the language in the ancillary material is noticeably more complex and devoid of photos.

Zoo Scientists to the RescueZoo Scientists to the Rescue by Patricia Newman

Patricia Newman’s colorful Zoo Scientists to the Rescue is a picture book for middle-grade readers focused on the problem-solving work of scientists affiliated with zoos around the world. The first and last chapters are overviews of the kinds of dilemmas faced by animals and dealt with by zoo scientists. The three middle chapters feature specific species in specific zoos: orangutans at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, black-footed ferrets at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and black rhinoceroses at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Annie Crawley’s high-quality photographs of animals will captivate young scientists, but the photographs of people doing their work or posing with charts are less interesting.

Money Math: Addition and SubtractionMoney Math: Addition and Subtraction by David A. Adler

David Adler’s Money Math: Addition and Subtraction is a wonderfully interactive picture book for elementary-age readers. Hosted by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and other figures from United States currency, Money Math engagingly connects the real-world skill of counting money to more abstract mathematical concepts, such as fractions and decimal points.

The cartoon-like illustrations by Edward Miller invite readers to imagine the coin illustrations as real coins. Students who enjoy this book will easily transition from the book to manipulatives or actual coins. Although the book is focused mostly on adding coins and bills in various ways, it also touches on the subtraction-related skills of making change. The tone and message of Money Math is that counting money is fun, and so is the math behind it. Money Math is a great addition for any school, classroom, or home library.

If You Were the MoonIf You Were the Moon by Laura Purdie Salas

A little girl reading in bed, on the verge of falling asleep, says hello to the moon and wishes she “could do exactly nothing, just like you.” The moon replies, explaining all the ways it is more active than it seems. The narrative can be read by focusing on the moon’s lyrical replies (“Hover near your mother … Tease the Earth: peek-a-boo!”), but each of the moon’s answers is supported by a more detailed explanation of the science behind it, as well as beliefs about the moon from various cultures. The moon is friendly throughout, both in the text and in the illustrations as it reveals how being the moon is a lot like being a busy youngster.

Many of these reviews appeared on Goodreads or elsewhere in slightly different form.

As always, thanks for reading. Which of these jump out at you as the most appealing?

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14 More New Nonfiction Picture Books for Home or School

This batch of nonfiction picture books has a little bit of almost everything–biographies, animals, dazzling illustrations, fascinating photos, laughs, drama, and insights into our amazing world. I hope these reviews are helpful to parents and educators searching for the best titles to add to shelves at home or school. Here we go.

What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World's Scariest Creatures (The World of Weird Animals)What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures by Jess Keating

The most disgusting, disturbing animal I’ve ever seen is a moray eel at Walt Disney World. It’s horrible. And now Jess Keating comes out with What Makes a Monster?: Discovering the World’s Scariest Creatures, and there is the fangtooth moray eel, which justifies every bad dream I’ve ever had about those nasty things.

If that weren’t bad enough, this book also features the vampire bat, the Humbolt squid, and worst of all, the goblin shark. Thanks, Jess. There go a few more nights of good sleep.

All of this is testament to another fabulous book in Keating’s “The World of Weird Animals” series. Yes, I’m creeped out by some of those pictures, but I also learned a lot from reading this book. Filled with facts just as weird as the pictures, the text also doesn’t shy away from positive aspects of these animals. For example, some of them are less endangered than they used to be, and some look for ways to help each other.

As with Keating’s Pink Is for Blobfish, the previous book in this series, the format is the definition of engaging. Bright colors, captivating photos, funny illustrations, and cleverly written text make this a book that young people will read repeatedly, and share with each other. If curiosity is the best impetus for motivating students to study science, What Makes A Monster? will provide plenty to ponder.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of InfographicsAnimals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins

The weight of all termites on Earth is double the weight of all humans on Earth. A gnat beats its wings a thousand times per second. The bulldog bat is one of the loudest animals, but humans can’t hear its high-pitched sounds. Crocodiles kill three hundred times more humans each year than sharks. Only three Red River soft-shelled turtles are still in existence, two in zoos and one in a Vietnamese lake. Who knew?

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics will fascinate animal lovers and others. Animals are automatically appealing to many young readers, but this book also includes strange facts about familiar and unfamiliar species that will intrigue many curious minds.

Author Steve Jenkins goes beyond the animal focus to present data in a variety of infographic formats: pie charts, flow charts, bar graphs, and many others, making Animals by the Numbers a helpful guide as students consider and decide how to best visually represent or report different types of information. These infographics are presented alongside Jenkins’s own artwork depicting many different animals.

Jenkins’s strong integration of content and format will make Animals by the Numbers one of the most appealing, useful books in any collection.

Hatching Chicks in Room 6Hatching Chicks in Room 6 by Caroline Arnold

Follow along as Mrs. Best brings eggs from home to an incubator in her elementary school classroom. Hatching Chicks in Room 6 has an easy-to-follow narrative with built-in drama as Mrs. Best’s students watch and wait for the baby chicks to emerge from the eggs they carefully incubate. Caroline Arnold’s photos are great as they capture the students’ enthusiasm and what seems to be expressiveness from the baby chicks. (If a photographer can show expressiveness in a chicken of any age, something good is going on.) Although there is necessarily some challenging vocabulary here (incubator and albumen, for example), the words are explained well and are not overwhelming. Once readers know the words, they will likely incorporate them into their own language when discussing this book or its subjects.

Robins!: How They Grow UpRobins!: How They Grow Up by Eileen Christelow

Robins!: How They Grow Up is full of fascinating details about robins that will enhance what young readers have probably already noticed about them. As the primary text explains how young robins are born and develop, some comic robins lurking at the bottom of the pages comment on the narrative. This provides some nice variety, which is needed because the pictures become repetitive in places, mostly because the backgrounds are so plain, and the robins look mostly the same from page to page. Still, the artwork is expressive and appealing; it’s just repetitive. Although probably too long for a read-aloud, Robins! can be a good picture book to use in the spring as robins begin to appear. Markers of the robins’ various ages can serve as little chapter breaks for those hesitant to read the entire book at once.

Can an Aardvark Bark?Can an Aardvark Bark? by Melissa Stewart

Can an Aardvark Bark? explores the variety of sounds made by animals, and which dissimilar animals make similar sounds. Emerging readers will enjoy the onomatopoetic character of the animal sounds featured in the primary text (bark, whine, growl, etc.), while more details and complex vocabulary are found in the supporting text. The primary text would serve well as a read-aloud, and children can then explore the rest of the book more independently or in groups. The format is almost a tribute to Eric Carle with its stylized artwork made of multiple fabrics and text with repeating elements.

DroughtsDroughts by Melissa Stewart

Also written by Melissa Stewart, Droughts is a useful science book in the “Let’s Read and Find Out” series. Sweet’s primary narrative text explains the science behind droughts in clear, straightforward language. The human touch comes through the warm Andre’ Ceolin illustrations showing children and adults dealing with various stages of drought, as well as taking steps to conserve water. The vocabulary and syntax in the sidebars and back matter is slightly more complex than the rest. This is fine because adults are more likely to be involved in the experiments and explanations described in those sections. Sweet and Ceolin’s book is more friendly than flashy as it makes accessible the science behind droughts.

Two Truths and a Lie: It's Alive!Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette

I was originally not sure about this one. Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive presents sets of three cleverly-written, humorous explanations of various scientific phenomena. But, you guessed it, two of them are true and one is not. The fake one might be wildly made-up or it might have something factual embedded in it, but it’s not completely true.

All the explanations are fun, but I’m bothered by young readers spending so much time reading fake stuff alongside true stuff, even if they know some of it is made up. Separating fact from fiction these days is almost a survival strategy, and I don’t quite see how this book strengthens that skill. I imagine readers being entertained and enjoying the mysteries but not remembering enough of the details the next day to be clear on what was true and untrue.

Since I originally reviewed Two Truths and a Lie: It’s Alive, I’ve talked to two parents who are also educators who told me they see kids absorbed in this book, so I’m willing to consider that because truth is so slippery in our peculiar era I may not be seeing the book’s full potential.

Manjhi Moves a MountainManjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin

“Moving mountains” is usually a hyperbolic metaphor for accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks. In the nonfiction picture book Manjhi Moves a Mountain, a dedicated laborer literally moves a mountain to connect two villages. Manjhi’s poor village “in the heart of India” is separated from a more prosperous village by a mountain. Manjhi throws a stone in frustration. Inspired by seeing dust crumble from the stone, Manjhi begins to chip away at the mountain with his hammer and chisel. At first, other villagers laugh at his folly, but eventually they begin to respect his dedication. Twenty-two years later, Manjhi has moved the mountain, and the two villages are united.

This beautifully designed book has a mythical feel, but Manjhi’s story takes place in the twentieth century. Nancy Churnin wisely refrains from belaboring Manjhi’s heroism as she simply tells what happens and heroism emerges from that description. Danny Popovici’s appealing illustrations reward readers who linger on each spread as details are embedded in the depth perspective of each picture. The book begins and closes with different endpapers that effectively convey the power of Manjhi’s accomplishment.

Although it actually happened, Manjhi’s accomplishment is something of a metaphor after all, as the back matter challenges readers to consider what mountains they can move to improve their communities, and provides links to resources for learning about what others are doing, and how readers can share their own experiences.

Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman PilotLighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot by Matthew Clark Smith

Nothing on Earth captures the imagination quite like taking to the sky in a hot air balloon. Lighter than Air is a picture book biography about Sophie Blanchard, the first woman pilot. Blanchard guided hot air balloons all over 18th Century France. Author Matthew Clark Smith provides a narrative that contextualizes the French attitudes of the period, especially regarding the role of women in that society, and how Sophie Blanchard first challenges those expectations, then becomes an exception to all those rules as she gains popularity and respect for her airborne exploits.

Some of the Matt Tavares illustrations are drawings that evoke the art prints of that time, but several of the pictures are more involved with backgrounds and sophisticated shadings. These pictures are more satisfying and made me wish the others were more like them.

The design of Lighter than Air is simple. The endpapers are plain, and the back matter is an author’s note, illustrator’s note, and a brief bibliography. The author’s note reveals the circumstances of Sophie Blanchard’s death. No spoilers here, but I hope young readers find their way to that detail and then ponder and discuss its ironies.

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer CodeGrace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Laurie Wallmark’s Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code portrays legendary computer programmer Grace Hopper as fun and feisty. More than anything, Wallmark’s picture book biography is an appealing story that will engage many young readers, not just the technology fans. The computer science and engineering are accessible and presented as challenges which “Amazing Grace” gladly tackles. The narrative has a friendly voice, and I also like the inspirational Grace Hopper quotes adorning many of the page spreads. Katy Wu’s bright, happy illustrations perfectly match the tone of Wallmark’s words. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is a book that readers will remember, re-visit, and talk about with each other.

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America SingingListen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert

Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing is a worthy picture book tribute to the iconic folksinger. The lyrical text begins with “Listen,” an imperative repeated several times. The difference between “listen” and “hear” is a call to pay attention to what is going on beneath and behind the words and tunes of Pete Seeger’s songs.

Most pages of the text includes brief lists of two or three titles of songs associated with that page’s content. While most of the songs are not explained, some titles are well known, which creates a kind of imagined soundtrack for reading this book. The lesser-known titles may intrigue readers to investigate them.

Raúl Colón’s artwork can almost stand alone without text. His textured illustrations have a nostalgic glow that perfectly matches Leda Schubert’s portrayal of Pete Seeger’s idealism and optimism.

If you’re only going to add one Pete Seeger picture book to a collection, I recommend Listen. Seeger’s life is explained in an evocative voice, and the role of folk songs and folk singers in those tumultuous times is conveyed without being overtly didactic. Schubert and Colón hit all the right notes here.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple GrandinThe Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin portrays a misunderstood child who persists in learning to become a renowned scientist. As a child, Temple’s autism confuses and alienates many of those around her. When she leaves the city and spends more time in rural settings, she begins to understand her own mind and its powers that are so hidden from others. This important picture book lures in readers with friendly illustrations and gently rhyming text. Picture book biographies rarely make for good read-alouds, but The Girl Who Thought in Pictures is an exception. Educators and parents who use this book will help young readers understand autism and empathize with those who think differently.

Pedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the WorldPedal Power: How One Community Became the Bicycle Capital of the World by Allan Drummond

Pedal Power has a nice balance of whimsy and message as it shows how bicycling advocate Maartje Rutten led Amsterdam to become the world’s foremost biking city. Although the words and pictures have light touches, author Allan Drummond delivers important content about the benefits of cycling and the power of activism.

Her Right FootHer Right Foot by Dave Eggers

Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers is mostly a history of The Statue of Liberty that begins with humor and ends with an important message about America and immigrants. Some of the background is familiar, which Eggers acknowledges, but there are also some surprises. In fact, there is one big surprise involving something important about the statue’s right foot. The narration builds a positive relationship by directly addressing a reader, sometimes teasingly, sometimes with compliments. This pays off at the end when Eggers delivers his innovative interpretation of the statue. The Shawn Harris cut-paper artwork is decidedly modern, which reinforces a new way of seeing our well-known neoclassical statue. Her Right Foot is fun, and it’s likely to be a favorite with young readers even as it reminds us about America’s important mission to welcome “the poor, the tired, and the struggling to breathe free.”

See what I mean? A little bit of almost everything. No book is just right for every reader, but I hope some of the titles here fit the interests of the young readers in your world.

One more quick note: Since my last blog post about nonfiction picture books, I’ve been chosen as a first round judge for the Cybils Awards. Nothing I say in these reviews should be assumed to reflect how I’m judging any of the nominated books, or how the Cybils judging is proceeding in general. Finalists are announced on January 1, 2018, and winners are announced on February 14, 2018!

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Review: TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green

turtlesJohn Green’s new novel Turtles All the Way Down: I don’t even know where to start. Maybe just start with what I want to say about this book. It is important. Aza, the narrator and main character, has anxiety. Even pleasurable things like kisses cause Aza’s thoughts to race and spiral. Because anxiety is rampant in American society today, especially among teens and pre-teens, Turtles will matter to those who live with a similar mental illness. Even those who are free from debilitating anxiety will gain understanding of it as John Green gives us Aza’s unfiltered inner monologue.

Or maybe I should start with what this book is about. There is a plot, for those who like plots. A billionaire has disappeared leaving his children and estate in a questionable status. The oldest son Davis was a childhood friend of Aza’s. When Aza’s best friend Daisy realizes the connection and the reward for finding Davis’s father, she forces Aza to seek out Davis. A relationship develops between the anxiety-ridden Aza and the boy who doesn’t really miss his missing father.

What if we just start at the beginning: “At the time I first realized I might be fictional, my weekdays were spent at a publicly funded institution on the north side of Indianapolis called White River High School, where I was required to eat lunch at a particular time—between 12:37 P.M. and 1:14 P.M.—by forces so much larger than myself that I couldn’t even begin to identify them.” This sentence establishes Aza’s voice, and shows an understanding of how going to high school is a different experience from living in the rest of the world. In Aza’s mind, everything in her world is connected and beyond her control, and similarly, everything in Turtles All the Way Down is connected to something else. Stars in the sky and Star Wars. Technology and intimacy. Turtles and lizards. Shakespeare and blogs. Infinity and right now.

I almost forgot! This book is funny! Spending so much time in Aza’s head would be “exhausting,” as her friend Daisy says, without light moments and clever phrases throughout the book. The conversations, both spoken and text message, crackle with wit as these smart kids banter about big issues (mental health, abandonment), restaurants (Chuck E. Cheese, Applebee’s), and the status of their romances.

The Fault in Our Stars should have squelched those who see John Green as someone who writes within the definition of Young Adult Literature. That book was unquestionably far beyond any narrow conceptions of the YA genre. Turtles All the Way Down is out there too. John Green has written a narrator who draws us in and affects our understanding of how a mind works. We can either recognize something of ourselves in Aza, or we can better understand those like her. Either way, Aza will affect readers. Turtles All the Way Down may be YA it, but it’s also just lit.

Be kind to yourself, and enjoy reading this new book.

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Just Another Day of Books Around the Room

5433e0b8b1ac3d5467881f5442b38b1a--eragon-quotes-christopher-paoliniFrom time to time, I like to compile a list of books my students are reading to see if I can discern any patterns or trends that will help me understand them as readers and possibly diagnose any situations that might need to be addressed. This year I’ve been working with four classes of high school juniors. Almost all of them reliably bring a book to class each day and read it for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each ninety-minute block.

Because students finish books regularly, the list changes every day, but here are the titles from a recent class, arranged alphabetically by author. (Numbers in parentheses indicate multiple students reading the same title.)

Kwame Alexander: The Crossover
Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian
Bryan Anderson with David Mack: No Turning Back
M. T. Anderson: Feed
Jennifer Keishin Armstrong: Seinfeldia
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
Derf Backderf: My Friend Dahmer
Paulo Bacigalupi: The Doubt Factory
Cris Beam: I Am
Frank Beddor: The Looking Glass Wars
Sam Bracken: My Orange Duffel Bag
Patrick Carman: Skeleton Creek
Joelle Charbonneau: The Testing
Joelle Charbonneau: Independent Study
Arthur C. Clarke: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Nyrae Dawn: Facade
Matt de la Peña: Mexican Whiteboy (2)
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: The Strain Book One
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: The Strain Book Three: The Night Eternal
Sarah Dessen: Dreamland
Carl Deuker: Swagger (2)
Emma Donoghue: Room
Sharon M. Draper: Just Another Hero
Dave Eggers: The Circle (2)
Kathryn Erskine: Mockingbird
Michael Finkel: The Stranger in the Woods
Becca Fitzpatrick: Crescendo
Gayle Forman: Where She Went
Lisa Gardner: Touch and Go
Tim Green: Unstoppable
Charles F. Gritzer: Mexico
Alison Goodman: Eon
Dorothy Hoobler and Thomas Hoobler: The Demon in the Teahouse
Ellen Hopkins: Crank
Nick Hornby: High Fidelity
Sherrilyn Kenyon: Invincible
Jo Knowles: Read Between the Lines (3)
Joseph R. Kozenczak and Karen M. Kozenczak: The Chicago Killer: The Hunt for Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy
Kevin Kwan: Crazy Rich Asians
Marie Lu: Prodigy
Chris Lynch: Hit Count
Michael Lewis: The Blind Side
Mike Lupica: The Underdogs
Zoe Marriott: The Name of the Blade
George R. R. Martin: A Game of Thrones (2)
David McCullough: 1776
Meg Medina: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Linda R. Monk and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide
Mike Mullin: Ashfall (2)
Mike Mullin: Ashen Winter
G. Neri: Knockout Games
Jennifer Niven: All the Bright Places (3)
Shana Norris: Troy High
Chase Novak: Breed
Joyce Carol Oates: Blonde
George Orwell: 1984
Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club
Joe Perry and David Ritz: Rocks
Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: All American Boys (2)
Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor and Park
Julie Shepard: Rosie Girl
Shel Silverstein: A Light in the Attic
Andrew Smith: Grasshopper Jungle
Tom Rob Smith: Child 44
Trenton Lee Stewart: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Tara Sullivan: The Bitter Side of Sweet
Angie Thomas: The Hate U Give (4)
Julia Walton: Words on Bathroom Walls
Paul Franklin Watson: Sea Shepard: My Fight for Whales and Seals
Scott Westerfield: Goliath
Various: 666: The Number of the Beast
Lauren Roedy Vaughn: OCD, the Dude and Me
Sean Williams: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Malcolm X and Alex Haley: The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Emma Young: She Myself and I

The variety here is astonishing, but I think I see some patterns. The first one is something that probably wouldn’t be apparent to outsiders. Many of these titles were featured in our daily book-talks. Every day I tell students about a book that I think some of them might like. Those books are more likely than any others to show up in their hands. Sixteen of the books listed here have been the subject of book-talks earlier this year.

book talk slide 2

A slide like this is on the screen each day as students arrive in class.  After our independent reading time, I do a book talk on the title or titles.  In this case, we had a “two-fer” book talk on two thematically-linked novels, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

I also see a lot of books from the classroom library. Although the school where I’m working has an outstanding library and library staff, and many students are frequent visitors, other students rely on the classroom library. I’m not sure what makes the difference, but it’s an interesting question that has no wrong answer.

Authors from diverse backgrounds are important. I’m not going to do an ethnic tally, but I know that every title I mention written by an author of color shows up soon in our diverse classes.

Graphic novels are huge. In one class there is a small enclave who starts each block checking in with each other about what’s going on in whichever volume of The Strain they are currently reading. In addition, the most-read book in this still-young school year is Derf Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer. (Nonfiction graphic novels, anyone?) The school library has 1,100 graphic novels in its collection, and those shelves get a lot of traffic.

My only concern is that a few students still choose books almost randomly, as if one book were just as good as another. Sometimes they even stick with those randomly chosen titles, even though they know they are welcome to abandon any book any time. Students know they are required to read, but some of them don’t know how to choose well. We can work on that.

I wonder if anyone sees other trends or patterns here? What am I missing?

Your comments and questions are always welcome, and as always, thanks for reading.

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The Top Twenty Ways Busy Juniors Can Find More Time to Read

reading at homeThis school year I’ve been working with 114 juniors. They are smart, focused, positive, respectful, and busy, busy, busy. Their after-school hours are devoured by sports, clubs, teams, activities, jobs, and hands-on family obligations.

As readers, some of these students are already voracious. Others haven’t read much in the last few months, and some haven’t read much for several years.

As we all work together to improve everyone’s reading life, we discuss practical aspects of being a reader. For example, we talk about when to abandon a book, when the best part of a book is most likely to happen, and the importance of having a next book in mind.

We read self-selected books for fifteen minutes in every class, but one of the obstacles to developing richer reading lives for these juniors is finding time to read outside of class. With that in mind, I recently reminded them that we make time for what we value. Then I asked them to reply to this:

Think about your typical day. Regardless of how much time you currently spend reading each day, how can you make more time for reading? Where can you find five, ten, fifteen minutes or more in your schedule to read a few more pages? List your ideas, whether they are obvious or wacky.

The 114 juniors responded wonderfully. Presented in order and without judgement, here are The Top Twenty Ways Busy Juniors Can Find More Time to Read!

1. Before going to sleep
2. In study hall
3. During lunch
4. Before school
5. During down-time in class—for example, after finishing a test
6. While eating dinner
7. On the bus
8. Right away when getting home from school
9. In the bathroom
10. After homework
11. Instead of TV or video games
12. During passing periods
13. Instead of phone or social media
14. Find a quiet place
15. After practice
16. While waiting
17. In the bath
18. When bored
19. While walking somewhere
20. (Tie) After work / During other classes

While those were the top ideas, some interesting “outlier” responses showed up too. Here they are, in the students’ own words:

“Drop classes so you can read.”
“Don’t do other homework.”
“While brushing my teeth”
“Uhhh.”
“You can read with friends.”
“In the shower”
“Skip school.”
“Read two books at once, one for school and one for home.”

As we formulate expectations for our students about reading or homework in general, we should also keep in mind that home environments vary in terms of their friendliness toward reading: “People tell me to do homework and read at home, but home is an uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden environment that makes it impossible for me to do that.”

I hope you enjoyed the lists, but you can help us learn! What are your favorite times and ways to give yourself a few more minutes to read in a busy day?

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Talking about THE ENEMY with Sara Holbrook

the-enemy-md-1Many Nerdy Book Clubbers are already familiar with Sara Holbrook through her books of poetry for young readers, including I Never Said I Wasn’t Difficult and The Dog Ate My Homework.  We also know Sara through her work with “partner-in-rhyme” Michael Salinger that helps students and teachers from around the world understand how writing poetry can meet the needs of living in the modern world.

Sara Holbrook’s newest book is The Enemy:  Detroit, 1954 (Calkins Creek, 2017).  Loosely based on her own childhood experiences, The Enemy’s narrator is Marjorie, a twelve-year old who sees the tensions of the Cold War play out in her home, school, and community.  Marjorie’s responses to the suspicion, paranoia, and xenophobia so prevalent in that era are powerfully relevant to our own troubled times.

I’m honored that my long-time friend Sara agreed to share her insights with Nerdy Book Club members in a recent email interview.

Sara HolbrookWhen it comes to writing, you have done so much—poetry for young people, spoken word poetry, think pieces, books for educators—but this is your first novel.  What brought you to writing a novel for middle-grade readers?

As a poet, I tend to write in first person. I think it keeps me honest. I have written hundreds of poems in a middle grade voice, from I Never Said I Wasn’t Difficult to I’m Not So Bad. That is how I have chosen to write my story over the years, part fiction and part memoir. The Enemy came to me in multiple voices, from multiple points of view. The final chapter of the book is a true story that I would occasionally relate to friends. Finally, I decided I wanted to write about it, and it grew into the book.

What about The Enemy do you hope will appeal to young readers?

Marjorie, the protagonist, claims she is not shy, but she struggles with speaking up for what is right. I think (hope) young readers will cheer her on as she finally triumphs in finding her own voice.

One thread of The Enemy deals with how immigrants are welcomed by some and mistreated by others.  Were you aware of that back in 1954, or is that thread more informed by what you see happening in 2017?

First, I was only six in 1954. But growing up, I certainly was aware of immigrants, as I grew up surrounded by them. Many of my friends had a grandparent who spoke broken English, or no English at all. I remember once babysitting at the house of an immigrant family and being astounded by their empty closets. Among my parent’s friends, the term DP, was widely used to label folks who had European accents. That said, I don’t remember overt bullying by kids against immigrants in my school. I have, however, heard these reports from adult friends of mine who came here as children. In the school district where I live now–Mentor, Ohio–a few years ago, there was a high school student, a recent Croatian immigrant, who tragically committed suicide due to extreme bullying. News reports cited a culture of aggressive conformity in the school. Also, I have family who actively work helping stranded migrants on our southern border, so immigration is a topic we often discuss. Studying history and (frankly) age have given me more perspective on the great sacrifices immigrants make moving to a strange place to start over, a place where acceptance is not guaranteed. This I have written about in an adult poetry book, From the Park Bench (2015), in a persona poem.

Came the Irish Catholics,

who hated the protestants,

who hated the Poles,

who hated the Germans,

who hated the Italians.

The Serbs and the Croats brought their hate with them.

And everyone hated the Jews.

All that hate waved through the ghettos.

After the war followed the hillbillies, blacks, and Latinos

who began to unite the city

in some kind of new-improved hatred.

Cultural diversity is a crock.

Everyone wants to be with their own kind

or the closest thing to it

and hate ain’t no recent invention.

I like how the author’s note at the end of The Enemy explains what various family members were like in 1954 and to what degree they inspired various characters.  There isn’t much there about you though.  So, what were you like in junior high, and how are you still kind of the same?

I was a total geek, glasses and braces. I was a daydreamer, quietly rebellious, and I was skeletal and could barely hold up a pair of corduroys. I was so shy I’d turn purple if anyone talked to me. I did collect maps and brochures from National Geographic and spent long hours at the library where I got into trouble more than once for sneaking into the adult section. Am I the same? As an adult I consider myself a plainclothes revolutionary. But I will say that, like Marjorie, I have sometimes had to give myself a little kick to speak up for myself. I have a people-pleasing tendency that I have to fight against pretty much daily.

The dialogue in The Enemy is especially appealing.  Marjorie, the twelve-year-old narrator, has a lot of clever lines, and other characters’ words are written in ways that make clear how a readers’ ear is supposed to hear them.  How does that work?  Do you catch snippets of conversation and build from there, or do you base a character’s language on the voice of someone you know, or something else?

I spent a lot of time speaking the dialogue and internal monologues out loud as I wrote. I have always felt that with performance poetry, my performance feeds my writing just as much as my writing feeds the performance. So it is natural to me to speak the words as I write them. I worked until it sounded natural, true to the characters.

At one point in The Enemy, Marjorie asks her mother, “What’s worse, a commie or a Nazi?”  What is Marjorie trying to figure out with that question?

That is actually the first line I wrote in the book. It held its place as the first line of the book for the first few drafts, even. Marjorie is surrounded by the fallout from WWII— her neighbor Mrs. Fisher who hasn’t overcome the loss of her son – her own father’s experiences in the war – Nazi’s are known as the worst of the worst. Or they used to be. Now Marjorie is hearing of a new political enemy, the commies and the Russians and they have a bomb that could wipe out the world. She wants to know which enemy to worry about. She doesn’t really know much about the commies or Russians, WWII has personally touched her.

The kids in The Enemy lived through traumatic events of historic proportions, although the refugee children confronted them more directly than the American kids on the home front.  Drawing on your understanding as a mom and grandmother and educator with a lot of international experience, what can you say about how children deal with things when their worlds become so chaotic or violent?

World events so affect kids. In one extreme, they can be caught in the crossfire. In cases such as with Marjorie, talk about newsworthy events comes to them by way of media and parent discussions. We know kids mimic adult behaviors and we see this in The Enemy when Bernadette insists that the circle of friends sign a loyalty oath. In my own case, I remember having discussions with girlfriends about whether we would grow up to have children.  We were worried and would talk about “the bomb.” I was suspicious that perhaps this was a false memory, until I found it confirmed in contemporaneous interviews that Studs Terkel did with kids. The interviews appear in the final chapter of his book, The Good War. Kids take the siftings of parents’ conversations and actions and build their own realities. One thing I had to do was make sure I wasn’t relying on childhood false narratives and passing them off as history. Throughout the writing of the book, I confirmed every one of my memories through research. From McCarthy’s book banning and Mr. Wizard’s recipe for a volcano, to actually tracking my father’s Army unit’s movements in the European theater to confirm his stories, I searched and found documentable evidence for the stories in the book. My meticulous editor, Carolyn Yoder, even had me make a bibliography of my research.

The young people in The Enemy are just living their everyday lives—school, parents, friends, teachers—but the paranoia and politics of the larger society keep causing things to happen that those kids do not fully understand.  Do you think today’s American middle-schoolers are more aware of world events going on around them, and if so, how does it affect them?

When the twin towers came down, Michael Salinger and I took great care to guard his then second grade son from fearsome news reports, muting the sound of the TV when he entered the room. Still, three or four days later, he came to his father and asked, “When are we going to get bombed?” He’d heard just enough to create a false narrative that had him plenty scared. According to multiple reports, hate crimes in the US are up 20% as a result of the recent election. Unfortunately, according the Southern Poverty Law Center, bullying and hate crimes are also up in schools and the increase can be directly linked to the election of Donald Trump. Kids reflect the mood and culture of the parents. If they sense fear or hostility in their parents, that is going to be apparent in their actions. Students outside this country (I have visited over 50 schools in more than 40 countries) tend to be far more aware of world events than our kids, sadly. I see that reflected in the poems that they write. We have seen popular culture overwhelm news events in the minds of young people, and that’s not only tragic, it’s dangerous. I think part of our jobs as middle grade educators is getting them outside of themselves and their immediate environs and help them see the greater world.

You and Michael do a lot of work in overseas and American schools.  What have you discovered that is universal about school-age children?

Kids want to know. Too often adults who are pressed for time resort to speaking to kids in directives–go there, read that, sit quietly–rather than taking time to explain what’s going on and answering questions. As parents and educators, the very best thing that we can do is to encourage their natural curiosity. I hear two things from middle grade kids all over the world: 1. I’m not like those other kids, and 2. Nobody listens or cares what I have to say. This feeling is universal.

Many educators, myself included, cheered your January, 2017 Huffington Post piece “I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems” in which you described how the STAAR test in Texas used two of your poems as test questions that you found incomprehensible.  What else do you want to say to educators who love making a difference in the lives of students but who are burdened by the accountability culture that sometimes gets in the way of their work?

The testing emperors have no clothes. The STAAR questions/answers were beyond incomprehensible; they were fiction created by an anonymous author of unknown scholarship. The author of those questions had no idea why I put a stanza break in here or used a simile there. Not a clue. When it comes to interpreting aesthetic literature, the authors just make stuff up. And yet kids’ lives and teachers’ lives depend on a 12 year-old’s ability to guess the answers made up by the author of the test. What do I say to the teachers? Keep questioning the quality of the tests, talk to parents about the quality of the tests. Stop being ashamed. Any test that purports to measure a student’s abilities that does not take into account any input from the teacher is bogus on its face. The tests attempt to evaluate both the student and the teacher in one test, and consistently fail at both.

I did write a follow up article, which appeared in The Washington Post, “Why I Would Never Tell a Student What a Poem Means.”

What else do you still want to do as a writer and educator?  Will there be more novels?

I have two other novels in the works. Borderline is set in 2005 on the border between Tucson and Nogales. The protagonist is Hannah who has been sent to live with her grandmother, an activist on the Mexican border. The grandmother is Marjorie. I have one more novel in mind, set in Detroit in 1967. I’ve also been scratching on a novel in poetry and have a couple ideas for other poetry projects and one teacher resource. This is the first week of summer, when school visits are over and writing time begins. I’m excited to get to work.

Thank you for the many ways that your life and work and generosity have affected so many students and teachers around the world for so many years.  You never need to wonder if you have made a difference.  As you look back, what is most gratifying about all you have accomplished?

Writing with kids. I love it. I am constantly flabbergasted by their insights and take such joy as I see them taking baby steps to finding their voices and just becoming. I have had so many rich opportunities and I am deeply grateful for all the teachers and administrators who have invited me into classrooms, both by inviting me for school visits and using my work in their classrooms.

sara me ncte

Sara and me at Sara’s signing for The Enemy during the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Atlanta, Georgia in November, 2016.

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on the Nerdy Book Club web site back on June 25, 2017. For those interested in more about The Enemy, here is a link to my original review.

Visit Sara Holbrook online at www.saraholbook.com and follow @saraholbrook on Twitter!

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Nine More New Nonfiction Picture Books!

This is an especially strong batch of new nonfiction picture books, including a few that haven’t received much buzz. Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix, for example, is unlike anything else out there, and I haven’t seen it reviewed anywhere. Same goes for Adrift at Sea and Waiting for Pumpsie. Maybe I just missed the reviews, but each of these books is worth a look for those seeking to add cultural diversity to their nonfiction picture book collections. I hope you find something here that will interest the children in your life.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food RemixChef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix has a cover that jumps off the shelf, and the story inside lives up to the cover’s promise. Roy Choi learned about preparing good Korean food at home, and he learned other things on the street. After culinary school, he became a chef, but the lifestyle didn’t work for him, so he combined his food knowledge and street smarts to serve great food for people to eat on the street “while skateboarding, exploring, or just hanging.” Chef Roy Choi and The Street Food Remix capitalizes on the popularity of food trucks and uses bright graffiti-style graphics and comic art to enhance the book’s fun urban ethos. Explanations of various Korean dishes and recipes for some of Choi’s creations accompany this picture book’s underlying messages about perseverance, community, and using our talents to make a positive difference for others, in Choi’s case through “food smiles.” Keep this one in mind when students need a biography.

We Are ShiningWe Are Shining by Gwendolyn Brooks

One of the best things to come from this year’s observations of the late poet Gwendolyn Brooks’s 100th birthday is We Are Shining, a new picture book adaptation of “A Little Girl’s Poem,” published in 1983. The “We” in the title can belong to one child or a collective childhood as the narrative persona claims the natural right of a child to shine, sing, and live! Ms. Brooks was a forward-looking, positive person, but she also gently reminds readers how many of the world’s children struggle to live into the lives they deserve. The poem’s message is uplifting, as are the illustrations from the always excellent Jan Spivey Gilchrist. The children in this book sometimes swirl in imaginative settings, and other times are settled in their homes and neighborhoods. Matching this poet, this poem, and this artist was a visionary publishing decision. We Are Shining is a beautiful book, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

The Secret Life of the Red FoxThe Secret Life of the Red Fox by Laurence Pringle

The Secret Life of the Red Fox is exactly the kind of book that captivates young animal lovers. Focusing on one vixen, Laurence Pringle emphasizes the secretiveness inherent in her nocturnal nature, as well as her intelligence. Pringle incorporates some darker moments too as the fox faces danger and preys upon smaller animals. Kate Garchinsky’s pictures convey the animal’s beauty, both in close-up paintings and from a distance in various contexts. This book will reward readers who return to its words and pictures as closer examination reveals new details, and the most intriguing elements retain their allure. Although there is some potentially challenging vocabulary here, a useful glossary is included, and the likely repeat reading will reinforce those words.The Secret Life of the Red Fox will pair well with last year’s Faraway Fox by Jolene Thompson.

Waiting for PumpsieWaiting for Pumpsie by Barry Wittenstein

I didn’t see the usual batch of baseball picture books this spring, but Barry Wittenstein’s Waiting for Pumpsie would be a standout in any year. The main character Bernard is fictional, but the events surrounding the 1959 Red Sox debut of Elijah “Pumpsie” Green are true. Although Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, twelve seasons later the Boston Red Sox had never fielded a black player. Then in 1959 Pumpsie Green was ready to move from the minor leagues to the Red Sox. Waiting for Pumpsie is the story of how Bernard and his family, and other black Red Sox fans, first wait for the level of Pumpsie’s minor league play to develop into major-league readiness. Then they wait for him to join the team. Then they wait for him to get in a game, which happens in a road game they listen to on the radio. Finally, they wait for Pumpsie to take his place on the field at Fenway Park, and his first at-bat. All this waiting has an emotional pull that lets readers know what it was like for black Americans to await each step toward integration. Racist taunts at Fenway Park are directed at both Bernard’s family and Pumpsie, and those examples of ignorance also have emotional resonance. Waiting for Pumpsie gets the baseball elements right, both visually and in the text. More importantly, Waiting for Pumpsie shows how America’s pastime served as a microcosm of America’s gradual civil rights progress.

Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled CreationLong May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation by Kristen Fulton

Before reading Long May She Wave, I didn’t know the story of the Pickersgill family and their role in making the flag flown over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 which became the inspiration for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Long May She Wave focuses on 13-year-old Caroline Pickersgill as she works to create the enormous flag as a signal of American pride to the British invaders. Because author Kristen Fulton accents verbs in her story-telling, this picture book is great for a read-aloud. Fulton also cleverly incorporates phrases from the National Anthem’s lyrics into the story, which makes this an excellent accompaniment to introducing the song to children. Holly Berry’s illustrations evoke the popular lithographs of Pickersgill’s time, while colorful images of the flag and “bombs bursting in air” pop out of the otherwise simple drawings. Long May She Wave is an enlightening and entertaining book for helping young readers understand the flag, Flag Day, and The National Anthem.

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the WorldThis Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt LaMothe

At first I thought This Is How We Do It was going to be a little too busy and confusing. Silly me. It comes together smoothly as author Matt Lamothe charmingly shows how kids from Italy, Japan, Peru, Uganda, Russia, India, and Iran do pretty much the same things American kids do, although some of the details are different. Each activity—breakfast, going to school, playing, etc.—is shown in action from other the countries, with a space on the page for American kids to reflect on their own version of the activity. This large picture book draws on the basic principle that much of how we learn is based on recognition of how things are the same and how things differ. This Is How We Do It can help children (and adults) understand that our lives have far more in common with our global neighbors than we are sometimes led to believe.

The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the AmazonThe Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli

The appeal of Greg Pizzoli’s The Quest for Z lies in its mysteries. The unknown has a way of firing the imagination, and this picture book deals with a couple of interesting unknowns. (Pardon my vagueness, but I’m avoiding a major spoiler.) The text’s complexity, especially in the sidebars, probably makes this most appropriate for older elementary students, although Pizzoli’s illustrations do such an excellent job of conveying the story that younger readers are likely to get something out of it too, regardless of how much or how little they explore the text. The Quest for Z is essentially an adventure story, but it also has fun with touches of humor and cartoon-style artwork.

Balderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children's BooksBalderdash!: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel

A picture book about John Newbery, the founding father of publishing for children, seems like a good idea, but I had my doubts about whether Newbery could be made interesting for young readers. Michelle Markel’s Balderdash! begins by showing Newbery’s attitude and early life in fun ways, and the first half of the book maintains that tone. Although Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations remain “boisterous” throughout, the text loses much of its momentum in the book’s second half. I’m glad this version of Newbery’s biography exists, and it can play a role when talking to children about books, but Balderdash! is not one they are likely to return to on their own.

Adrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy's Story of SurvivalAdrift at Sea: A Vietnamese Boy’s Story of Survival by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Adrift at Sea is the true story of Tuan Ho, a young Vietnamese boy who escaped his country’s military regime in 1981 and became part of the wave of “boat people,” refugees hoping to arrive in America. As author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch relates how Tuan and members of his family survived their escape and a flimsy boat with a motor that eventually dies, she keeps the drama intact without crossing the line into being terrifying. My only quibble with the text is the awkward present-tense construction in the first sentence: “When I come home from school today, a jug of water and bags of dried food sit by the door.” (Delete the word today, and the sentence works fine.) The artwork of Brian Deines is exquisite. His pastels display the sea’s enormity and beauty without undercutting the threatening situation. The colors somehow convey a sense of hope that I found comforting. The front and back matter complete Tuan’s story as it relates how his refugee family found a home and life in America.

Thank you for reading this month’s collection of reviews, some of which appeared earlier on Goodreads in slightly different form.

If this is your first visit to my blog, welcome.  You may want to take a look back at earlier months to see more nonfiction picture book reviews.

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Seven More New Nonfiction Picture Books

Earlier this month I reviewed seven nonfiction picture books, all focused on women who persisted in the face of various obstacles. Here are seven more reviews from my May and June reading that I hope readers will find useful.  (In my opinion, the best of this batch is the first one here, Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon.)

Grand CanyonGrand Canyon by Jason Chin
Grand Canyon, Jason Chin’s latest picture book, captures the historical, ecological, and geological complexity of the Grand Canyon, as well as its grandeur and beauty. Chin provides depth and detail as he explains the forces that shaped various levels and regions of the canyon, and the animals and plants that inhabit each area. The editorial layout of Grand Canyon holds some surprises for first-time readers, and the interesting images will lure those readers back for rewarding repeat visits.

Penguin DayPenguin Day by Nic Bishop
Nic Bishop’s Penguin Day tells the simple story of a penguin family’s typical day. Mama penguin goes for food. Papa penguin watches over baby penguin. Baby penguin goes exploring and gets in a little trouble. With simple text and a variety of interesting photos, young animal lovers will be able to navigate this book largely on their own. I like how the photos show close-ups, group shots, and action sequences. Taken all together, the daily life of a penguin family becomes clear, and it has a lot of parallels to the daily lives of humans.

If Sharks DisappearedIf Sharks Disappeared Lily Williams
Something about sharks makes them endlessly fascinating. If Sharks Disappeared acknowledges the scariness of sharks but then makes a sharp turn to focus on the ecological importance of sharks. Author Lily Williams illustrates what would happen if sharks vanished from the food chain. Williams explains that sharks are apex predators, those at the top of the food chain. If sharks go away, species lower on the food chain will proliferate, causing a variety of ripples in the delicate balance affecting creatures in the ocean and on land, including humans.

The cause/effect focus in If Sharks Disappeared will stimulate scientific thinking in readers. In this time when some politicians discredit hard science by calling it a hoax, we need to help young people understand that relationships exist in nature, and we can accurately predict what will happen if a variable is changed. Teachers could easily use this book as an example, and then encourage students to consider other similar situations in nature.

The pictures in this book are colorful and charming, providing a nice counterpoint to the serious concepts under consideration in its pages. The glossary at the end is useful and provides accessible definitions of complex ideas.

TheodoreTheodore by Frank Keating
Although Mike Wimmer’s paintings are amazingly lifelike, this picture book biography of Theodore Roosevelt is one of the weaker installments in Frank Keating’s series focused on notable presidents. Maybe Roosevelt’s life covered such vast areas of interest that it’s difficult to capture him on such a small scale. The language here is also probably too stilted to engage most young readers. Keating’s text is flat, and the quotes from Roosevelt have flourishes of vocabulary likely to over-challenge most elementary-age readers. I hope Governor Keating continues this series because other entries have been more satisfying. (Frank Keating is the former Governor of Oklahoma and was recently interviewed by President Trump to become Director of the F.B.I.) Theodore is a fine book for when a student is required to read something about a president, but it’s unlikely to become a favorite.

On Duck PondOn Duck Pond by Jane Yolen
Although On Duck Pond has a barely noticeable fictional frame around the narrative, it is essentially a work of nonfiction told in verse. As ducks arrive at the pond on a summer morning, their quacking makes quite a disturbance, which sets in motion a variety of responses among the other animals that call the pond home. Eventually things calm down, and the animals return to normal. The animal behaviors in Jane Yolen’s newest book will catch the interest of animal and nature lovers, and Bob Marshall’s pictures will have them lingering over the pages, perhaps providing some appropriate silent space between Yolen’s verses.

John Deere, That’s Who!John Deere, That’s Who! by Tracy Nelson Maurer

As a Midwesterner, I’m very aware of the John Deere brand of farm machinery. In fact, my father-in-law worked in a John Deere factory for many years painting the company’s cotton pickers. I’ve wondered why the company uses its distinctive green color on everything, and why they have a “deer” emblem on the logo with words “John Deere.”

Tracy Nelson Maurer’s John Deere, That’s Who! provides young readers with an excellent understanding of the man behind the brand. John Deere was a blacksmith in the 1830s who used his forging skills and ingenuity to build a new kind of plow that led to faster, easier, plowing, which revolutionized American farming. Maurer’s stylized language—contraption, tuckered out, for example–evoke the frontier with echoes of a tall tale. Tim Zeltner’s pictures are reminiscent of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood as they convey the lyrical aspects of flat land and plain, hard-working folks.

This is a worthwhile picture book for any collection, although—alas—it does not explain the green paint or deer logo.

Give Bees a ChanceGive Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton

Because our most memorable interactions with bees usually end in pain, author Bethany Barton has set herself quite a challenge in making bees interesting and appealing, but Give Bees a Chance is an engaging picture book that will help young readers understand and appreciate bees. The facts here are tantalizingly revealed as a friend tries to convince his pal that bees are more than just conveyors of stings. The large drawings and informal font make Give Bees a Chance seem lighter than it would as a straightforward nonfiction text about bees. Teachers might consider asking readers ahead of time what they hope to learn about bees, then watch as this book anticipates and answers virtually every possible question.

Please check back here next month for another round-up of new nonfiction picture books.  Meanwhile, thanks for reading!

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A Few Thoughts about Professional Development Books

twitter pollI’m about seventy pages into a new writing project. Although I’m reluctant to say much about it at this point, I hope what I’m working on will eventually be of use and interest to teachers and maybe others who care about education and literacy. Right now, this project is a glorious mess with ideas everywhere. The shape and focus haven’t emerged yet, and I’m 100% comfortable with that. I believe that if writers just keep going, the writing will eventually reveal its own purpose.

A few days ago, however, I had a moment where I lost faith in that belief. I was becoming impatient. I wanted to see the end of the journey while backing out of the driveway. I was thinking about whether this project is a professional development book, a memoir, or a hybrid of those plus a few other things.

That led me to wonder about my professional reading. When I read those books, I know what makes me turn down page corners and add highlights and margin notes. I also know what makes me roll my eyes and skip a few pages. Thinking about my project and its potential audience, and possibly avoiding the actual hard work of writing, I popped up a little Twitter poll to see how others view their professional reading: “A question for educators: What do you hope to find in the books you read for professional development?” The poll offered these choices: Practical strategies, Inspiration, and New insights on theory.

I appreciate the 138 people who responded to the poll. 61% said they hope to find practical strategies. 22% want new insights on theory, and 17% are looking for inspiration. As we all know, Twitter polls are hard science, so I accept these results, although they were a little surprising to me.

This got me thinking about how different readers might approach professional reading, my own perceptions of that genre, and how it can help my current project.

One of my firmest beliefs about educational practice is that it is highly contextual. What works for me might not work for you, and it might not even work for me tomorrow or with a different class. So, when I read books that offer “practical strategies,” I immediately think of them not as recipes or how-to guides but something that worked for one author in a specific context that will need adaptation to work for me. In other words, a strategy isn’t completely practical unless it has some elasticity. I’m turned off by writers who claim to have discovered The One True Way and condemn those who don’t follow it as unenlightened and doomed. On the other hand, I’ve harvested many great ideas from my professional reading, and I’m indebted to the authors who provided them, but in virtually every case I changed something about the idea to make it fit the specific needs of my students and contours of my school.

What about theory? Reading about educational theory used to make me snort in contempt. I thought, “Theory is just theory! It’s an abstraction with no real-world relevance.” Now I realize that I didn’t have enough experience to see the connection between the abstractions and the “real world.” Useful theories are derived from practice. Further practice results in new insights on those theories, which in turn creates more innovative practice, and on and on. Thoughtful readers understand that new insights on theory can lead to creative classrooms using new ways to engage learners. Writing about theory needs to be framed in such a way that it helps readers see how the implications affect real students in real classrooms.

As I said earlier, the results of my Twitter poll surprised me. I would have chosen “Inspiration” as the answer to my own question. Being a teacher is gratifying, frustrating, and misunderstood by the public. Sometimes we can feel isolated in our classrooms, our schools, and even in our profession. I am inspired by those who have overcome obstacles, silenced critiques, and discovered ways to thrive in challenging environments. Their stories reinforce my faith that I too can achieve important accomplishments and that I am not alone in my work.

I hope my writing will eventually provide readers with some of the valuable ideas I’ve mentioned here. Those are worthy goals. For now, it’s time to get back to the writing. It can’t take shape until it has mass. Onward. Thanks for reading.

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Seven New Nonfiction Picture Books about Extraordinarily Persistent Women

So far this year, I’ve been posting a monthly round-up of nonfiction picture books. May was kind of complicated, and I didn’t make it, so I have two months of titles to share with you. As it turns out, half of the books prominently feature women who endured obstacles of various kinds and, through persistence, ended up with accomplishments that benefit all of us. I will share those seven books in this post, and seven more titles in an upcoming post.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the WorldShe Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intended to rebuke Senator Elizabeth Warren during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Attorney General Jefferson Sessions, McConnell uttered the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted.” As it turns out, McConnell created a new rallying cry for women: “She Persisted.”

She Persisted, Chelsea Clinton’s new picture book, isn’t overtly political, but it capitalizes on McConnell’s phrase to present thirteen American women who pushed through barriers to accomplish feats that benefit all of us.

Some of these women were quite young at the time of their difficulties. These will resonate especially clearly with school-age readers. Each of the thirteen women is explained with a one-paragraph “she persisted” story supported by a quote from the woman herself and two Alexandra Boiger illustrations, one showing the subject at the time of her perseverance and another demonstrating the larger effect of her persistence.

I hope grown-ups will help young readers find their way to She Persisted. It’s an appealing, useful book.

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean's Most Fearless ScientistShark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating

Last year Jess Keating’s Pink Is for Blobfish was one of the most celebrated nonfiction picture books of 2016. Her new book Shark Lady shows that Keating has a knack for bringing nature to young readers.

Shark Lady is the story of marine biologist Eugenie Clark who turned a childhood fascination with sharks into a lifelong passion. One of the strengths of this book is how Keating presents in clear language Eugenie Clark’s specific scientific discoveries and contributions. Shark Lady also conveys the importance of focus, study, and determination in face of obstacles, such as those facing women of Clark’s generation who were discouraged from pursuing careers in science.

Jess Keating’s book follows by a few months another picture book about Eugenie Clark, Heather Lang’s Swimming with Sharks. Although both books are worthwhile, Keating’s is more colorful and whimsical, and generally lighter in tone than the dramatic, realistic approach of Lang’s Swimming with Sharks.

Margaret and the Moon: The Computer Scientist Who Saved the First Lunar LandingMargaret and the Moon: The Computer Scientist Who Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins

Margaret and the Moon is a nonfiction picture book about Margaret Hamilton, a young girl who loves mathematics and applies her fascination to learning how to write code for computers. Eventually, she goes to work for NASA where her coding skills are important to the Apollo program. When the Apollo 11 lunar module develops a last-minute programming glitch, everyone turns to Margaret. Fortunately, Margaret had anticipated the possibility of this exact problem and easily solves it with her coding skills.

Dean Robbins tells Margaret story with a light touch. The mathematics is shown as fun, and the drama of the Apollo program is basically presented as more math fun. Lucy Knisley’s comic-style pictures contribute to the light touch, but they also provide more in-depth representations of some of the math for those who look a little deeper.

In a time when coding is becoming an integral part of the standard curriculum, an appealing story featuring code can be a worthwhile addition to a home, library, or classroom collection.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and LinesMaya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines begins quietly as Maya plays with her brother in the woods near their home. On other days, “she searched for birds in the forest.” From its first pages, this picture book biography explores the habits of mind that lead Maya to become one of the world’s foremost architects. Her parents were artists who encouraged freedom of thought after fleeing oppression in China and Maya learns to think “with her hands as well as her mind.” The creative process that led to Maya’s design of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D. C. is highlighted as a natural extension of her on-going artistic development.

Dow Phumiruk’s quiet, subdued illustrations support Jeanne Walker Harvey’s story of a contemplative young girl who embraces challenges as she innovatively seeks to build structures and shape spaces where people can live, work, think, and explore.

Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat's Foster MomMoto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom is a completely satisfying story for young animal lovers. Suzi Eszterhas is a photographer at a Kenyan wildlife reserve. She lives in a tent where wild animals roam freely nearby. When a baby serval, a breed of wildcat, is left alone, rangers ask her to be a foster mom and prepare him for an eventual return to the wild. Moto is cute and cuddly, especially at the beginning, but Eszterhas never loses sight of the goal of returning Moto to the wild.

The primary text of Moto and Me involves how Moto became stranded, and the creative ways that Eszterhas balanced being playful and instructive. For a nonfiction semi-scientific book, there is a fair amount of emotion that will touch readers. Moto and Me includes seventeen chapters, each two or three pages in length, so this has a larger scope than many picture books. Third grade is probably the sweet spot for Moto and Me.

The masterful photographs are the heart of this book. Baby Moto is irresistible, and as the months go by, we can easily see how he becomes a predator while still maintaining a connection to Eszterhas. Beyond the story of a baby animal and its foster mom, Moto and Me is also instructive about nature conservancy, Kenya, photography, and the developmental process of a wildcat.

Rhino in the House: The Story of Saving SamiaRhino in the House: The Story of Saving Samia by Daniel Kirk

Well, this picture book is nothing short of adorable. Naturalist Anna Merz sought to protect endangered African animal species. As she works at an animal sanctuary, she discovers a baby rhino abandoned by her mother. So, she takes her home, nurses her to health, pampers her, and names her Samia. Samia behaves like a fine dog, following Anna and showing her affection and attention. But rhinos grow beyond the practical limits of most houses. That doesn’t stop Samia though. She visits Anna’s house even after she is fully grown!

This charming story will captivate animal lovers. The pictures are warm and convey the emotions of each scene, as well as the Kenyan landscape. The back matter is excellent. Those who want more details about Anna and her work will find three pages of a fuller version of the story, as well as a bibliography of print and online sources related to Anna Merz and rhino rescues, including several videos.

Martina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of SportsMartina & Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner

I admire how Phil Bildner’s text assumes that most young readers today do not know about Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, a fair assumption, even though those of us who are just a bit older clearly remember Chrissie and Martina. (I saw them play in the 1983 Virginia Slims of Dallas tournament. Although I saw them face other opponents in preliminary rounds, they would go on to meet in the finals.) As Bildner and artist Brett Helquist make the case for their rivalry being the greatest “in the history of sports,” Martina and Chrissie touches on issues of character and friendship, as well as the Cold War. The tone of the book is enthusiastically conversational, but overly repetitive use of two devices–boldface and repeating phrases with individual words as sentences (“Won. The. Match.”)–seems condescending to readers. Well-chosen words, inherently dramatic situations, and compelling artwork can convey emphasis at least as well as those self-conscious devices.

These reviews originally appeared on Goodreads, in some cases in slightly different form.  As always, thank you for reading.

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