Mars Is by Suzanne Slade

Cover image for Mars Is.

Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises by Suzanne Slade (9781682631881)

Taking photos from the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) that began orbiting Mars in 2006, this nonfiction picture book gives an intimate look at the planet. The large text in the book continues the Mars is… from the title while smaller text offers scientific details about what the image is revealing about Mars. While the images are all of the surface of Mars, they are unique and different from one another, each showing elements of wind, rock, dunes and craters that tell an even greater history of what has formed the planet.

Slade harnesses the incredible photographs from the HiRISE project with huge impact. The design of the book uses the images as the background for the entire page, allowing readers to get the most out of every image. The variety of images is remarkable too, from the paleness of the sand dunes to the dark drama of the slopes and craters.

Slade’s text allows readers to really understand what each image is showing about Mars and what it reveals about how the planet’s surface has formed and continues to evolve and change. She uses technical terms and explains them clearly, taking readers through the image and inviting them to look at it even more closely. At the end of the book, the HiRISE project is explained.

A fantastic science book that children will love to explore. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Peachtree.

Strange Nature: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss by Gregory Mone

Cover image for Strange Nature.

Strange Nature: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss by Gregory Mone, illustrated by Levon Biss (9781419731662)

Levon Biss is a photographer who usually took pictures of celebrities and politicians. When his son brought him a regular garden beetle, the two of them looked at it under a microscope and were amazed at what they saw. Biss then selected 37 insects from the collection of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History to photograph. He used special lenses, cameras and lights to take thousands of pictures of each insect. Those many images were then combined to create the Microsculpture project. The images were enlarged and shown in museums around the world. This nonfiction picture book explores the images created from the Microsculpture project and offers information on each of the insects.

Mone’s text is limited to explaining how Biss got into photographing insects and then moves into sharing scientific information and fascinating facts about each insect. The book includes a glossary and an encouragement to head to the Microsculpture website to learn even more. Mone’s information is nicely selected offering enticing facts, measurements and also pointing out the most interesting parts of the photograph to the reader.

The portraits are incredibly detailed and beautiful. From the lighting that captures each insects iridescence to the incredible shapes of their bodies and armor. The book offers close ups of various parts of each insect, allowing readers to see eyes, legs, heads and more up close. These images are transformative, letting all of us know that we walk in a world of tiny amazing monsters.

Remarkable photographs that will have you leaning in close to see even more, if you dare! Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams.

Review: Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic by Isabel Quintero

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Pena (9781947440005)

This breathtaking graphic novel tells the story of the renowned photographer, Graciela Iturbide. Graciela is a Mexican photographer who was worked at her craft for over fifty years. Raised in a large family, she discovered theater and film when she went away to school. Her photography didn’t begin until the tragedy of her daughter dying. She took a photography class and found her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Traveling with him, she soon started to take her own photographs. She photographed the desert, cacti, people and her recurring theme of birds. This graphic novel follows her steps of finding her voice through photography and becoming an icon.

This graphic novel caught my attention when I turned past the first few pages and realized that they had incorporated Iturbide’s photographs into the book. Throughout, there are images drawn directly from her photographs and then the photograph itself is revealed. It’s a stunning way to show the skill and art that went into the photo and then display it with its incredible lighting, softer edges and composition.

The story here is beautifully told as well. Graciela is an example of someone who has an incredible gift and eye for images. She dislikes her photographs being called “magical” and throughout the graphic novel things that could be seen as “signs” of the future are rejected as anything other than simple events. It’s this forthright confidence that infuses the entire work with her personality.

One of the best biographical graphic novels I have read, this one is a stunning look at an impressive woman. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Getty Publications.

How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder


How to Find a Fox by Nilah Magruder (InfoSoup)

A little girl sets out to find a fox. She immediately finds a fox hole, but the fox isn’t home. She sets out fox bait, then hides and waits so long that she gets sleepy. She tries following fox tracks, but fox are sneaky animals. She puts out more bait and eventually falls fast asleep. She tries making fox calls. Finally, when she climbs a tree to look around, she spots the fox! But she loses him. The little girl is ready to give up, but convinces herself to keep on trying. Perhaps the solution is making the fox want to find her!

Magruder has created a wonderfully appealing picture book with an African-American protagonist. Both the little girl and the fox are dynamic characters who capture your attention. While the little girl searches for the fox, young readers will love spotting him themselves as the little girl just happens to be looking in the wrong direction. These missed encounters add to the excitement of the book. The entire book reads very well and is perfect to share aloud. It shares the value of resilience and persistence.

The art has a lot of charm and is reminiscent of Dora the Explorer which will make this a book that children pick up. There are illustrations that are wonderful, such as the little girl about to give up, lying flat on her back on the grass, spent. The art will project well for a group.

A great addition to storytime units on foxes or being outside. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Gordon Parks by Carole Boston Weatherford

gordon parks

Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Gordon Parks had a rough beginning to his life from being born almost stillborn to losing his mother at age 14. He was told by his white teacher that he and the rest of his all-black class would end up as either porters or waiters. Parks did do those jobs, but then he purchased a used camera and everything changed. He started photographing models and then turned his camera towards the struggling families in Chicago and Washington DC. He is pointed towards one specific subject who will create his most famous image, American Gothic, the picture of an African-American cleaning woman standing in front of the American flag with her mop in hand. Parks managed to show racism with a clarity thanks to just picking up a camera at first.

Weatherford keeps this book very friendly with a minimal amount of text in the bulk of the book. She does include an author’s note at the end that fills in more of the extensive career of Parks as a film director and Renaissance man. The focus here in this picture book biography is Parks’ photographic work and the impact he had on exposing racism and poverty in the inner city, showing hard working people who were still in poverty. Make sure to turn to the end of the book to see his photographs and their intense message.

Christoph’s illustrations are stellar. Using a subtle color palette, the images echo the photographs that Park took, but not too closely. Instead they build upon them, showing Parks taking the images and embracing the dark beauty of the back streets of urban spaces. He also beautifully captures emotions and the humanity of Parks’ subjects that also shines in his photographs.

An important picture book biography, this book shows how one person can make a difference and have a voice. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Fairy Ring by Mary Losure

fairy ring

The Fairy Ring or Elsie and Frances Fool the World by Mary Losure

This is the true story of two young English girls who fooled everyone with the photographs they took.  Elsie and Frances were cousins who hadn’t met until Frances moved to England from South Africa.  When Frances, age 9, visited the beck behind their small house, she saw tiny little brown men in green clothes walking about.  But the grownups teased her about seeing fairies, and there was one thing that Elsie at age 15 wouldn’t tolerate and that was teasing.  So the girls set out to take a photograph of fairies that would stop the teasing entirely.  It was all meant to be a little joke, but quickly got out of hand as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved along with international publicity.  It wasn’t until much later that the ruse was finally admitted to.  But in the end, there is still one magical photograph that wasn’t staged by the girls, and you can decide if there are really fairies in it.

This well-researched nonfiction book for children has the appeal of fairies and also the intriguing story of two young people who lied and got away with it for a very long time.  Losure manages to recreate the world that the children were growing up in, but not dwell on overly long descriptions.  It is a brief book, one that looks closely at the truth behind the photographs but also one that keeps one small part open to the wonder of fairies too. 

The girls could have been depicted in a quite different way than Losure handles them here.  They did deceive people and created more images that spread more lies.  But Losure does not show them as calculating at all, rather they are caught in the life that their small prank takes on, unable to admit the truth and unable to stop the insatiable curiosity about the images.  There is an exceptional dignity to the way their story is told here, one that pays homage to both the lie and to the belief.

A very readable nonfiction work that will be enjoyed by children reading the popular fairy series out right now and may lead those fiction readers to find more nonfiction to enjoy.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review – Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick


Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick

Peter has always loved baseball and excelled at it.  About to start high school, he looks forward to being a pitching star and playing alongside his best friend AJ.  But when he ignores the pain in his arm and continues to pitch, disaster happens and he is told he can no longer pitch, ever.  Peter’s mother talks him into taking a photography class in school, inspired by his grandfather who is a well-known photographer in their community and whom Peter loves to spend time with.  Peter reluctantly agrees, but the class is too easy and he is moved to an advanced photography class along with another freshman, a beguiling girl, Angelika.  As their relationship starts thanks to photography, Peter notices that his grandfather is starting to forget things.  Peter keeps the truth about his grandfather from his parents, just as he doesn’t tell the whole truth about his arm to his best friend.  How long can he balance the lies he’s been spinning before they all fall?

Sonnenblick has created a book that is smart and charming.  He effortlessly blends the worlds of sports and photography, plus a dash of strong romance too.  Peter is a great character: a jock who is bright, funny and endearingly unsure.  A great sense of humor runs through the book as well, making the book a fast read despite the heavier issues at its heart.  The book grapples mightily with truth telling and relationships.  Readers get to see just enough of the grandfather before he starts to lose his memory to understand just how strong the relationship between the two of them is.  Though there are many issues at hand in the book, they are all balanced on strong storytelling and vivid characters.

With its blend of topics this book should appeal to many readers, get it in the hands of teens who enjoy John Green and are looking for more smart, funny books.  Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.

More Life-Size Zoo

More Life-Size Zoo by Teruyuki Komiya

A gorgeous combination of life-sized animal photographs and interesting facts on each creature.  Readers will be wowed by the enormous lion that folds out to its full size that is cleverly combined with a lion cub so that the growth can be understood.  The bottomless black of the eyes of a seal will draw readers in.  The amazing color of an orangutan’s coat will have small hands rubbing the photograph.  The final photo of the glory of a hippopotamus and its coarse hairs and moist skin finishes the collection on a high note.  This book will be shared between children and appeals to a wide range of ages.  Make sure you have the first book Life-Size Zoo at hand too.

The photographs here are the heart of the book.  It is a pleasure to see photos with such clarity printed in this large a format.  The detail of skin, fur, eyes and mouths is astonishing and invites readers to lean in and really see the animals close up.  The facts with each animal apply both to the specific specimen in the photograph and to the animal in general.  The section about the close up offer small details that children will enjoy looking for in the photos. 

Guaranteed to get appreciative exclamations from young readers who will turn to the photos again and again.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from book received from Seven Footer Press.

In the Belly of an Ox

In the Belly of an Ox: the Unexpected Photographic Adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton by Rebecca Bond

Two brothers, Richard and Cherry Kearton, grew up in the hills of Yorkshire and spent much of their time outside exploring.  When they both moved to London, they missed the countryside, so they visited it whenever they could.  One visit, Cherry brought his new camera and took a picture of a bird’s nest.  An idea was born!  The brothers decided to take pictures of birds nests using a variety of blinds, disguises and props, including a large bull to hide inside.  It took them three years and 30,000 miles of travel across Britain to make their book.  British Birds’ Nests was published in 1895.  It was the first nature book to be illustrated entirely with photographs. 

This is really the story of two brothers who were willing to work hard, invent their own solutions, and follow their personal dreams.  It is a story of being yourself and finding your own way in life and not listening to what “should” be done.  Make sure to look at the end of the book where you can see some of their photographs.  One is a heart-stopping photo of both brothers high in a tree with a ladder. 

Bond’s text here sets just the right mood.  She and the readers revel in the inventiveness of the brothers and their enthusiasm and hers shine.  Her illustrations have a wonderful vintage feel.  The watercolor landscapes evoke the region nicely and the brothers come through as vibrant characters.

A great piece of picture-book nonfiction, this title is one that should be shared.  It’s a great piece to start conversations about what children are really dreaming of, what their special gifts are, and what they may become someday.  And it just might get indoor children moving outside to take their own pictures and climb their own trees.  What could be better?!  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.