Tag: history

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: 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.

Review: Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff

Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff

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

When Benjamin Franklin went to France to ask them for their help in gaining freedom for the American colonies, he discovered that they were fascinated by science. Particularly, they were abuzz about Dr. Mesmer, a man who staged shows and used an unseen force that he claimed was similar to electricity to cure people of their health issues and control their thoughts. Even Marie Antoinette was taken with Dr. Mesmer and in awe of his powers. The King of France asked Ben Franklin to explore what the force was. So Franklin started the very first blind test, literally, by blindfolding people and experimenting to see if they could tell if Dr. Mesmer was using the force or not. In the end, several things were discovered like the placebo effect and the amazing power of the human mind itself.

Rockliff writes a rollicking book where science is what everyone wants to know more about but also where science is in its infancy. This look at a specific moment in history is dynamic and great fun, particularly due to the personalities involved and also the fact that it demonstrated scientific ideas that are still in use today. Rockliff relishes the fun of the entire story along with the reader, allowing this story to carry forward on its own wild pace which will delight teachers looking for a book on science that is fun to share aloud.

Bruno’s illustrations add to that wild feel with their fancy flounces when talking of Dr. Mesmer and the straight-forward but period touches when Franklin takes the page. There are full color double-page spreads mixed with other pages with more white space. The illustrations have a broad sense of humor that ties in well with the text.

A fabulous nonfiction book that is sure to surprise and enthrall history and science buffs. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Winnie by Sally M. Walker


Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Jonathan D. Voss

When Harry Colebourn saw a bear cub at the train station, he immediately asked about her.  Since she was for sale, he bought her for $20 and took her aboard the train with him, naming her Winnipeg.  He was on his way to military training in Quebec and there the two of them bonded even further.  Winnie helped Harry in his veterinarian duties, caring for the military horses and searching the pockets of his uniform for treats.  Harry fed her condensed milk and she slept on the floor under his cot.  When news came that they would be leaving for England, Harry took her along.  But when they were going to head to battle in France, Harry knew he had to do something else with Winnie since she could be hurt in warfare.  So Winnie was placed in the London Zoo where she quickly made friends with the other bears.  It was there that she met one special little boy named Christopher Robin and his father, A. A. Milne.

Walker writes a warm story here.  Though they are surrounded by preparations for World War I, the book focuses on the relationship between Harry and Winnie.  Happily, Walker also shares information on how Winnie was cared for, showing the freedom that she had and the loving care she was given by Harry and the rest of the soldiers.  Just as fascinating is her time at the zoo where she was so gentle that children were allowed to ride on her back.  This was one special bear indeed.

The book’s endpages are filled with photographs of the real Harry and Winnie.  Voss’ illustrations are realistic and detailed, staying true to the photographs that readers see first.  The result is a lovely continuum from the real to the story of what happened, with no jarring differences.

A delightful and cheery story of a bear who is found by one man and then adored by many.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Co.

Review: Earmuffs for Everyone by Meghan McCarthy

earmuffs for everyone

Earmuffs for Everyone!: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs by Meghan McCarthy

Chester Greenwood is credited with being the inventor of the earmuffs.  The story goes that he was a boy with big ears that were sensitive to cold so he had his grandmother create him a pair of earmuffs from wire and cloth.  However, the author also shows that earmuffs were actually invented before Greenwood was even born.  He did however get a patent himself at age 19 for ear-mufflers.  Chester had a great business sense too, one that he honed even as a boy.  He also invented other things besides ear-mufflers, designing new features into kettles and rakes and even creating a portable house.  It was an article in Life Magazine in the 1930s that credited Greenwood with the invention and that continued into the 1970s when there was a day named after him in Maine that continues to be celebrated today.

McCarthy immediately invites readers into the earmuff mystery, showing the early patents by others and then turning to Greenwood.  Readers will see how convoluted stories can become in history, how distorted credit for inventions can be, and also how hard it can be to piece together the truth fully once again.  It is to McCarthy’s credit that her focus is on more than the inventor but also on the others in history and the patent process.  Don’t miss her notes at the end which detail even more fully her search for the truth about earmuffs.

McCarthy populates her books with friendly characters with big googly eyes.  Her paintings are fresh and colorful.  They range from double-page spreads to smaller images on the page.  All of them exude a cheery feeling and invite readers to explore.

This nonfiction picture book embraces the complexity of the past and demonstrates the search for the truth behind an everyday object.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton

not my girl

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Continue the story of When I Was Eight with this second picture book by the authors.  The picture book versions follow two highly acclaimed novels for elementary-aged children that tell the same story at a different level.  In this book, Margaret returns home to her native family from the outsiders’ school.  Her hair has been cut short, she has trouble speaking the language of her people, and her skills are more suited to school than life in the Arctic.  When her mother sees her for the first time, she exclaims “Not my girl!” and rejects her daughter.  Slowly, Margaret begins to rebuild her old life and relearn the ways of her family and their traditional life.  But it takes time to be accepted by her mother and to find her way around her newly reunited family.

The Fenton family writes all of their books from the heart, clearly creating a case for the damage of the white people and their schools on the lives of Native people and their children.  This book serves as the other side of the story from When I Was Eight, demonstrating that even when children were returned to their families it was not easy to integrate once again into that society because of the changes wrought by the schooling system.

Grimard’s illustrations show the Arctic landscape, the way Margaret doesn’t fit in with her clothing or her ways.  It also shows the love of her father, his patience and understanding and the slow thaw of her mother and her anger.  Grimard captures these emotions with a delicacy and understanding of all of them.

Another impressive entry into the story of Margaret and her childhood, this book should be paired with the first picture book to best understand Margaret’s story.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.