Category: Nonfiction

Glow by W.H. Beck

Glow by WH Beck

Glow: Animals with Their Own Night-Lights by W. H. Beck (InfoSoup)

This nonfiction picture book invites young readers to explore the world of bioluminescence. Set against black backgrounds these glowing creatures pop on the page. The book not only shows different organisms that glow, but also explains why they glow too. Children will learn the terms for the chemicals that allow the light to be created and also see that there are some creatures who glow but no one knows quite why. Filled with dazzling photographs, this is a book that will fly off the shelves of public libraries as kids are hooked by the fish on the cover.

Beck has the book written at two levels. The larger font offers a less specific look at the organisms themselves and therefore a simpler experience. The smaller font allows readers to learn more about each creature. More information on each is also found at the end of the book where size, Latin name, and the depth they live at is given for each. This is a book that is engaging and fascinating. The text is restrained and focused, offering enough information to appeal but never standing in the way of the dazzling creatures themselves.

The photographs in the book are exceptional. Each shows the light of the creature against a black background, allowing that creature attention by the reader. The photos were taken by several different photographers, yet they make for a cohesive book thanks to their similar nature and the beauty they depict. I particularly enjoyed the firefly photo and the glowing shoreline.

An awesome book that is sure to appeal to children who enjoy nature and bizarre creatures, this is a winning science book for public libraries. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from HMH Books for Young Readers.

My Story, My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome

My Story My Dance by Lesa Cline Ransome

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (InfoSoup)

Starting from his birth through his rise to Artistic Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this picture book celebrates Robert Battle’s life. Born with bowed legs, he was taken in by his aunt and uncle and then raised by his cousin Dessie. It was with Dessie that he discovered a love of music and words. He sang in the church choir and after he got his leg braces off, he began to take karate. At age 13, he started dance late in life for a dancer. Soon Robert was noticed by his high school dance instructor and then auditioned for The New World School of Arts. As he grew, he got to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe perform and was awed by them. Moving to New York City to attend Julliard, his dancing reached another level and progressively he moved to work with Alvin Ailey. This story of talent and determination celebrates dance and the power it has to communicate.

The prose by Cline-Ransome is spry and fast moving. She shows the importance of family in Robert’s upbringing, even if his mother was not in the picture. The theme of the warmth of family plays throughout the book, from the early pages to the very end where Robert Battle is speaking to the Alvin Ailey audience. The author makes sure to not only talk about the facts of Battle’s life but also shows how his early disability and his willingness to work exceedingly hard played into his later success.

Ransome has done the illustrations in this picture book biography in pastels. The rich colors are gorgeous on the page. He uses them to show the richness of Battle’s life and then when the book shows the movement of dance, he uses them to create the moves from one position to another fluidly across the page in a rainbow of sketches.

A lovely biography on a contemporary figure in American and African-American dance, this picture book is rich and powerful. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

 

 

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (InfoSoup)

A lovely mix of poetry and nonfiction, this picture book takes a serious look at slavery and the unique situation in New Orleans. In New Orleans, Congo Square was the one place where slaves were allowed to congregate once a week on Sundays. The book counts down to Sunday, each day filled with brutal work and the harrowing harshness of slavery. As Sunday approaches, one can feel spirits looking forward to it. When it finally arrived, slaves and free blacks congregated together, able to celebrate the songs and society of the African homes they were stolen from.

This book is carefully framed and placed in history with a combination of a foreward by historian Freddi Williams Evans and an Author’s Note placed at the end of the book. In both places, Congo Square is explained in detail. The real magic though happens with Weatherford’s poetry. It has a rhythm to it, a structure that is almost musical. The text is deceptively simple as it speaks to the depth of human heart even in the face of slavery and the importance of having a place to congregate like Congo Square.

Christie’s illustrations are incredible. They evoke primitive art with the lengthened and stylized people done in deep black. The pages are filled with bright colors that may seem merry, but then they are filled with slaves doing hard work. They also have twisted black trees in the outside scenes, the tortured branches speaking to witnessed horrors.

An important nonfiction picture book that has poetry that sings in mourning about slavery but also sings of the beauty of the strength of the human spirit too. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Little Bee Books.

My Top Children’s Nonfiction Picks for 2015

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The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko, illustrations by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

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Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo

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Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Funny Bones: Posada and His Day of the Dead Calaveras by Duncan Tonatiuh

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Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

The House That Jane Built: A Story about Jane Addams by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

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Leontyne Price: Voice of a Century by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Raul Colon

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

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My Name Is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth by Ann Turner, illustrated by James Ransome

Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes by Elizabeth Hammill and various illustrators

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Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Aliona Bereghici

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Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre and His World of Insects by Matthew Clark Smith, illustrated by Giuliano Ferri

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad

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Tricky Vic: The Impossible True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli

Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier

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Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer:The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Bostone Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Water Is Water: A Book about the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

What in the World? by Nancy Raines Day

What in the World by Nancy Raines Day

What in the World?: Numbers in Nature by Nancy Raines Day, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (InfoSoup)

In this rhyming counting book, the concept of numerical sets is introduced. The book opens asking “What in the world comes one by one?” It then answers, explaining that the moon, your nose and your mouth come in singles. Then the book counts upwards, each time asking the question of what comes in that set and answering it. The book ends by looking up at the stars and the infinity of them. It invites young readers to start to think about the patterns in the natural world around them.

Day has created a rhyme that makes this book an engaging mix of poetry and science. As the rhyme dances along, the book will inspire conversation and thinking of more things that come in that type of set. The book is wisely limited to a coastal area where a young boy plays, dangling his toes and fingers in the water, sets of ten.

The art is simple enough to allow this book to be both a counting book and a book about sets. Smaller children will merrily count the nine spines on the back of a fish while older children will start to think about other things in their world that match the set. The digital art is bright colored, and cheery.

An engaging math book that can be read at different levels, this rhyming science book will be enjoyed by several ages of child. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu (InfoSoup)

Ada Lovelace was born the daughter of the famous poet, Lord Byron. But she was more like her mother and interested in numbers rather than words. As a young woman, Ada invented a flying machine that she did all of the mathematics for. She spent time experimenting with wind and sails to inform her calculations. Despite a health scare that left her blind and paralyzed for some time, Ada continued to learn math and love numbers. When she met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, she found a person she could talk to about her love of numbers. It was his machine that inspired her to write the first computer program ever so that others could understand this amazing computer he had built. This makes Ada the first computer programmer.

It is inspiring to see a girl from such an early time period who was clearly a mathematical genius. She had a mother who was also interested in math and supported her daughter’s education and love of numbers throughout her life. This book shows the power of mathematics to inspire new ideas and inventions. It also demonstrates that women in computing goes back to the very beginning.

Chu’s art is done with pencil on paper and then as the copyright information says “colored on an Analytical Engine” also known as a computer. The illustrations are rich and lovely. They have interesting perspectives like looking down on Ada in the bath with her muddy boots on the floor nearby. Ada is shown as an active person, a youthful presence among older people, and shines on the page as she must have in life.

A powerful and inspirational read for children interested in math and science, this picture book will show young readers a heroine that they may never have met before. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mary Cassatt by Barbara Herkert

Mary Cassatt by Barbara Herkert

Mary Cassatt: Extraordinary Impressionist Painter by Barbara Herkert, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (InfoSoup)

In 1860, girls did not become artists, but Mary knew exactly what she wanted to do. She enrolled in art school and then moved abroad despite her father’s protests. She copied the masters in The Louvre and lingered outside gallery windows. Art judges disliked her style, but she found herself welcomed to the group of independent artists by Degas himself. Soon she was painting exactly the way she liked and capturing life around her in her art.

Herkert tells the story of Mary Cassatt’s life with such poetic brevity. Her brief lines add to the energetic feel of the book, capturing the tremendous focus and passion of Cassatt herself with their tone. Herkert says things simply as they were and are. She states frankly the expectations of women in that time period, the way that the art institutions rejected Cassatt and the place the Cassatt found support and her own voice.

The illustrations by Swiatkowska pay homage to Cassatt’s own work. Done in a variety of media with gouache, watercolors, acrylics, enamel and tempera, the illustrations have a richness that has a vintage feel about it and focuses on capturing the society that Cassatt lived in and moments in her life.

A beautiful nugget of a picture book biography, this is an inspiring look at a woman who refused to be defined by society and instead lived a life all her own. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.