Category: Nonfiction

Counting Lions by Katie Cotton

Counting Lions by Katie Cotton

Counting Lions by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Stephen Walton (InfoSoup)

Counting one by one, this book tells the story of ten endangered and threatened animals. It begins with the lion on the cover, solitary and watching the savanna. Two gorillas are next, a mother and child, breathing the same breath together. The book moves on, each creature captured in captivating and brief verse that speaks to their way of life and the behaviors they exhibit. Each one is accompanied by a photo-realistic charcoal drawing that is haunting and incredibly detailed.

Cotton’s verse is profoundly lovely, managing to show each creature as an individual and give voice to their relevance and stature. The tigress and her cubs is a “warrior of the forest” while the macaws are “a colorful, fluttering explosion” and the giraffes are “peaceful patterned giants.” Each short verse will have readers seeing these animals in a new way, entranced by their beauty.

The illustrations are simply phenomenal. They are charcoal but with such detail that you can see the individual hairs in the lion’s mane, the each feather on the penguins, and every wrinkle of the elephants’ skin. Beautiful and powerful, these illustrations are a striking way to introduce these creatures.

A stunningly gorgeous book, the verse and illustrations marry to create a story of the threatened creatures of our world. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.



Review: Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick

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

Told by the great-granddaughter of Captain Harry Colebourn, this is the true story of the real bear who inspired Winnie-the Pooh. The book takes the format of a mother telling a bedtime story to her young son. It is the story of his great-great-grandfather, after whom he was named. Harry was a veterinarian sent from his home in Winnipeg to care for the soldier’s horses in World War I. On the train in Canada, he saw a little bear cub at a station and purchased the bear, even though he was headed into war. Winnie soon charmed all of the soldiers and got her own post to climb in the tent city. Winnie stayed with Harry when they were posted in England, but he had to make a difficult decision and put her in The London Zoo when he was headed to the war zone. It was at The London Zoo that a little boy named Christopher Robin Milne met Winnie and inspired his father to write the beloved stories of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Lindsay Mattick has shared the story of her great-grandfather in different formats through the years, including a radio documentary and an exhibition. In this very personal story, she shows real pride in the great heart that her grandfather showed by seeing something special in a small bear cub. It is clear that it is his dedication and care for Winnie that helped her become the loving and approachable bear that could inspire a series of stories. Mattick’s writing contains just the right amount of detail to keep children fascinated.

Blackall is an incredible illustrator and here she shows a beautiful touch for recreating historical scenes. From the expanse of Canada to the big city of London, she offers just enough visual detail to anchor the scenes in those distinct places. She also shows again and again the bond between Harry and Winnie, from sleeping together to sharing food. The historical photos at the end of the book add to the story, letting readers see the real Winnie.

A wonderful read, this book is an inspiring look at what small choices in our lives can lead to if we only follow our hearts. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown (InfoSoup)

This powerful graphic novel tells the story of Hurricane Katrina from the very beginning as the hurricane forms and grows in power to the slow recovery of New Orleans in the aftermath. As the winds and rains of the storm breach the levees around the city, readers will see the devastation that occurs as 80% of the city floods. The book tells the true story, one where everyday people are heroes, where supplies and help are not sent in a timely way, where presidents make appearances but don’t remedy the problems, and where people looking for help just find more death and despair. It is also the story of selfless people who come in and make a real difference, of rescues and saved lives. It is in short, a true story that unflinchingly tells the story of a storm and a city.

With an enormous list of references and sources at the back of the book, this graphic novel is based entirely on facts and first-person accounts. Brown tells the tale without any need to make it more dramatic, just offering facts about what happened and what went wrong to make it even worse. Brown’s account though is also filled with humanity, offering glimpses of the horrors that people survived, of the losses as they mounted, and of a world turned upside down for people trying to escape the city.

Brown’s art in this graphic novel is done mostly in browns and greens. There are striking pages that stop a reader for awhile, such as the art on pages 30 and 31 which has dead bodies floating past in purple water, even as survivors are being hauled up to a roof. Brown conveys the heat and the desperation of survivors, the desolation of the flooded city, and then the slow rebuilding process.

A riveting and powerful look at one of the worst disasters in American history, this graphic novel is a way to talk with children about Hurricane Katrina. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Fur, Fins and Feathers by Cassandre Maxwell

Fur Fins and Feathers by Cassandre Maxwell

Fur, Fins and Feathers: Abraham Dee Bartlett and the Invention of the Modern Zoo by Cassandre Maxwell

As a child, Abraham loved animals. He read all about them, even as he started working as a curator at the Museum of Natural History. As a child he also saw the way that animals were treated, lined up in small cages where they could barely move as people paid to view them. Abraham’s exhibits drew the attention of the members of the London Zoological Society and when they discovered his broad knowledge of animals, they asked him to be the next superintendent of the zoo. Abraham found innovative and kind ways to work with injured animals. He also began labeling exhibits with information about the animals in addition to their names. He figured out that animals need specific diets. Finally, he began to expand the way that the animals were kept, creating larger enclosures filled with trees, where the animals were healthier and people could still view them.

Maxwell has written a captivating biography of Bartlett that focuses on the way that his personal interest in animals led him to revolutionize zoos. Young readers will be dismayed and startled to see the small cages animals were kept in and as the book progresses, they will see the transformation to the modern zoos they know today.

The cut-paper art has an old-fashioned feel that beautifully conveys the 19th century time period. Maxwell incorporates small details of fashion and decor that firmly keep the setting in the past. There are clever touches of other papers with special textures or patterns that make the illustrations worth looking at closely.

A clever and fascinating biography of the man who created modern zoos, this book would be a welcome read for any class before a trip to the zoo. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Review: Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh

Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh

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

Award-winning author and illustrator, Tonatiuh brilliantly tells the story of Jose Guadalupe Posada. Called Lupe by his family, he showed artistic promise early in life. At age 18, he went to work in a print shop where he learned lithography and engraving. Lupe starting doing drawings for the small local paper, including political cartoons. Lupe eventually opened his own print shop and starting to create illustrations for books and pamphlets. After his shop was ruined in a flood, he moved with his family to Mexico City where he opened a new shop. Lupe began creating broadsides and that is where he started creating his calaveras or skeletons. Some have specific meanings while others are unknown, many of them make political commentary on Mexican society. Lupe was soon recognized for these prints more than any of the rest of his work. Posada continues to be known for these images thanks to other Mexican artists like Diego Rivera who investigated who had drawn the etchings.

Tonatiuh does a great job of telling the story of the full life of Posada while focusing on making it accessible to children and also making it a compelling tale. Readers will recognize some of the images in the book, creating a firm connection between the artist and the images. The story of Posada’s life is a mix of tragedy and accomplishment, rather like the images he created. The Author’s Note at the end of the book adds details to the story of Posada and his art.

Tonatiuh’s art is as unique and marvelous as ever. He uses his stylized characters, usually shown in profile. They have a wonderful folk-art feel to them and work very nicely with Posada’s own skeletons. His illustrations are a rich mix of collage and line drawings, mixing textures and colors very effectively.

A great book to share for Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead, this will be a welcome addition to all public library collections, but particularly those serving Hispanic populations. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

The Story of Life: a First Book about Evolution by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband (InfoSoup)

Starting before there was life on earth, this nonfiction picture book takes readers on a journey from 4.5 billion years ago to today. Volcanoes and black ocean water with some areas that were warm from underwater volcanoes created the tiny bits that formed the basis of life. Cells started growing, some using sunlight, water and oxygen that changed the very earth itself. Over millions of years, cells developed into different forms of life and became the first animals. The seas became full of life and animals and plants started to expand to the land. Then an unknown disaster hit and most of the life on earth was destroyed. It became cold and dark, giving a chance for huge dinosaurs to emerge and take over. Millions of years passed again and insects and mammals appeared. A meteor hit the world though, and then it was time for the mammals to survive. Humans evolved from those mammals and spread across the world, bringing us to the present day.

This basic look at evolution offers a sense of the length of time that it has taken to get us from basic cells to humans today. On each two-page spread there is information on how long ago this scene was taking place. The text on the page has lots of information on the changes happening, the progress towards new life, and also the series of disasters that has caused sudden death on the planet. This is a fascinating look at evolution that is appropriate for even preschool children to begin to understand the science that created life on earth.

The illustrations by Husband are playful and fun. They add a lighthearted touch to the serious scientific information. At the same time, they are have scientific labels for important objects and ideas that let children better understand the progress of evolution that they are learning about.

A strong picture book that explores evolution and will inspire children to learn even more about prehistoric times. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Review: Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond

Out of the Woods: A True Story of an Unforgettable Event by Rebecca Bond (InfoSoup)

Inspired by a true story, this picture book tells of the author’s grandfather’s life in Ontario, Canada in 1914. Antonio lived with his family in a hotel run by his mother. He spent his time with the hotel workers since there were no children around. He helped the cooks, the maids, and watched as others hauled wood and repaired buildings. The hotel had three stories with a space to feed crowds of people, individual rooms for travelers and then a large open dormitory space for others. He loved spending time in the forest around the hotel too. Then one year when Antonio was almost five, it was dry as could be. When smoke was spotted in the distance, everyone knew they were in real trouble. All of the people fled the building and stood in the lake watching the fire come closer. Then something amazing happened and the animals too left the forest and entered the water, standing near the humans and close to one another, predator and prey alike. When the fire ended, the hotel was still standing and the animals returned to the burned forest, but Antonio never forgot what he witnessed that day.

Bond captures the time period, allowing readers to really explore the hotel that Antonio lived in, showing us all of the floors and the hard-working men that the hotel served. The text offers details such as describing Antonio’s room as a place that was off the kitchen and had once been a pantry. Even small things are noted like the travel bags men carried and the fact that they sometimes had guns along too. Through these details, the entire hotel comes alive on the page.

The illustrations in the book also add to the details from the long distance view of the hotel on the lake to the finely drawn images showing the interior. Small details are captured in sepia tones and fine ink lines, allowing us to get a glimpse into the past and a way of life. The same details continue even as the fire rages and the animals come into the water. Realistic and lovely, the animals’ body language shows how wary they are and yet how desperate too.

A true story brought to life through details and wonder. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.