The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee (9781452149868)
Released August 28, 2018
After their parents made an Agreement with Death, the Vickery twins had to live with it. It meant that Felix had to serve Death alongside his father, witnessing healing and dying every day. Felix was not allowed to go to school and could not ever see his mother. His father could not see his brother Lee or his mother ever again. Lee in turn lived with his mother on the other side of the house serving Memory. He took bottled memories, labeled them and placed them on shelves. Both brothers had errands in Poplar Wood, Lee to dispense of the memories and Felix to gather herbs. Their life was terrible but steady until Gretchen entered it, determined to figure out how Essie was killed. From a family of Summoners, Gretchen is second born and unable to conduct the Rites. Still, she insists on untangling what is happening in their small town as Death, Memory and Passion let their rivalry get out of hand.
Just writing that summary demonstrates how unique this book is, yet it also plays with existing myths about shades and summoning. The book makes Death, Memory and Passion into figures that are non-human but still have human desires like revenge and dominance. The book is constructed so that the reader learns more about this fictional world alongside the characters. Each brother knows separate elements and Gretchen brings her own understanding of the other part of the relationships with Shades to the book. The organic way that it plays out via the story itself makes it immensely satisfying.
The characters are definitely worth noting as well. Gretchen is the most compelling character. She is wonderfully curious, prickly and determined. There is no way to tell her no that she will accept and her tenacity drives the story forward. The two brothers are unique from one another as well, one who goes to public school and the other who doesn’t. Their lives are as different as can be, each raised by not only one parent but also influenced deeply by the Shade too. These factors play out in their personalities in a way that is subtle but also clear.
A great fantasy Gothic novel with a mystery at its heart. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Chronicle Books.
What Do They Do with All That Poo? By Jane Kurtz, illustrated by Allison Black (9781481479868)
Anyone working with children and books knows that the rather naughty subjects of poop, peeing and farting are some of the most popular. In this book, science is mixed in as well, showing what zoos do with all of the animal poop they have. First the book explains what poo is, then moves into showing different types of animal poop like giraffe, panda, hippo and elephant. The book then goes on to explain that most of the poop heads to landfills after being loaded into trucks. Some poop goes to labs for scientists to examine. Some is made into compost for gardens. And interestingly, sometimes paper is made from elephant poo!
Kurtz explains in a matter-of-fact way the various animals and how they poo and then handle their poop. The hippo splattering its poop around is gross but interesting, something that basically sums up this book. Kurtz doesn’t shy away from the grosser parts, but also keeps her focus on facts and science in the book. The illustrations are bright and friendly, despite all of the poop on the pages. Animals are shown in their zoo habitats and then their poop is also shown with them.
An interesting and scientific look at poos in zoos. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Beach Lane Books.
Do Not Lick This Book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost (9781250175366)
Min is a microbe that lives in this book. Readers get to look at the page closer and closer, until with a micron microscope they can see the individual strands that make up the paper. Resting there, very bored indeed, is Min. The readers pick up Min on their finger and then move her to their teeth. The next page shows the surface of a tooth very, very close up with the microbes creating cavities. Min moves on, but one of the tooth microbes comes along too. This pattern continues to the reader’s shirt and then finally their belly button, each place close up and full of microbes.
Shown in such a playful way, children will enjoy the lesson on microbes without realizing they are learning science. The interactive piece of the book is also a pleasure, though it will limit using the book with a very small group or one child at a time. There are more microbial facts at the end of the book to enjoy. The illustrations are a delightful mix of images from an electron microscope and cute little microbes that are different colors and shapes from one another.
A smart choice for libraries looking for great STEM reads. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy (9780316393829)
Otis loved the ocean since he was a boy. He experimented with different ways to dive lower and lover in the water. Will didn’t discover the ocean until later in life, spending time in the woods, trekking the world and climbing volcanoes. Otis heard that Will wanted to dive deep into the ocean and with his background in machines knew that Will would need a very special submersible to survive. Otis reached out to Will again and again until Will agreed to see him. Otis built the machine and Will planned the expedition. The two tall men managed to squeeze inside the small space and then down they went into the deep. Lower and lower they went, creaking and remembering to breathe. They reached 800 feet and then returned to the surface, smiling.
Rosenstock has created a wonderful text for this book that captures the importance of teamwork and connecting with others who have a similar passion but different skills. The differences between the two men are highlighted and then it is even more powerful when the two come together and work on a common goal. I particularly enjoy Will supporting Otis as they descend into the depths. That same support of remembering to breathe is very effectively used to create drama as the depth increases, since readers too may be holding their breath. The art by Roy is exceptional, adding to the drama of the tale by showing the Bathysphere as isolated, suspending in the dark water. The two men and the contortions they go through to fit and work together in the small space are also charmingly captured in the illustrations.
A winner of a science read. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James E. Ransome (9781481476843)
The childhood of Venus and Serena is told in this picture book biography. As the youngest of the Williams children, they started playing tennis alongside their older sisters. Then they became the two who continued on. Growing up in Compton made their practices more challenging, including sometimes having to stay down when guns were fired in the neighborhood. The two remained dedicated to their sport, quickly climbing the ranks and becoming ranked players. Trained from a young age to ignore the taunts from the crowd, the two of them became two of the best players of all time, both in doubles and singles. There has been drama when the two sisters had to play one another in tournaments and still they showed a joy in one another’s accomplishments even when they were the loser.
A look at two girls who shared their father’s dreams for them, putting in the hard work, showing resilience and silencing critics. The book focuses on Venus and Serena themselves and also on the way that they have supported one another through wins and losses, staying close and being true sisters. The illustrations are exceptional works of collage that have strong colors and graphic elements that pop on the page. Small touches add interesting details, like the girls’ socks being made from paper with words and lines.
Beautiful, strong and inspiring, this look at two modern legends is a pleasure. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399252525)
Released August 28, 2018.
In her first middle-grade novel since her award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson speaks to the greatest challenges of our society through the viewpoints of six children. When their teacher creates a special time every Friday for six of her students to spend time together with no expectations and no adults, a safe space is created. It’s a space where Esteban can share that his father has been picked up and taken for deportation. It’s a space where Amari can talk about racial profiling with his best friend who happens to be white. Haley records their conversations, capturing them all so that they can remember this time. But she too has a secret to share, if she is brave enough to tell the truth.
Woodson writes with such ease, digging deeply into the emotional state of these young people as they share their stories with one another. She shows the United States through their eyes. It’s a place of opportunity worth risking your life and family to come to, but it’s also a place of immense danger. People are deported, families separated, and others are shot. Woodson captures all of this through the eyes of Haley, a girl who lives with her own secret. Through Haley, the story of children visiting parents in prison and eventually reunited with them is told in all of its mixed emotions.
Each of the children in the story is so very different that they can never be confused with one another. Woodson gives each a distinct voice and set of opinions, shares their stories. They are presented as full human beings with histories, families and struggles uniquely their own. Woodson also offers here a voice for children who are not great at school for one reason or another.
A book that celebrates diversity and asks deep questions about our modern society, this is a novel that so many children will see themselves reflected in and others will learn something from. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (9781250137524)
Katherine loved counting and math as a young girl. She was a brilliant student who skipped three grades. However, there was no high school in her town that accepted black students. So her father worked day and night to afford to move them to a town where Katherine could attend high school. She became an elementary school teacher, because there were no jobs for research mathematicians who were women. Katherine did not give up her dream, eventually becoming a mathematician working for NASA. She worked on the Mercury missions and the Apollo missions, doing the math that allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to return safely.
Filled with the determination and resilience it took for Johnson to become a NASA mathematician, this picture book shows the barriers that were and are in place for scientists and mathematicians who are women and people of color. Make sure to check out the note at the end that provides even more information on this incredible mathematician. The art in the book is incredibly appealing with mathematics adding complexity to the simple style.
A picture book biography that soars to great heights. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock (9780316278201)
Sophie loved math from the time she was a small girl. Her parents had to take away her candles and her warm dresses to keep her in bed at night and not at work at her desk. But nothing stopped her, not even the French Revolution when she was growing up. There were no opportunities for Sophie to study in a university, so she did her homework by mail using a male name. Her work was extraordinary, but when her identity was discovered no mathematicians would return her letters, though she became very popular at dinner parties due to her reputation. In her thirties, Sophie discovered a mathematical problem that would become her focus for many years. A challenge was set to figure out the mathematics behind vibrations and the patterns they made. Years later, Sophie was the only one to submit a solution which she then worked to perfect for additional years. This time though, she worked under her own name.
Bardoe has written a lovely biography of a fascinating woman who demonstrated that women are just as good at mathematics as men are. Her math has a blend of science and math with its focus on vibrations, making it all the more complex. The book shows again and again the resilience and determination that it took for Sophie to succeed. The writing is accessible and celebratory in tone. McClintock’s illustrations incorporate collage in a subtle but profound way. She also uses numbers and formulas in the art itself, creating scenes from a scaffold of digits and action from vibration patterns.
A great picture book biography about an inspiring woman. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
The 5 O’Clock Band by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier (9781419728365)
This second picture book by Andrews takes the reader on a trip through New Orleans. Shorty and his friends had formed a band. They called themselves the 5 O’Clock Band because that’s when they gathered to play. One day, Shorty got so caught up in his music that he missed the meeting time of the band. He tried to catch up with them, bringing the reader along on his walk past New Orleans landmarks and meeting musicians on the streets. Shorty longs to be a great bandleader and as he looks for his band, he learns lessons about being a leader along the way.
Filled with a deep love for the city of New Orleans, this picture book continues the story of Trombone Shorty’s childhood. Andrews’ writing is deft and musical, using repetition and rhythm to great effect. The illustrations by master Collier are lush and beautiful. They depict the richness of New Orleans on the page, filled with yellows and greens.
A jazzy picture book that inspires. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.