"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Cybils: Nonfiction reviews

Last night the doorbell rang at 8:30. It was a delivery person dropping off another nominated book for the Cybils Award. The book of late night doorbelling fame was donated to me by the publisher. It and the other ten I've received from publishers await an honest and thoughtful review. I wish I had time for the thorough review these books deserve, but with the deadline looming, short and succinct will have to win the day.

Extreme Survivors: Animals That Time Forgot 
By Kimberley Ridley, published by Tilbury House, part of "How Nature Works" series, November 17, 2017.
Target audience: Grades 5-8.
48 pages, includes a glossary, a timeline of Earth's history, up-close and personal facts about the highlighted animals. Includes color photographs of every animal discussed.

During Earth's whole history most life-forms have either gone extinct or have been altered to adjust to different living conditions. Most but not all. This book showcases extreme survivors---life-forms which exist in pretty much the same as they have for millions of years--- goblin sharks, tuatara, tadpole shrimp, lungfish, horseshoe crabs, velvet worms, tardigrade, chambered nautilus, comb jelly, and sponges.

The tuatara is the closest living animal to dinosaurs of old, existing only in one location in New Zealand, it looks like a iguana but it hunts at night and has such a slow metabolism it can live for 150 years. Lungfish have primitive lungs and have to come up for air about once an hour but can exist outside water for two years by burrowing under the mud and going into estivation, which is the fish form of hibernation. Horseshoe crabs have been able to survive, while other life forms haven't, because they have the ability to form blood clots around invading bacteria, stopping the spread of infection in their bodies. Goblin sharks are horrifying to look at and they are huge (10ft.) but it is unlikely we will ever run into one since they lurk around the ocean at 800 ft. The weirdest of all the extreme survivors, at least in my estimation, is the tardigrade. It's other name is Zombie Bear. It is a microscopic creature which lives on moss. It can survive for decades, losing up to 99% of it's water, but once it rehydrates it can repair it's own DNA. I have so much moss in my backyard, could I also have tardigarades?

This is a perfect book for the kid who likes to read about weird things and enjoys looking at pictures as they read. I recommend that middle school/junior high librarians get a hold of this book and display n top of the shelf or in a prominent place. I bet it will be checked out almost immediately.

Three Stars in the Night Sky: a Refugee Family's Odyssey of Separation and Reunion
By Fern Schumer Chapman, published by Gussie Rose Press, June 6, 2018.
Target audience: Grades 5-8.
46 pages, includes photo credits of color and b/w photos.

At age 12 Gerta Katz was sent by her Jewish parents from Nazi Germany to the USA as an unaccompanied minor. She was sponsored by a Jewish woman in Seattle. She made friends with one girl who was also an unaccompanied minor but she her destination was not Seattle and they lost touch. Gerta lived in a boarding house, lonely and bereft, waiting for news from her family left behind in Germany.  After many months she finally heard from an older brother that the family had gotten out of the country safely and were now settled on a commune in the Dominican Republic. The dictator of that country, Trujillo, had just recently killed hundreds of black Haitians. In an effort to appear as a good guy to the international community, he granted visas to thousands of Jews hoping to flee Germany. These refugees were given some land, where they lived in a sort of commune. Trujillo hoped that the white Germans would marry DR people so that the children would be lighter skinned.

Gerta was relieved that her family was safe, but miles still separated them. First they couldn't reunited because of the war, next they were kept apart because of immigration policies on DR. Not until 1959 did the family finally reunite, twenty years after Gerta first left Germany.

So much has been written about WWII and the Holocaust it seems impossible that one could learn something new about it, but that is not the case. Everyone's story is unique and Three Stars in the Night Sky tells a new story...that of the unaccompanied minor to the USA and immigration from Nazi Germany to the Dominican Republic. Both were unknown aspects to me. The book is very short and does not give many details about either of the experiences, but it does give a human face to the disaster that happened to so many during the war. The book is full of family photographs, making it more personal. The book was chosen as a Junior Library Guild 2018 selection. It would be a nice resource for schools looking to increase their collection of personal WWII/Holocaust stories.

The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth: Understanding Our World and Its Ecosystems
By Rachel Ignotofsky, published by Ten Speed Press, September 18, 2018.
128 pages, includes quick steps for protecting the planet, source notes, bibliography, an index, and an illustrated glossary.
Target audience: Grades 7 and up.
"Beautifully combining art and science, The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth is an illustrated tour of the planet that reveals ecosystems large and small, from reefs, deserts, and rainforests to ponds, backyard gardens, and even a drop of water. Through exquisite drawings, maps, and infographics, New York Times best-selling author Rachel Ignotofsky makes earth science accessible and entertaining, explaining how our planet works, from its diverse ecosystems and their inhabitants, to the levels of ecology, the importance of biodiversity, the carbon cycle, weather cycles, and more. Perfect for nature-loving readers ages 10 and up, this is an utterly charming and educational guide to the world we live in" (Goodreads). 
A close-up detail on one of the illustrations.
I love the illustrations in this book. I was enraptured by them and spent long minutes examining each page. The text that accompanies each section is rather dense and often printed white on black pages, which I find hard to read.  The essence of the book is so good, however I cannot figure out the target audience. Teen readers seem unlikely to spend as much time as I did with each page to discover its treasures and adults may be put off by the marketing toward young adults. I especially appreciate the back few pages about climate change, global warming causes, how we can help protect our planet, and the illustrated glossary. In the note about the author we learn that Ms. Ignotofsky believes that illustration is a powerful tool that can make learning exciting. I agree. I want to explore this book more when time allows once Cybils judging is complete.

Back From the Brink: Saving Animals From Extinction
By Nancy F. Castaldo, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 24, 2018.
168 pages, includes a call to action suggested activities, what to read and watch to learn more, source notes, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index. Includes lots of color photographs.
Target audience: Grades 5-8.

Back from the Brink examines seven different species which have been brought back from the brink of extinction by conservation efforts: whooping cranes, wolves, bald eagles, giant Galapagos tortoises, California condors, American alligators, and American bison. for each species Castaldo examines the causes that led to the near-extinction and the actions that have helped bring the species back from the brink. 

The book strikes such a hopeful tone by the time I finished reading it I was ready to shout hooray. Young readers will feel the same way, I am sure, and will want to involve themselves in many of the activities listed in the Call to Action chapter. We are reminded that though these animals are doing better, there is still much to be done to ensure that they are safe from extinction. I am a big fan of this book and I hope it finds its way onto all middle school/junior high library shelves and that it is widely read. The book reminded me of a video I saw several years ago about the benefits to Yellowstone National Park after the reintroduction of gray wolves in 1995. Take a look. It is very inspiring.

I am having a grand time reading so many nonfiction books. I hope my reviews encourage you to pick up a nonfiction book, even one you think you aren't interested in, just to learn something new today.


  1. You are getting to read such great books for the CYBILS! I can especially see kids gravitating toward the first book.

  2. That animal book intrigues me. In fact, I've been looking up some of those critters. :) Once you come up from under the books, let's have coffee!! xoxo

    1. I can drink coffee and still review books. Want to drive out to Eatonville again? Tuesdays is my day.


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