"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=========

Saturday, October 28, 2023

New Children's Nonfiction Books --- first batch of reviews

As a Round 2 judge for the Cybils Nonfiction Awards I will spend January and February reviewing the finalists in three categories: Children's; Middle-Grade; and High School. That might mean I have to read as few as 15 books during the first month and a half of 2024 and as many at 21. That may sound like a lot of books to most of you but consider what the Round 1 judges face. This year there are 121 submissions in the Children's Nonfiction category alone. That is a huge job for any judges trying to tackle that job and make a fair estimation of each one. I decided I'd try to lend a hand by reviewing as many of the books as I can and linking my reviews, giving voice to my thoughts about each one.  Afterall, what are book awards for if not for an opportunity to showcase excellent examples by categories. As a retired librarian I also understand the value of naming exemplary books for awards and also of the power of book reviews. I couldn't read every book I purchased for my library so I had to rely on lists of award books from the ALA, National Book Award, Carnegie Awards, etc. and I devoured others' book reviews to inform my decisions before purchasing books.

With this introduction, I begin today by reviewing my first batch of new nonfiction children's books. I had the help of an actual child, my six-year-old grandson, for three of them. I will include his insights and reactions when appropriate.

Flipflopi: How a Boat Made From Flip-Flops Is Helping Save the Ocean
by Linda Ravin Lodding and Dipesh Pabari, illustrated by Michael Machira Mwangi (Beaming Books, Minneapolis. March 2023) 

Juma and his grandfather, Babu Ali, want to go fishing. But when they get to the beach they are overwhelmed by the vast numbers of floating plastics, including colorful flip-flops, polluting their Kenyan beach. Instead of getting discouraged, Babu Ali suggests that they collect the plastics and he will make what they recover into a boat. They get help from their friends and neighbors, finally collection over 7 tons of plastic garbage before the construction process can begin.

This timely books gives a few details of how this dhow book was constructed-- melting down the plastic debris and shaping it as one would shape wood; creating a lattice of old flip-flops for the boat's skin; and lately creating a sail out of old water bottles. When this Flipflopi boat launched in 2018, it did so to a lot of fanfare and has been useful in bringing attention to the problems of plastic pollution in the oceans. Now there are efforts underway to build a bigger boat, one capable for traveling all around the world to carry the message of how dangerous plastic pollution is and how we can make a difference by avoiding single-use plastics whenever possible.

What I liked about the book:
  • The dialogue and the illustrations aided in understanding the scope of the problem and the beauty of the completed boat. The illustrator is from Kenya and is self taught. I'm impressed.
  • My grandson and I discussed how we can help and what we are doing right as we reviewed the 'How You Can Help' page.
  • This book covers a timely/urgent topic related to climate change and saving our planet. I urge elementary librarians to add this book to your collection.
My rating: 4 stars.

All Rise: The Story of Ketanji Brown Jackson
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ashley Evans. (Crown Books for Young Readers, New York. Feb. 28, 2023)

Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, is an inspiration and role model to children of all ages. Carole Boston Weatherford tells her story of perseverance, dignity, and honor in this uplifting picture book biography. Ketanji Brown’s parents taught her that if she worked hard and believed in herself, she could do anything. As a child, Ketanji focused on her studies and excelled, eventually graduating from Harvard Law School. 

Years later, in 2016, when she was a federal judge, a seat opened on the United States Supreme Court. In a letter to then-President Barack Obama, Leila Jackson made a case for her mother—Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Although the timing didn’t work out then, it did in 2022, when President Joe Biden nominated her. At her confirmation, Ketanji Brown Jackson became the first Black female Supreme Court justice in the United States.

What I liked about the book:
  • I am such a fan of Ketanji Brown Jackson and I was glad to learn new information about her early life, a life of persistence and dedication.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations by Ashley Evans.
  • I often wonder who checks out books like this. I'm hoping it is parents wanting to inspire their children to do well in school so they can obtain their goals.
My rating: 4 stars.

Battle of the Brains: The Science Behind Animal Minds by Jocelyn Rish, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester. (PR Kids, Philadelphia. Nov. 8, 2022)

Battle of the Brains encourages readers to think of animals and their amazingly smart brains. It also challenges young readers to compare and contrast the various ways that animals show us how smart they are. Some can count and add/subtract. Others use tools or solve complex problems. Some have long memories while others can learn language, even speaking. I was especially interested in the examples that used research to prove the points. For example: scientists tested ravens to see if they understand addition. They put five pieces of food under cup A and three under cup B. In front of the raven, they added four more pieces under cup B. could the bird add? You bet, they chose Cup B. Another example was about the long memories of elephants who rejoiced when they were reunited with another elephant after a twenty-seven year absence.

What I liked about the book:
  • Each of the smart animals that were highlighted -- parrots, rats, elephants, dogs, ravens, dolphins, octopuses, Portia jumping spiders, pigs, and chimpanzees -- showed off their smarts in different ways. I found it impossible to pick a most smart animal.
  • The book is funny and inviting.
  • Though this is a child's book it is designed to be read to children or for older kids who are strong readers. I wish I'd read some of it to my grandson to see how he interacted with the book. I bet he would have found it fascinating.
My rating: 4.5 stars

Meet the Megafauna!: Get to Know 20 of the Largest Animals to Ever Roam the Earth
by Gabrielle Balkan, illustrated by Quang and Lien (Workman Publishing, New York. June 2023)

My grandson is a little scientist. He especially likes to learn about animals of all types. Ask him a question about bats, spiders, crocodiles, kangaroos and he will know something. I knew this book would be right up his alley and I was right. We spent several hours yesterday digesting what we learned about these ginormous animals, the biggest to ever walk the earth after the extinction of dinosaurs. I bet if he owned the book, he'd learn the details of these giants by heart. Every library that has a children's collection, needs a copy of this book and should expect it to be checked out all the time by the little Ian's out there.

Each of the twenty animals are identified by the last time they were seen on earth. Only three-- African Elephants, Giraffes, and Blue Whales -- are not extinct (yet!?) A textbook includes quick facts about the animal: scientific name, time period and active years, places on earth they lived, length, height, weight, and modern relative. The story text puts the animal into context of what life may have been like for them, what they hunted, why they may have become extinct. Oh boy, Ian gobbled up all of these details.

What I liked about the book:
  • It was so interesting and engaging.
  • It ignited Ian's imagination and fed his thirst for information about new animals. We spent hours with the book and he didn't flag in terms of interest, though he did want me to speed through the animals he already knew about (elephants and giraffes.)

My rating: 5 stars

A Llama is Not An Alpaca: And Other Mistaken Animal Identities by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Lorna Scobie. (RP Kids, Philadelphia. January 1, 2023)

Combining scientific facts with the art of poetry, this is a humorous and educational picture book about animals that look alike. How do you tell a llama from an alpaca, an alligator from a crocodile, or a dolphin from a porpoise? The animal kingdom is full of creatures that look so similar to others that they are often confused for each other.  A Llama Is Not an Alpaca  pairs rhyming animal riddles with factual responses to both teach and engage young readers as they compare and contrast features of commonly misidentified animals. Ian and I digested this delightful children's book in less than ten minutes. It engaged Ian but we were both glad it was a quick read.

What I liked about the book:
  • The text is short and the illustrations are humorous. 
  • We played a guessing game and Ian was invested in the answers.

My rating: 4 stars.


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