August 25, 2016
Digoy swims across the reef. He uses no scuba tank or snorkel. The only light comes from the kerosene lantern on his boat. He is looking for sea horses.
For years fisherman in the Philipines have searched out hard-to-find sea horses. While people don’t eat these curious animals, they want them for other reasons. Some people want to keep them in home aquariums, gathering round to gaze at the prehistoric looking animals. Others wear them in jewelry and display them in decorations. Still others grind them up and use them in medicines.
But Digoy doesn’t keep the seahorse. He is one of the fisherman working to preserve the world’s reefs and the many fish these habitats support.
Turner shares a wealth of seahorse information for curious young readers (males are the ones that carry the unborn fish) but the book is so much more. It describes Project Seahorse a conservation effort that encourages local people to preserve reefs. Coral reefs provide shelter for many ocean fish. Save the reef and the fish that live around it in one area and soon nearby areas also benefit.
But Amanda Vincent and Heather Koldeway, the scientists working on this project aren’t naive. They know that the people need to support their families. They don’t want them to stop fishing altogether but instead help develop guidelines that allow the people to make a living while also preserving the wildlife. Through this project, local people replant mangrove trees which provide shelter for young fish.
Most of the books in this series, Scientists in the Field, focus on the animal in question. While Turners book gives plenty of information about sea horses, it also gives information on the complex web of environments and natural resources that impact the lives of the sea horses, other marine life and even the people who live in the Philippines.
This books makes an excellent stepping off point for conversations about ecology and preservation as well as the animals themselves. Be prepared for some lengthy conversations.
August 23, 2016
Mary Mallon was an excellent cook — her employers especially loved the ice cream that she made during the hot summer months. But then 9-year-old Margaret fell ill. Soon she was running a raging fever. Typhoid! Eventually six people, including the gardener, would fall ill. As soon as the family returned to the city, Mallon left them to find a new job with a family that wasn’t sick. She was healthy and strong but typhoid was a killer fever.
The people who owned the house where Mallon had worked rented it out every summer. They wanted to make sure that they didn’t own a “sick house” so they hired George Soper. Soper was considered an expert in epidemiology (the study of epidemics). He checked the homes water. He checked the local produce and shell-fish, all of which could transmit the typhoid bacteria. Nothing. The house and the local environment were fine. The cause had to be a human carrier. By tracing other cases of typhoid, he eventually traced it back to one cook — Mary Mallone.
Mary made history because she was the first healthy carrier known to live in New York City or the US. I don’t want to give many more details because I want you to read the book. Written as a medical thriller or mystery, it traces the steps that community health experts went through first to identify Typhoid Mary but also in attempting to deal with her. It is worth nothing here that Soper, the expert, wasn’t a doctor but a sanitary engineer. But he still had enough power to have Mary imprisoned on a hospital island because of the fear that people had of typhoid.
Mary developed the reputation of being an irrational killer. Why not just have surgery? Why didn’t she trust Soper or the doctors? You’ll have to read the book to find out. And it really is a book you should read because it is a telling story. Not only does it trace the development of public health but it also delineates the differences between how the New York City health department dealt with a female carrier and male carrier. Night and day, people. Night and day.
Bartoletti has written an engaging book that reads like a medical thriller. Whether your young reader likes “true stories,” mysteries, science or history, this book will pull them in. This is definitely a book that I would recommend experiencing in print vs an audio book so that you get to see the period graphics.
August 18, 2016
Just so everyone doesn’t think that I review nothing but nonfiction, today’s book is not only fiction but fantasy.
Father has just been called away and the German’s are bombing London. Kat wants nothing more than time to work with her father who has been teaching her to repair clocks. It’s their time together, but, more than that, Kat is good at it. But Father has other skills and he’s been called away to put those skills to use. Before he leaves he arranges for Kat and her siblings to move to the countryside. That isn’t unusual, not in Britain during World War II, but they are going to a boarding school in a castle that belongs to one of Father’s cousins.
When they arrive, there is no cousin to meet them. Just his tall, beautiful, somehow threatening wife. The boys are all charmed but Kat knows that something is up. So does her sister although the younger girl insists that it involves magic. Kat finds a secret door and behind it a short wave radio. She recognizes the radio and knows immediately that there is a spy somewhere in the castle.
There are strange noises and Kat has nightmares. Then her classmates begin to disappear. Kat allies herself with the only American student at the school and she and Peter work to solve the mystery before they too slip away.
This is fantasy but codes and history also play a part. The books themes also give young readers a lot to think about. What makes a person good or bad? Is it their skills and talents? Or is it how they apply them?
Solidly middle grade, this book isn’t a quick read at 388 pages. That said, it is a solid book with no fluff to be cut. Give this to your young reader who needs something of a challenge but isn’t ready for young adult. This book is thoroughly entertaining but will also make them think.
August 16, 2016
by Phillip Hoose
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Mention the Montgomery Bus Boycott and people automatically think of Rosa Parks, the neatly dressed woman who was led from a bus by white police for refusing to give up her seat. Very few people recall that the first woman to be arrested for the same thing was Claudette Colvin, a high school student.
Claudette has been studying the constitution in high school. She also new the law. There were rows of black seats. There were rows of white seats. A black rider could be told by the driver to give up their seat as long as there was another black seat farther back. When four girls in Claudette’s row were told to get up to make way for a lone white woman, there were no other seats available. Claudette was tired of being pushed around and intimidated. Two policemen were called and they dragged her backwards off the bus, sending her school books flying and delivering at least one kick.
In spite of the fact that Claudette was scared for her safety, she refused to back down. Because of this, she wasn’t simply fined. She was charged.
Why is it that no one knows her name? In part, it was because Montgomery’s black leadership did not see this young girl as a viable face for their movement. They wanted a bus boycott and they needed someone to rally around. Colvin had cried at her sentencing so they wrote her off as flighty and emotional. They did remember her later when they filed the class action law suit that eventually ended the boycott.
This is a must read. It provides background to the current civil rights struggle including why organizers hold protests vs talks (talks didn’t work in Montgomery). The book also shows, without directly pointing out, the marginalization of black women in the early movement.
The author did extensive interviews with Colvin and often the text is first person in her voice. Additional historical notes are given as sidebars throughout the book.
In truth, everyone studying 20th century US history should know this story.
August 11, 2016
Sitting Bull grew up among the Hunkpapa people, one of several bands that the whites later named the Sioux. He grew up on buffalo hunts and counting coup but he also grew up at a time when whites were pushing their way into Sioux territory. Once they arrived, they never left. It was the beginning of the end for the Sioux way of life.
That said, this isn’t a depressing book. Nelson has written a biography of Sitting Bull, the only Sioux to lead all seven Lakota tribes. He fought against Custer and was even credited by some with killing the soldier although the Lakota believed that he committed suicide rather than be taken in battle.
Nelson wrote this biography as if Sitting Bull is speaking to the reader. Thus it is written in first person and tells about the Lakota way of life both on the plains and on the reservations. It tells of Sitting Bulls time with Buffalo Bill Cody, whom he respected greatly, and his death at the hands of tribal police.
The book is designed to look like a series of ledger drawings. Native Americans often drew on the paper found in ledger books, bound books of blank pages that merchants used to keep track of what they had sold. Colorful horses galloped across the pages of lined ledger pages and the art work has a very distinct look. This book has that same look. In addition to Nelson’s drawings are a number of historic photographs.
I grew up hearing stories about Native American leaders long before diversity was something that many people talked about. In spite of this, there was plenty of information in this book that I didn’t know although I did recognize many of the photographs.
Although the book looks like a picture book it is text dense and suitable for readers grades 4 through 6. This is a must for those interested in US history and should be in the classroom library.
August 9, 2016
Corinne isn’t afraid of anything so when the pesky brothers who live nearby tie her necklace to an agouti she chases the animal into the mahogany forest. When she leaves, she doesn’t see it, but she is followed by a jumbie.
Jumbie is the island word that means something like faerie but these aren’t the faeries of Europe. These are the spooks and haunts and things that go bump in the night in Trinidad. Author Tracey Baptiste grew up hearing stories about jumbies but reading European fairy tales. She wished that she could read about jumbies too and this is her attempt to fill in what was lacking.
At the market, Corinne sells oranges from the tree planted by her Mama. Mama is dead but Corinne still has the tree and it grows the sweetest oranges on the entire island. At the market, Corinne is taken under the wing of another seller and makes friends with the woman’s daughter. Together, they spot a beautiful woman talking to the local witch. No one knows who the woman is but soon she is at Corinne’s house, talking to her Papa. Before long, Papa is seeing storms that aren’t there and no longer answers when his daugther calls him.
It doesn’t take long for Corinne to realize that this beautiful woman is a jumbie but in the jumbie Corinne sees something familiar. Soon she is trying to figure out what ties her mama and she herself have to these frightening creatures. It takes three days for jumbie magic to become permanent and Corinne and her friends must race to save their village before it is too late.
Sue here. At first, I didn’t love this story as much as I might. This is definitely early middle grade, for 2nd and 3rd graders. Why had Baptiste written a book that read something like horror for readers so young? Then I made the fairy tale connection and all fell into place. No, I’m not saying it is gory. In fact, it isn’t. But it is atmospheric and spooky the way many fairy tales are spooky.
Young readers will enjoy reading about strange creatures and watching a peer save the day even as the adults fall prey to the jumbies.
August 4, 2016
Clues to the Past
by Caroline Arnold
illustrated by Andrew Plant
In 1938, a South African fisherman pulled a strange looking fish out of the sea. About five feet long, it was pale blue and had a blunt tail without the large fins of many fish. He gave the fish to a museum curator who sent a sketch of it to a professor who was an expert on fish. He was shocked. This catch looked very like a prehistoric ceolacanth, a fish that scientists believed had died out 65 million years earlier. He realized that the fish was a “living fossil.”
Arnold explains to readers that some scientists dislike the term, living fossil. The worry that people like you and I will think that this means that the animal or plant has not changed, that it is exactly like its prehistoric ancestor.
Throughout the book, Arnold writes up first the ancient animal, such as a horseshoe crab, and then the modern version. Although she doesn’t go into great detail about how they have changed, she does mention some details such as the modern dragonfly’s smaller size when compared to its prehistoric ancestor.
Added to the text are Plant’s illustration which show other changes such as the lack of dorsal spines on the modern horseshoe crab. Arnold’s acrylic paintings bring to life both the ancient world of the ancestral animals and the modern habitats of those on Earth today. From prey animals to habitat, the art expands on Arnold’s text by feeding the reader more information.
The backmatter of the book includes both a timelines of the Earth’s past as well as additional information about each animal depicted. In addition to coelacanth, horseshoe crabs and dragonflies, there are tuatra, chambered nautilus and the Hula painted frog. The one thing that I would have liked to see was information on plants, such as the ginko tree and cypress tree, that are also living fossils.
I would recommend this book both for the home library and for classroom use. It will appeal to young animal lovers as well as junior scientists and is sure to spark a wide range of discussions on habitat, evolution and prehistory.
July 29, 2016
The Blackthorn Key
by Kevin Sands
“Tell no one what I’ve given you.”
For an orphan, Christopher Rowe leads a pretty good life. As an apothecary’s apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn, Christopher studies how to read recipes, blend ingredients, and how to listen. He has to listen to what ails their customers as well as the directions his master gives him.
That sounds easier than it truly is because Master Blackthorn is teaching Christopher all about codes and puzzles. Sometimes they are in English. Sometimes they are in Latin. Figuring out which language it is can be half the puzzle.
In addition to days spent learning, Christopher has a best friend. Tom is a baker’s apprentice, working with his hot-tempered father. Together the two get up to all kinds of mischief even making the gunpowder they need for a small cannon.
But someone is killing apothecaries. One by one the men are found gutted in their homes and their workshops. Rumors fly thought out the city of London as to who is behind these killings and why they haven’t been caught.
Then one day Christopher’s kind master strikes him. Christopher runs from the shop only to find that his master has been killed. Christopher has to find the killer without falling victim to him while also discovering what his master was researching that attracted the killer in the first place.
This is an excellent book for young readers who love science, history or codes. The science is chemistry but it isn’t the chemistry that we know today. This is the chemistry of the apothecary which if often a matter of trial and error, and error can be deadly. The setting is London in the 1600s, a time of plague, religious wars and intrigue. The codes are many and involve both substitution codes for the letters themselves but also knowledge of the elements and the tools of the apothecary.
Warning: Because of the codes I would not recommend listening to this as an audio book. You want to be able to see the codes on the page, not listen to them being read, line after line.
I’ve seen some people describe this book as young adult but truly it is middle grade. Yes, with the killings and various apothecary-based accidents things can and do get ick but the emotional level of the book is pure middle grade. That said, this is definitely a book that older readers would enjoy.
Share it with the history loving science nerd in your life. The codes alone will keep him or her puzzling as they try to figure out what is going on and who is behind it all.
July 27, 2016
Mr. Cornell’s Dream Boxes
by Jeanette Winters
Beach Lane Books
Joseph Cornell roamed his Queens neighborhood looking for a wide variety of found objects — marbles and figurines, scraps of paper and boxes. He took them home where he cared for his brother who had cerebral palsey.
When he wasn’t taking care of his brother he spent hours and hours dreaming, remembering and journaling. Working in his shop in the cellar he assembled a unique type of art. He wasn’t a painter. He wasn’t a sculptor. He created shadow boxes. Many of them depicted things that he remembered seeing as a boy — games in penny arcades, water slide in Coney Island, dancers, soap bubbles and more.
He was a quiet man but he enjoyed sharing his artwork with the children in the neighborhood. He would put together an art show of dream boxes and invite the children. The children would gaze into the boxes, sipping cherry cola and munching on brownies. Hopefully a few of them were inspired to do something that Mr. Cornell loved to do — to dream.
Jeanette Winter’s text is as dreamy as Mr. Cornell and her digital illustrations pull young readers into the story. I love the parallels that she creates between what he remembered from his early life and the art work that he later created. The one thing that I wish had been done differently is that I would have loved to have seen some of the shadow boxes throughout the text. Photographs of a few of them appear in the backmatter but I would love to have had a photographic sidebar running along side the text describing it.
I love that this book is more about dreaming than it is about art. Add to this the fact that it doesn’t make art out to be only sculpture or painting or photography. It honors the shadow box and the man who created so many to share with children.
Share it with your own dreamers, perhaps before a family trip. And then each member of the family could create a shadow box of what they enjoyed most.
July 21, 2016
by Jeanette Winter
Beach Lane Books
I picked up Henri’s Scissors because I’ve always been vaguely fascinated by Matisse’s cut paper art work. I say vaguely because I’ve seen numerous pictures of it and thought “Wow, cool.” But I never knew much about him or why he created art in this particular way.
Before he created immense works of cut paper, Matisse was a painter. But long before that, he was a little boy who grew up in France watching his mother paint china. Although he drew pictures constantly in the margins of his text books and whenever he took notes, he didn’t initially study art. Instead, he became a lawyer.
Then when he developed appendicitis as a young man and was stuck recuperating in bed that his mother gave him a box of paints. He painted while he healed. Henri decided to leave law and he became a painter, moving to Paris and making art that drew people in and left them happy.
As an old man, he once again grew sick. He was so sick that he couldn’t paint, but he still dreamt of making art. He grew strong enough to draw but not to paint. Soon, he began making artwork out of cut paper.
I don’t want to tell any more of the story because I want young artists to discover him for themselves. Henri’s story is sure to be inspiring for anyone who struggles to make their dreams come true.
Jeanette Winters is both the writer and the illustrator. As she does so often, she has created colorful acrylic paintings to bring Henri Matisse to life for young readers, but she has done something more. Her artwork for this book includes cut paper as well as depictions of Henri Matisse’s own work.
If you have a young artist who struggles to create or any other young reader who is working to find the best way to express themselves, pick up this book and share it today. But don’t be surprised if they ask you for large sheets of brightly colored paper and a pair of scissors.