As Czechoslovakia is taken over by the Nazis in 1938, one quiet man stepped forward and saved almost 700 children. At age 29, Nicky was invited to visit Prague while on a ski trip. At the same time, Vera was growing up outside of Prague, happily adopting stray cats. They were one of the only Jewish families in the town, but that didn’t matter in their lives. The in October the German army marched into Czechoslovakia and Vera’s parents learned of a British man who was saving children. That man was Nicky. Understanding that he could do something, he worked in Prague making lists of children and finding train connections. When he returned to London, he found foster families for the children and acquire visas and tickets with his own money, sometimes needing to create his own stamps. Vera left home with 76 other children on a train. In total, 669 children reached London safely. No one heard of Nicky’s quiet work until his wife found the records. Then Nicky’s work was revealed to everyone on a popular TV show, and his life is still celebrated.
Sís has created a haunting yet also celebratory nonfiction picture book that describes the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia through a child’s eyes and also offers the lens of a man who realizes the potential human disaster about to occur and does something to rescue the children. The tension between the two is beautifully done, creating a deep understanding of what was at stake and the speed at which something needed to happen. The book is one that will make you actually cry, particularly towards the end when the survivors are there to thank Nicky for what he did for them. Crushingly moving.
As always Sís’s art is entirely its own style. He offers overhead maps of Vera’s small town and her life. He also shares maps of Europe and whimsical images that are almost folkloric in their storytelling. It’s a lovely mix of story, truth and heroism.
Truly remarkable, this is a picture book to read with tissues nearby. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Norton Young Readers.
Mexique by María José Ferrada, illustrated by Ana Penyas (9780802855459)
In a true story, over 400 children fled the violence of the Spanish Civil War. They were put on a boat and sent to Morelia, Mexico in 1937. Their families expected only to be separated from them for a few months, like an extended summer vacation, nothing more. Told from the point of view of one of the children, this book shows their time aboard the boat to their arrival in Mexico. The war was a hand that shook their lives apart, separated them and sent them adrift. But there were other hands too, hands of the older children who took care of the little ones. Not all of the older children were kind, sometimes stealing from the little kids. They arrived in Mexico, bringing the impact of the war with them, heading unknowingly into permanent exile.
Ferrada’s text is poetic and haunting. She writes of the hope of when the children embark, the bitter choice that their parents had to make in sending them to safety. She writes of the time aboard ship, of games played and small wars fought. She writes of long lonely nights at sea until the waving crowds welcome them to Mexico. The story stops there, continued in an afterword the explains what happened to the “Children of Morelia” and what history had in store for them.
The illustrations are just as haunting as the text. Done in a limited color palette with often jagged lines of ship railings and waves, they are sharp and unsettling. Showing the somber farewells, the crowds of children, they are sorrowful and foretell the longer refugee story ahead.
Somber, beautiful and timely. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers.
The first Boeing 747 was built in 1968, though it did have one problem, it couldn’t fly! It was called a jumbo jet because it was so big. The plane had to use the same principles as other airplanes, a critical combination of lift, thrust and drag. Just to be built, a new factory had to be created that was large enough to house the process and the jumbo jet. The building is still the largest by volume in the world. New ways of driving the big plane, new giant-sized landing gear, and new safety measures had to be designed and practiced. A few months after the first plane came off of the assembly line to delighted crowds, the plane was ready for its first test flight. Get ready for a dramatic take off!
Gall delights in the size and scope of the jumbo jet as well as the incredible feat it was for Boeing to have it finished in only 28 months, building the plane and the factory at the same time. Readers are introduced to the concepts behind airplane flight and design, shown concepts for what the airplane could have looked like inside, and given information on the earliest flying machines. The scientific details are shared with clearly and as part of the overall story. Additional fun facts, a glossary and sources are offered at the end of the book.
The illustrations by Gall have a marvelous vintage vibe that places the book firmly in the 1960’s. They are clearly modern as well with detailed images of the plane, cutaways to show the interior, and detailed images of scientific concepts.
This nonfiction picture book soars! Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from egalley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
Based on the famous quote from President Truman, this nonfiction picture book explores the many different pets that presidents have had over the years. The book begins with dogs and cats, though some cats were of the more exotic type like tiger cubs! Horses were also popular, but barnyard pets didn’t stop there with some presidents having goats, sheep, roosters and cows, including Miss Wayne who grazed on the White House lawn and had her milk stolen. The pets just kept getting larger though with bear cubs, elephants, hippos, a wallaby and alligators! Some presidents had birds, though Jackson’s parrot swore a lot. Some had quite small pets like guinea pigs or even silkworms. Almost all presidents had some sort of pet, though Jackson found his friendly mice waiting for him while he faced impeachment.
Fast-paced and funny, this picture book is a wry look at presidential pets. The book first groups types of pets together then offers interesting anecdotes about a few of the pets in that grouping. Readers get the tales of Lincoln’s, FDR’s, George H.W. Bush’s, Obama’s and Truman’s dogs, for example. The stories throughout the book celebrate the president’s connection to these animals and how they found solace in their time together.
The art is marvelously silly, using cut paper drawings against pops of color or line drawings on white backgrounds. The spread of all of the dogs alone is an impressive two pages of quite small pooches, each labeled with their name. The illustrations have a peppy merriness to them that invites readers in and sets a jolly tone.
Humorous and historical, this glimpse of president’s best friend is a treat. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Aaron Lansky’s grandmother came to America from Eastern Europe. She brought with her precious books in Yiddish, which her brother threw into the sea along with her other possessions as a sign they must break with the past. Aaron grew up firmly American in Massachusetts. When he went to college he began to study Jewish scholars and had to learn to read Yiddish to be able to read what he needed to. But Yiddish books and the language were in serious trouble in the 1960s after the impact of World War II. Aaron found himself rescuing Yiddish books from destruction. He filled his apartment with books and asked the leaders of Jewish organizations across the country to help save the books. But they believed that Yiddish was no longer worth saving. So Aaron created his own space in an old factory building that he named the Yiddish Book Center. As word spread, he continued to save books from destruction and meet with people who handed their beloved books over to him. The Center continues its work to this day, having saved Yiddish books from destruction for decades.
Macy writes with a wonderful tone in this nonfiction picture book. She shares the importance of what Lansky accomplished with his work but also has a playful approach that works particularly well. The insertion of Yiddish words in the text adds to this effect. The story of Aaron Lansky’s work is one of finding a personal passion and getting swept up in it. It is a story of hard work, resilience and determination in the face of even those who should care not finding your work valuable at first.
The illustrations by Innerst move from playful in depicting things like running in pajamas at night to save books to dramatic when looking back at the Holocaust. They are done in acrylic and gouache with textures added digitally. The images suit the subject well with a feel of modern design combined with connections to the past.
A fascinating biography of a little-known man who saved a written history of his people. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
In South Africa on June 16, 1976, Hector Pieterson was killed in what was supposed to be a peaceful student protest. The photograph of him being carried from the scene helped lead to the end of apartheid. The book is told from three perspectives: Hector’s, his older sister, and the photographer who took the image. A new law had gone into effect that all South Africans had to have half of their subjects taught in Afrikaans, the language of the white ruling class. The book shows Hector trying to remember to count in Afrikaans at home. On the fateful day, Hector gets ready for school but when he gets there, the students aren’t attending school but are protesting instead. He gets caught in the protest and then a bullet is fired. After the crowds disperse, Hector is on the ground.
Done in a graphic novel style, this nonfiction book is based on interviews with Hector’s family to see what sort of boy he was. The book shows his playful side and the tough choices his family made to have their children in school. The book also shows touches of what life was like during apartheid with separate entrances for black and white and oppressive laws. The art is done in sandy tones and deftly shows the dominance of apartheid in everyday life.
An important book that speaks to one boy and the way his death helped transform a country. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
In a graphic novel format, this book tells the story of 150 years of indigenous history in Canada. The book begins with the story of Annie Bannatyne, the daughter of a wealthy store owner and a Metis-Saulteaux woman. Angered by racist comments published by Charles Mair, Annie literally horsewhips him in public, inspiring a young Louis Riel. There are stories of First Nation chiefs continuing their tribes’ traditional ways, despite them being forbidden by Canadian law. Other stories tell of the damage of residential schools. There is the story of Francis Pegahmagabow, the best sniper in North American history, and how his heroism in World War I was not enough to get the Canadian government to treat him as a human being. There are stories of children taken away, of families broken, of great heroism and deep connection to traditions and to the land itself. The book ends with a science fiction look at native people in space and a message of hope for change.
Told by various First Nation authors and illustrators, this book is simply incredible. At the beginning of each story, the author speaks about their inspiration and then a timeline is given that shows how little progress was made in Canada. Information is shared in the timeline that allows the stories to be more focused but for readers to learn about more historical points. As the history grows shockingly modern, the events remain just as searingly racist as those before the turn of the century. Still, the message here is one of strength, resilience and resistance. It is about standing up, insisting on being seen, and demanding to be heard. There is hope here in each of these heroes.
One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Alberto Santos-Dumont lived in Brazil long before airplanes were invented. Fascinated by machines starting at a young age, Santos came to Paris in 1892. He took a ride with a balloon maker high above the city where they floated in the clouds. Inspired, Santos began to design his own balloon, but he wanted it to move through the air like a ship rather than just floating. He designed one airship after another, learning to follow his own instincts, create structural stability, and built a weight system. Each time he flew, something went wrong, but Santos was not deterred. He just designed a new airship and tried again. A prize of 100,000 francs was announced for the first person who could pilot an airship from the club around the Eiffel Tower and back in less than 30 minutes. Now Santos had a challenge and a prize to win!
Polivka tells the story of Santos with a sprightly tone that is just right for the subject. They share enough details about Paris at the time to firmly anchor the biography in a place and time. The information about the airships is shared with a tone of wonder and also a nod toward the dangers of what Santos was attempting. The art has a vintage feel that works well. It depicts Santos’ little automobile, the view from the balloon over Paris, and the various models of Santos’ airships.
A clever look at flying before airplanes, this picture book biography soars. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
As a child, Isabella Bird was not well. She spent much of her time with aches and pains stuck indoors. Then her doctor had an idea that fresh air might do her good. She traveled on horseback with her father and realized that she loved to explore. However, Victorian England was not conducive to a woman traveling on her own, and Isabella once more fell ill. Once again, she was prescribed travel and set off on a journey to Canada and the United States. When she returned, triumphant and with many stories, she was encouraged to write a book. This set her off on a lifetime of travels and adventures around the world and writing books that captivated nineteenth-century readers.
Mortensen demonstrates how very stifling life in the 1800s were for women and girls. Happily, Bird was able to discover her own passion for travel and adventure. The book tells stories of her travels and the harrowing situations she found herself in, like climbing volcanoes, surviving severe cold, and dangling from a cliff by her skirt. Scattered throughout the book are excerpts from Bird’s own writing that show how stirring and evocative her prose was.
The illustrations in the book are done with simple lines that really capture the action and at times the boredom of Bird’s life. Bird’s journal, with her on all of her travels, features heavily in the illustrations as it drops over cliffs, loses pages to the wind, or has Bird writing in amazing situations.
A look at a woman who did not allow social conventions to slow her down, this is an inspirational story of following one’s bliss. Appropriate for ages 6-9.