Month: June 2015

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: Dreams of Freedom

Dreams of Freedom

Dreams of Freedom: in words and pictures (InfoSoup)

An incredible picture book that follows its sister book, We Are All Born Free. In association with Amnesty International, this book celebrates freedom around the world in a variety of ways. With quotations about freedom, the book’s text flies and builds an expectation that no one should live in the different forms of slavery or abridged freedom. The freedoms are large and expansive: the freedom to be a child, the freedom to learn, freedom from fear and freedom from slavery. This book embraces them all, creating a place where conversation can leap from.

The quotes from various luminaries from around the world were carefully selected so that children will be able to understand them. Sources range from the Dalai Lama to Harriet Tubman to Anne Frank. The illustrations are also rich and varied. They are done by various master children’s book illustrators including Mordicai Gerstein, Birgitta Sif and Chris Riddell. Each page of the book creates a singular moment to explore that type of freedom and to create hope and peace.

A strong book about freedom that invites conversation, this book belongs in both public and school libraries. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (InfoSoup)

Aaron has always scoffed at the claims that the Leteo Institute could successfully erase memories of traumatic events and allow people a fresh new life. But when his father kills himself in their home, Aaron struggles to go on. After making an attempt on his own life, by carving a smile into his wrist, Aaron has to figure out how to cope in a different way. He does have a great girlfriend, one whose father is rarely home and that gives them time to fool around. He also has a new friend in Thomas, another teen who has a great setup on the roof of his apartment building to watch movies on a huge screen. When Aaron’s girlfriend leaves for an art program, he finds himself growing much closer to Thomas and even starting to think that he may possibly definitely be attracted to him. As Aaron grapples with this new insight into his sexuality, he drifts away from his neighborhood friends: kids who would not accept him being gay. Aaron has to figure out what the truth is about himself and whether he wants to forget it all and start again, straight this time.

Silvera’s book is pure joy. He has teens who talk like teens, swear like teens, fight like teens. They play vicious games based on childhood playground themes that are brilliant and sadistic and real. His teens have sex, multiple times, and deal with the consequences. His urban Bronx setting is a brilliant mix of poverty, race and community that echoes with intolerance and also support. It’s all wonderfully complicated and nothing is simple. There are no real villains, no real heroes and the book is all the better for it.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, so I will not refer to how the book resolves or ends. Let me just say that Silvera writes it like it is one book and then it twists and turns and takes you down several roads until you reach the final one with tears streaming down your face. It’s just as sadistic as the playground games the characters play. It’s unfair and brutal and brilliant and alive.

This is a book that speaks volumes about LGBT hate, self-loathing and the lengths we will go to in order to start again fresh and different. One of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Elvis by Bonnie Christensen

Elvis by Bonnie Christensen

Elvis: The Story of the Rock and Roll King by Bonnie Christensen (InfoSoup)

This picture book biography offers a glimpse into the journey of Elvis Presley from poverty to becoming a rock and roll legend. The book begins in segregated Mississippi with the birth of Elvis in 1935. Elvis’ father went to jail and even after he returned to the family, they lived a hard life of poverty. But through it all flowed music from their Sundays in church to listening to the radio at home. Elvis was shy and quiet, but he could sing and at age 10 he entered his first contest and then at 11 got his first guitar. His family moved to Memphis when he was 13 and Elvis found a new kind of music. He graduated from high school and eventually worked up the courage to enter a recording studio and offer his singing services. After a disastrous first session, Elvis was filled with nerves and picked up a guitar, singing That’s All Right. It got onto the radio and suddenly everyone wanted to hear more!

Christensen makes sure that readers understand that Elvis came from a difficult background, one where there was no money and no opportunities. His shyness was another thing that Elvis had to overcome, turning his shaking on stage into his signature moves. Christensen also keeps it clear that this was a different time, a time when these sorts of music did not mix together and that Elvis was uniquely situated to be the one who created the new sound. In all, this is a testament to the power of dreams and talent.

Christensen’s illustrations gleam with hope and the future even as Elvis is being moved to yet another house and another school. She makes sure that the light shines on the little boy and that readers see that there are possibilities to come.

A strong introduction to Elvis, make sure to play some of his music when reading it to children so that they can feel that beat too. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Over the Hills and Far Away by Elizabeth Hammill

Over the Hills and Far Away by Elizabeth Hammill

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

Nursery rhyme treasuries have to be something special to gain attention and this one certainly is. In this treasury, nursery rhymes from around the world nestle together into one full and playful view of the world and children. There are rhymes from England and the United States, and then there are wonderful additions from Africa, China, South America, France and other areas. Adding to the variety are the illustrations from some of the greatest children’s book illustrators working today, including popular favorites like Lucy Cousins, Shirley Hughes, Jon Klassen, Jerry Pinkney and Shaun Tan.

Opening this book invites the youngest readers into a journey of the imagination and the joy of rhymes from around the world. Anchored by familiar favorites for western readers, the book branches merrily out into less familiar rhymes. Rhymes carefully chosen to become new favorites and ones that reflect the places and regions they come from clearly.

The illustrations are gorgeous and varied. It makes each turn of the page thrilling and filled with wonder. Each one is unique and marvelous, a great example of that master illustrator’s work.

Add this nursery rhyme treasury to your library collection to add an important amount of diversity to your shelves. Appropriate for ages 1-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Peace Is an Offering by Annette LeBox

Peace Is an Offering by Annette LeBox

Peace Is an Offering by Annette LeBox, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (InfoSoup)

This picture book explores the concept of peace. It begins with simple examples, ones that are found every day like trips to the beach or giving someone a muffin. Peace is also mentioned as being gratitude for simple things in life and the book goes on to elaborate those with kisses, walks and food. The book transitions into questions about support and peace, asking about staying together, drying tears and listening to stories. It then moves to places you can find peace, whether that is with family or even in the wake of a tragedy or a loss. It finishes with a few ideas of how children can create peace themselves, by doing things like walking away from a fight or comforting a friend.

LeBox does so much more than a list of peaceful ideas here. Instead she moves from one stage to the next, showing not only what peace is but how it can be created and strengthened. Readers will appreciate the focus on small and everyday things that either are peaceful or bring peace. Because of that focus, children will not only understand peace as a larger concept from this book but feel empowered to create it themselves.

Graegin’s pencil, watercolor and digital illustrations have children and families from various backgrounds mixed together. Readers can follow the boy with the cast on his arm from the very first page through the book. While he may not appear on all of the pages, he creates a feel of a larger story happening as peace is explored.

A strong and interesting look at peace and the way its created, this book is both inspiring and peaceful. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Review: Wild about Shapes by Jeremie Fischer

Wild About Shapes by Jeremie Fischer

Wild about Shapes by Jeremie Fischer (InfoSoup)

A wonderfully simple idea, this book features abstract patterns on each facing page. Turn the clear plastic page with its abstract design so that it overlaps the first page and suddenly an animal is revealed. While some of the animals can be guessed from the designs or from the short text, many of them are complete surprises. Children will have to be paying close attention to spot some of the animals like the fish made from the white space on the page and the octopus that floats on another.

Spiral bound, this book is printed on card stock that will stand up to little hands. Even the acetate pages are strong and thick, limiting the amount of tearing that libraries will see. The text is very limited in the book, giving full attention to the clever illustrations. They are entirely playful and fun, the book less of a guessing game and more of art that you get to experience.

Children will want to turn the pages themselves, so that they are able to look back and forth between the abstract and the tangible on the page. So it’s best for sharing with only a few children at a time. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.