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.
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.
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.
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.
The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren, illustrated by Fabio Santomauro
In Nazi-occupied Denmark, Anett and her family are hiding a Jewish woman and her son in their cellar. They must wait for a night with enough moonlight to see the boat in the harbor that will take them to safety in Sweden. Anett works with their neighbors to get extra food to feed them and extra books from the library for them to read. On her errands, Anett notices solders questioning her neighbors and she heads home quickly to warn her parents who in turn knock on the cellar door to alert the people they are sheltering. Eventually, the soldiers come to Anett’s house but no one is home except Anett who manages to keep calm and turn them away. But how will the woman and her son escape with no moon that night? It will take an entire town to save them.
Elvgren tells a powerful story based on actual history in this picture book. Presenting that history from the perspective of a participating child makes this book work particularly well. The support of the town is cleverly displayed as Anett moves through town, informing people that they have “new friends” and the others offer extra food and support. That is what makes the resolution so very satisfying, knowing that these are all people standing up to the Nazis in their own special way, including Anett herself.
Santomauro’s illustrations have a wonderful quirky quality to them. Done with deep shadows that play against the fine lines, the book clearly shows the worry of the Danish people and also their strength as a community.
This is a story many may not have heard before and it is definitely one worth sharing. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Kar-Ben Publishing.
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman
The author of Looking at Lincoln takes on Thomas Jefferson in her newest picture book biography. The focus in this biography is on the wide range of Jefferson’s interests and how he truly was a Renaissance man. Monticello, the house Jefferson designed and built, serves as a fine background to his interests since the home itself was ever changing and also housed many of his interests as well. The book looks at fascinating small details like the design of Jefferson’s bed, the extensive vegetable gardens, and his hours spent practicing music. After fully exploring Jefferson personally, the book turns to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson becoming the third President of the United States. Then the book also explores the fact that Jefferson had slaves and fathered children with one of them, Sally Henning. This is a complex and thorough look at a man who was brilliant in so many ways but troubled as well.
Kalman writes biographies with her own opinions right on the page. So when she addresses the slave issue, she speaks of “our hearts are broken” and then speaks to how tragic it is that Jefferson’s children who could pass as white had to hide who they really were. This adds a personality to the book, making it far richer than simple facts would. It will assure young readers that it is good for them to have opinions about history and to express them too.
As always, it is Kalman’s art that sets this book apart. Her illustrations range from more serious portraits of the historical figures to eye-popping bright colors in the vegetable gardens where paths are pink next to the bright green of the grass. It is all entirely rich and joyful.
Another dynamic and unique biography from Kalman, this book belongs in every public library serving children. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Dare the Wind: The Record-Breaking Voyage of Eleanor Prentiss and the Flying Cloud by Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Ever since she was a little girl, Eleanor Prentiss dreamed of being at sea. Her father had a trading schooner and though others thought he was a fool, he taught his young daughter how to steer it. Most importantly though, he also taught her what few sailors and only some captains knew, how to navigate. Ellen quickly learned how to navigate and started using her new skills on her father’s schooner every chance she got. As she grew older, Ellen married a captain and served as his navigator. Then the two of them acquired a clipper, The Flying Cloud. It was a fast boat, one that could make them bonus money if they could make the trip from New York to San Francisco around Cape Horn in the fastest time ever. It would be down to the innate speed of the Flying Cloud and to the navigating skills of Eleanor. Sea journeys are never simple, especially ones done at high speed through stormy waters. Take an incredible ride with the amazing Eleanor Prentiss, who proved that women can be right at home at sea.
Fern writes with a dynamism that matches this heroine. She has an exuberant quality to her writing and a tone that invites you along on a wild adventure. At the same time, she makes sure that young readers understand how unusual Eleanor Prentiss was at the time with the way she was raised and the knowledge she built and life she led. The book reads like fiction particularly on the journey itself where a series of misfortunes plague their maiden voyage. Even without the race against time, the journey would be harrowing, add in that pressure and you have a nail-biting read.
McCully’s art ranges in this book. She captures Ellen both on land and at sea, her body strong against the roll of the waves. She also paints water with a love for its greens and blues and the depth of color. The storms are violently dark, the harbors a shining blue, this is water in all of its glory.
I grew up in a house named after the ship Flying Cloud and am so pleased to read a picture book about the ship’s history and learn more about the woman who navigated her. This is one dynamic and well-told biographical picture book. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
A celebrated poet and author of books for children and teens, Nelson tells the story of growing up in the Civil Rights era and her connection to poetry. In fifty poems, several of which have been previously published, Nelson reveals her growing up from age 4 through 14 during the 1950s and 1960s. The poems show her progression from child to a self-aware teen who is directly impacted by the changes in civil rights. Nelson also touches on the Cold War and feminism along with race in these poems. Each poem here is a gem, carefully crafted and firmly placed in its setting in the book. Beautiful.
In her author’s note, Nelson mentions that she prefers not to see the character in the book as herself but rather as “The Speaker.” The first person perspective though will leave readers assuming that this is Nelson’s personal story and journey and it’s difficult to change that perception after reading the entire book. Perhaps even more than the historical period it is The Speaker’s love of poetry and writing that makes the connection to Nelson as that person ring so true. It is that love of poetry and words that makes each poem so beautiful, but also makes the narrator come alive.
Beautiful and worth rereading and revisiting, this collection of poems that forms a story is deep and worth submerging yourself in. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
Florence Nightingale by Demi
This picture book biography shines thanks to its rich artwork. It tells the story of Florence Nightingale’s life beginning with her wealthy childhood in England. Florence’s mother was known for her parties, but Florence liked to spend time by herself and even as a child pretended that her dolls were sick and needed to be in a doll hospital. Florence traveled in Europe as a teenager and realized that she was called to help people. Her parents were dismayed when she declared that she wanted to be a nurse. Then later Florence got a chance to help in an orphanage and her parents allowed her to choose her own way. Florence excelled at organization, documentation and hygiene. She transformed the different places she worked at, eventually going to Turkey to help the soldiers during the Crimean War. Florence grew ill later in her life, but never stopped working on improving nursing and patient care around the world. She was an inspiration for many both as a nurse and a woman.
Demi writes with depth and detail in this biography. She paints a clear picture of Nightingale from childhood through her development as a nurse and finally as a world-renowned expert in nursing. It was fascinating to learn of Nightingale’s wealthy background and her unwillingness to turn her back on her calling.
Demi’s art is as rich as ever with her saturated colors that give way to other pages with rich yet delicate texture. Nightingale appears wearing her deep blue dress that somehow shines on the page even though it is often the darkest color there. Ones eye just travels straight to her and the heart of the story.
Rich and detailed, this is a winning picture book biography to introduce children to a major female figure from history. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.