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    B Is for Biographies

    Jennifer W. Shettel
     | Oct 16, 2017

    B is for biographies! Readers will learn about the lives and works of both well-known historical figures, such as Marie Curie and Jackie Robinson, and lesser known people, such as John Deere and Sophie Blanchard, in the recently published books reviewed this week. Fascinating stories of accomplishments, at times of hardships and discrimination, abound in this bunch of biographies.

    Ages 4–8

    Alexander Graham Bell Answers the Call. Mary Ann Fraser. 2017. Charlesbridge.

    Alexander Graham Bells Answer the Call Fraser’s picture book biography of Alexander (“Aleck”) Graham Bell (1847–1922) begins with his childhood in Scotland and how he became interested in the science of sound. Bell’s mother was partially deaf, and his father was a speech therapist. Throughout his life, Bell experimented with sound, eventually partnering with Thomas Watson on his famous invention, the telephone.  Lively cartoon-style multimedia illustrations complement the accessible text. Text boxes inserted throughout the book give readers short bursts of related information. Back matter includes information about Bell’s many inventions, a timeline, and a note from the author on her inspiration for writing a biography of Bell and using a photographic collage technique in the illustrations. Fascinating photographs on the endpapers provide a visual timeline of the evolution of the telephone from 1876–1989.

    John Deere, That’s Who! Tracey Nelson Maurer. Ill. Tim Zeltner. 2017. Henry Holt.

    John Deer, That's WhoDid you know that John Deere did not invent the big green tractors that many people associate with his name? It’s true. This biography introduces young readers to John Deere (1804–1886), the young blacksmith who invented a new type of steel plow that could handle the thick, sticky soil of Illinois fields. Illustrations, rendered with acrylic paint on plywood, evoke an old-fashioned feel to this biographical account of the inventor and manufacturer. Back matter includes a glossary, a list of facts about John Deere and the manufacturing company that bears his name, a detailed bibliography, and acknowledgments from the author.

    Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot. Matthew Clark Smith. Ill. Matt Tavares. 2017. Candlewick.

    Lighter Than AirIn this picture book biography, readers learn about the life and dreams of Sophie Blanchard (1778–1819), a French woman who was married to famous balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard. She yearned to go up into the air by herself and did so, becoming the first female to pilot a hot-air balloon in 1805. Later she was named chief air minister of ballooning by Emperor Napoleon. Ink-and-watercolor illustrations depict each scene in fine-line, colorful detail. Back matter includes brief notes from the author and the illustrator and a list of selected sources.

    Long-Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics. Jean L. S. Patrick. Ill. Adam Gustavson. 2017. Charlesbridge.

    Long Armed LudyLucille “Ludy” Godbold (1900–1981) was born in South Carolina, at a time when women were not permitted to do many of the things that men could do, including participate in the Olympics. However, Ludy was selected as one of fifteen American women to participate in the 1922 Women’s World Games, the “First Women’s Olympics,” a world-class event organized by Alice Milliat of France.  Ludy went on to become a world-champion athlete who excelled in many events including the shot put, which is the featured event in this picture book biography.  Bright and whimsical oil paintings capture the time period and depict Ludy as the tall and lanky athlete she was. Back matter includes an author’s note and two photographs of Ludy Godbold.

    Marie Curie (Little People, Big Dreams). Isabel Sánchez Vegara. Trans. Emma Martinez. Ill. Frau Isa. 2017. Frances Lincoln.

    Marie CurieThis picture book biography gives young readers a sense of the accomplishments of Marie Curie (1867–1934), the scientist who discovered radium and polonium and is the only female to win two Nobel Prizes, one for physics and one for chemistry. Spare text and colorful stylized illustrations offer a child-friendly inspiring account of how Curie, who as a young child declared her determination “to be a scientist, not a princess,” overcame much discrimination, as many people believed that women should not be educated—especially in the field of science—in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Back matter includes a timeline of Marie’s life, photographs, and an author’s note with more details of Curie’s life and work.

    Ages 9–11

    Newton’s Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist. Kathryn Lasky. Ill. Kevin Hawkes. 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Newton's RainbowThis illustrated biography of Isaac Newton (1642–-1727) gives a detailed account of his early life as a curious but not-so-good student and, later, as a college scholar. Lasky addresses the legendary apple-falling story related to Newton’s explanation of the forces of motion and gravity as well as his other contributions to science, including the “secret” of the rainbow— the discovery that white light is actually made of colors. Ink-and-watercolor paintings add interesting details for younger readers. A bibliography is included.

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality. Jonah Winter. Ill. Stacy Innerst. 2017. Abrams.

    Ruth Bader GinsburgThis picture book biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R.B.G.), who was born in Brooklyn in 1933, begins with her childhood as a determined young girl who refused to be daunted by discrimination for either her religion or gender. The text opens with readers being asked to serve as the jury in “the Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality.” Presentation of the facts of the case include “exhibits” of how R.B.G. pursued her dream of going to law school and overcame obstacles to have a successful legal career, eventually becoming the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court. The muted tones of the illustrations, rendered in gouache, ink, and Photoshop, complement the text. Back matter includes a glossary and an author’s note.

    Ages 12–14

    42 Is Not Just a Number: The Odyssey of Jackie Robinson, American Hero. Doreen Rappaport. 2017. Candlewick.

    42 is Not Just a NumberJackie Robinson (1919–1972), one of the best baseball players in history, is most remembered as the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball when he took the field as first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This biography covers Robinson’s early years, beginning when Jackie was eight years old and one of five siblings being raised by his mother in California. Jackie’s baseball career began in the Negro Leagues in 1945. He was recruited the next year by Brooklyn Dodgers Manager Branch Rickey, who envisioned Jackie and another player becoming the first African Americans to play on a major league team. The road to this eventual victory was not easy, as Jackie faced seemingly insurmountable challenges along the way. Today he is viewed as an American hero for his brave stance against discrimination. Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline, extensive source notes providing details to support the quotes and statements in each chapter, a selected bibliography, additional resources, and an index.  

    Jack London and the Klondike Gold Rush. Peter Lourie. Ill. Wendell Minor. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Jack LondonMost people know Jack London (1876–1916) as the author of Call of the Wild, one of the most well-known animal adventure stories of all time. But people might not know that London got the inspiration for that story—and many others that he wrote—from his time as an adventure-seeker during the Alaskan Gold Rush of 1897. London helped his financially struggling family by joining thousands of others hoping to “strike it rich” in the Klondike. Jack and the men in his group had to carry their own gear and traverse over 600 miles, most of it by walking. The journey was long and arduous, and many men died along the way. London spent two years in Alaska mining for gold, but was largely unsuccessful and had to leave the wilderness to be treated for scurvy.  Instead of gold nuggets, London found the nuggets for stories, and would eventually go on to publish several books, many short stories, and articles based on his days in the Klondike. Back matter includes an afterword, notes from the author, notable places, London’s writings, an illustrated timeline, a glossary, a bibliography and sources, and an index. Minor’s expressive black-and-white illustrations and captioned archival photographs provide additional historical context.

    Ages 15+

    Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism. Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Eyes of the WorldIn this well-researched and meticulously documented biography, readers learn about husband-and-wife photography team Robert Capa (1913–1954) and Gerda Taro (1910–1937). Capa and Taro are recognized as pioneers in photojournalism for their outstanding photographing of modern warfare during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Later, Capa would capture some of the most iconic scenes from the World War II D-Day invasion in 1944. This biography is told with photos, primary source documents, and text that fully immerses the reader in the time period in which Capa and Taro lived. Back matter includes a “cast of characters” providing further information on key people, a timeline, chapter-by-chapter notes, a list of web resources, and an index. Additionally, Aronson and Budhos discuss their collaboration on this project which was an important endeavor for them.

    Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers.  Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    Debut Authors

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Oct 09, 2017

    Just as some sports identify rookies of the year, bibliophiles are excited to discover authors or illustrators whose debut literary works promise a bright future in the world of children’s and young adult literature. This week’s column includes reviews of some of my favorite books by debut authors of 2017.

    Ages 4–8

    City Moon. Rachael Cole. Ill. Blanca Gómez. 2017. Schwartz & Wade/Random House.

    City MoonOn a fall evening, a young boy and his mother go for a walk. Determined to see the moon (no easy feat in a city with tall buildings that block out the sky), he spots it in different places, even seeing its reflection in a puddle. It's almost as though the shiny orb is playing a game of hide-and-seek with them. Returning home, the boy chooses to sleep with his curtains drawn back so he can keep watching for the moon. The digitally-created illustrations handsomely depict the pair strolling hand in hand in search of the elusive moon and contain eye-catching details of the city landscape and the boy’s bedroom. Cole’s debut picture book describes perfectly the curious boy and his mother’s evening walk looking for the moon in their city neighborhood.

    Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan. Ill. Grace Zong. 2017. Peachtree.

    Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3Although students might not believe it, eventually even teachers who love their jobs must say goodbye. In McLellan’s debut picture book, the dedicated Mrs. McBee finishes her last day of teaching on the final day of the school year. A consummate teacher, Mrs. McBee delivers one more lesson to her students through reminders that each one of them made the classroom special. Simple, straightforward text and expressive illustrations show how Mrs. McBee and her students find different ways of coping with change and saying farewell.

    My Grandpa’s Chair. Jiyeon Pak. 2017. Knopf/Random House.

    My Grandpa's ChairJulie's grandfather seems to have lost his zest for life and can’t even sit comfortably on his favorite couch. She takes him chair shopping, but he is unable to find anything that meets his needs in the store and decides to have one custom made. As it turns out, he’s so worried about his new chair being damaged that he puts it away instead of using it. Eventually, Julie finds the ideal sitting place for Grandpa—a tree stump in the park where there's room for him, his dog, Mimi, and her. The color-drenched, richly-detailed illustrations reveal a possible reason for Grandpa’s inability to find a happy place to sit. One of the family portraits hanging on the wall in the opening pages shows him and his wife, who does not appear elsewhere in the book. Presumably, it’s his loneliness not the chair that is the problem. This is a touching intergenerational story from a debut author-illustrator originally from South Korea.

    Ages 9–11

    Almost Paradise. Corabel Shofner. 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    Almost ParadiseTwelve-year-old Ruby Clyde Henderson is keenly aware of her mother’s inability to make good choices. A case in point is her current boyfriend, Carl—dubbed the Catfish by Ruby Clyde—who robs a convenience store while they are heading to a new home, resulting in the arrest of him and her mother. Ruby Clyde and Bunny, her pet pig, make their way to her mother's estranged twin sister, Eleanor, who lives on an orchard in the Texas Hill Country. Even though she loves her solitary ways, Eleanor takes in Ruby Clyde. Ruby Clyde is guaranteed to steal her way into readers' hearts just as surely as she does into the hearts of Eleanor and her mother's attorney, Joe Brewer. This is a superbly-crafted debut novel, which also will have readers reaching for copies of Charles Dickens' books, especially Oliver Twist, to reread some of his immortal lines. In the end, Ruby Clyde decides she’s had enough adventure to last her a lifetime.

    Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus versos por la libertad. Emma Othegay. Ill. Beatriz Vidal. Spanish trans. Adriana Dominguez. 2017. Children’s Book Press/Lee & Low.

    Marti's Song for FreedomThis bilingual picture book offers an introduction to Cuban freedom fighter and social activist José Martí (18531895). Troubled by the injustices he saw in Cuba, including slavery, Martí began writing social commentary calling for the Spanish conquerors to account for their actions. He was arrested, sentenced to hard labor in a quarry, and then exiled from his beloved island. Eventually settling in New York City, he continued to write about politics and social justice. Martí’s inspiring story is told through verses that include excerpts from his writings, offering glimpses into the life of someone determined to fight for social justice no matter the personal cost. Vidal’s beautiful gouache illustrations pay tribute to this man of words and deeds and his love of the natural world. Back matter includes an afterword, an author’s note, excerpts from Martí’s Versos Sencillos, and a selected bibliography.

    Take a Picture of Me, James VanDer Zee! Andrea J. Loney. Ill. Keith Mallett. 2017. Lee & Low. 

    Take a Picture of MeLively text and expressive acrylic illustrations bring the Harlem Renaissance to life in this engaging biography of African American James VanDer Zee (18861993), a self-taught photographer. VanDer Zee grew up in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed music and art. When he turned to photography, his work became all the rage since he captured the essence of his subjects, retouching the photographs to make them more attractive and often using backgrounds, props, and clothing to enhance the images of those who visited his shop. As times changed, VanDer Zee's services were no longer in demand since almost everyone owned cameras. VanDer Zee’s photography was featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Harlem on My Mind exhibit in 1969, bringing a renewed attention to his work. The afterword of this Lee & Low New Voices Award picture book showcases some of VanDer Zee’s work and provides an example of how retouching a portrait of a woman showed her in a more flattering light.

    Ages 12–14

    The Epic Crush of Genie Lo. F. C. Yee. 2017. Abrams.

    The Epic CrushJunior Genie Lo attends a competitive San Francisco Bay Area high school where most of her classmates study hard and dream of leaving the area. Genie plays volleyball and is heavily involved with extracurricular activities to make herself a more attractive candidate for colleges. When a strange new student, Quentin, arrives, Genie can hardly believe that he is the Monkey King of Chinese folklore and is looking for her. Readers will enjoy watching the relationship between the two of them develop as well as seeing Genie gain confidence, sort out her priorities, deal with her mother and father, and fight off the demons that are suddenly plaguing her California suburb. Fast-paced action is offset with moments of introspection as Genie is forced to decide what matters most. Ultimately, Genie epitomizes the type of kick-ass heroine promised by the book’s cover—one who uses her wits and brawn in her battles.

    Viva, Rose! 2017. Susan Krawitz. 2017. Holiday House.

    Viva, Rose!Set in El Paso, Texas, in 1915, this story follows the adventures of a most unlikely heroine: 13-year-old Rose Solomon. When Rose sees a photograph of her beloved brother Abraham in the local newspaper alongside Pancho Villa, she realizes that something is fishy and her brother is not where their parents think he is. Her plan to send a letter to him is thwarted, and Rose is kidnapped and taken to the revolutionary leader's camp where she comes to the attention of Villa’s spoiled daughter, Dorotea, who chooses Rose as her playmate. Judging by how the girl treats her dog, Pico, readers will be worried for outspoken Rose. Once Rose is reunited with her brother, she learns that he is playing a dangerous game that could cost him his life. Rose manages to pull off her escape, and returns home a stronger, wiser person.

    Ages 15+

    The Hate U Give. Angie Thomas. 2017. Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins.

    The Hate U GiveAlthough 16-year-old Starr Carter still lives in Garden Heights, where her father runs a small grocery store, she feels disconnected from her former classmates because her parents have opted to send her to a prep school in the suburbs instead of the local public high school. Starr hides part of her identity from her new friends, including a white boyfriend, and she works hard to keep her two worlds from colliding. When she and a long-time friend Khalil run into each other at a neighborhood party and go for a ride, a police officer shoots him right in front of her. Starr must find the courage to tell the truth about what happened and defend her friend's character, no matter what the cost may be to her or her family. Delivering a knock-out punch concerning social justice while simultaneously exploring identity, race, prejudice, and family, Thomas’s debut novel paints an emotionally-riveting portrait of what it can be like to be African American in this country. At the novel’s conclusion, readers will surely be emotionally wrung out but hopeful, having come to care deeply about many of the characters.

    A List of Cages. Robin Roe. 2017. Hyperion.

    A List of CagesSenior Adam Blake faces plenty of challenges due to his ADHD, but he's coping well. When he starts working as an aide to the school psychologist, Dr. Whitlock, he realizes that a student whose absentees concern the psychologist is Julian, his former foster brother. The boys reconnect, and Adam realizes that he had no idea just how much Julian has had to endure or the lengths to which his Uncle Russell will go to keep what happens at home a secret. This is a haunting, unforgettable debut novel featuring two characters with abundant courage and resilience. Readers will follow the hints that something is awry from the opening pages, but will be unable to imagine just how wrong things are.

    What I Lost. Alexandra Ballard. 2017. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    What I LostSixteen-year-old Elizabeth Barnes has reached her goal of losing 40 pounds, but her body image is out of whack. She still thinks her skeletal frame is covered with fat. As the book begins, Elizabeth is being admitted to a treatment facility for girls with eating disorders, but she has no plans to get well or gain weight. Instead, she figures she’ll eat just enough to be released, and then return to her old habits. Through therapy, soul-searching, and constant monitoring of her food intake by the staff, Elizabeth comes to realize all that she has lost through her self-destructive behavior. In the end, Elizabeth must save herself, bite by bite and meal by meal. Through making healthier choices and no longer dropping pounds, she finds her true self.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school, as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications and a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    War and Conflicts

    Barbara A. Ward
     | Oct 02, 2017

    Violent conflicts occur around the globe every day. History shows how small disagreements often erupt into larger conflicts that can morph into wars. Wars have long-lasting effects on the environment as well as civilians and the troops who fight in them. This week’s column features books that explore some of those wars and conflicts.

    Ages 48

    Flowers for Sarajevo. John McCutcheon. Ill. Kristy Caldwell. 2017. Peachtree.

    Flowers for SarajevoAlthough Drasko is amazed by his father’s ability to identify the best roses by smell, he is unsure about his generosity, even including giving flowers to a grumpy street vendor. When his father joins the country’s military force, leaving Drasko in charge of their flower stand, the other merchants force him into a less favorable spot in the marketplace. After an explosion kills 22 citizens standing in line waiting to buy bread, the town square becomes deserted. Drasko vows to do his part to restore the city and extends an act of kindness toward Goran, that grumpy merchant. Created in ink, charcoal, graphite pencil, and Adobe Photoshop, the illustrations focus on the city's beauty and resilience. Back matter includes maps of the Balkan region and notes on events in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, which inspired this story set in 1992. The accompanying CD includes a narration by McCutcheon of his story and Albinoni’s “Adagio,” played by Vedran Smailovic, the cellist in the story.

    Where Will I Live? Rosemary McCarney. 2017. Second Story.

    Where Will I LiveOften, conflict and war within a country or across its borders force its inhabitants to leave their familiar world. Finding a new home isn’t easy. This photo essay contains 24 large portraits of children who are uncertain where they will spend each day and night.  After describing the various reasons why and how these children and their families fled their homelands, the author poses a series of questions that these children might ask. Still, humans are surprisingly self-sufficient, as shown by their temporary dwelling places that function as homes—tents, the space beneath a staircase, or even a shelter created by using carpeting for walls and a ceiling. Because the children are from various countries, young readers will recognize that homelessness is a worldwide issue. The photos also portray the resilience of children as they show them indulging in moments of play while facing an uncertain future.

    Ages 911

    Army Brats. Daphne Bendis-Grab. 2017. Scholastic.

    Army BratsAfter moving to Fort Patrick with their rescue dog, Cupcake, the Bailey family finds that living on the base is a very different experience from life as civilians. Although Tom, Charlotte, and Rosie are free to move around as they please in the base’s protected environment, the disappearance of several dogs seems to point to possible danger and to a mystery that needs to be solved. In addition, the siblings are dealing with personal problems—Tom is miserable after the class bully calls him Sergeant Wimpy; Charlotte fails to realize that her new friends are interested only in gossiping and denigrating others; and the youngest sibling, Rosie, is challenged by a headstrong need to have her own way all the time. Although the adults in their lives are nearby, they allow the youngsters to solve their problems on their own. The author capably captures life on a military base in the United States for the Bailey family.

    Ages 1214

    Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport. Emma Carlson Berne. 2017. Capstone.

    Escaping the NazisStories about the Kindertransport, the trains that took children to freedom and out of reach of the Nazis during the Holocaust, are especially compelling. In separate narratives, told in distinct voices, seven very different children, one as young as five years old, relate their experiences of leaving behind everyone and everything that was familiar. The author includes photographs, poems, brief memoirs, and snippets of what the storytellers recollect about those frightening times and their aftermath. She also details the events that led up to each survivor’s departure, pointing out that while some of the children came from wealthy families, others were not. Many of the children never saw their families again. Although it might seem like a small number against the more than one million children who died during the Holocaust, thanks to the kindness of strangers, 10,000 Jewish children survived because of this relocation plan. Readers will ponder the enormous losses associated with this period of history after reading this accessible introduction to the Kindertransport rescues just prior to World War II.

    Genevieve’s War. Patricia Reilly Giff. 2017. Holiday House.

    Genevieve's WarAs time for her vacation in Alsace draws to a close, 13-year-old American Genevieve Michel decides to stay in the area and help her elderly grandmother, Mémé. Her impulsive decision is one she will live to regret; it is 1939 and the Germans have begun crossing over the border into France, commandeering food, supplies, and even houses. At first, there is friction between Genevieve and Mémé, but mutual respect slowly develops as they deal with Nazi occupation, hunger, and cold weather and hide a member of the Resistance from the Germans. Giff painstakingly demonstrates the difficulty of knowing who could be trusted during those troubling times. Genevieve grows enormously from her experiences during the four years she spends in Alsace during World War II.

    Two Times a Traitor. Karen Bass. 2017. Pajama Press.

    Two Times a TraitorTwelve-year-old Laz Berenger is less than thrilled about visiting Halifax with his family. He’s still angry over the family's recent move to Boston and chafing under his father's rules. While exploring on his own, Laz slips into a tunnel which sends him back in time to 1745. He quickly realizes the importance of the St. Christopher's medal he always wears, but it is no longer in his possession.  Laz is forced by English Colonists to spy on the French, with whom they are at war. However, the kindness of Commander Morapain and others in the town of Louisbourg make it hard for Laz to spy on those he considers to be his friends when he knows he will be aiding their enemies. But if he doesn’t betray them, how will he ever get back the medal he needs in order to time travel back home? While it might help readers to have some background on the time period, the author provides enough details to allow them to draw their own conclusions about the battles between the French and the English and Laz’s own personal dilemma.

    Ages 15+

    Grendel’s Guide to Love and War. A. E. Kaplan. 2017. Knopf/Random House.

    Grendel's Guide to Love and WArSeventeen-year-old Tom Grendel lives a quiet life with his father in a Southern neighborhood. His own mother died when he was nine, and his father suffers from PTSD as the result of his time spent in the military service. Tom spends his free time mowing yards, weeding gardens, and interviewing his elderly neighbors about their lives. The arrival of a rowdy and rude family that moves into the neighborhood leaves Tom feeling assaulted, mostly because the son, Rex Rothgar, throws parties and blasts loud music into the wee hours. Tom has no choice but to intervene. The battle for a quiet night's sleep is on, and Tom enlists help from some surprising allies. While this is an account of a neighborhood conflict and one boy's determination to fix things, it is also a celebration of love, loyalty, and memory and a story about how hard it is to know someone, much less yourself. Savvy readers will recognize the references to the classic Beowulf that have been woven throughout the narrative.

    To Look a Nazi in the Eye: A Teen’s Account of a War Criminal Trial. Kathy Kacer (with Jordana Lebowitz). 2017. Second Story.

    To Look a Nazi in the EyeJordana Lebowitz, a 19-year-old college student, travels from her Canadian home to the town of Luneburg, Germany, to hear testimony from Oskar Groening, a Nazi accused of being complicit in the deaths of more than 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz. Jordana feels conflicted about and sometimes even sympathetic toward Groening as she weighs his words for sincerity and regret. Jordana also listens to the testimony of Holocaust survivors and relatives of those who died in the camps, and she spends time with some of them in between days at the trial. Convinced that it is important for her to bear witness to the trial and for those responsible for all those deaths to be held accountable, Jordana blogs about her experiences. Kacer skillfully juxtaposes Jordana's blog entries, a BBC interview, and other media accounts of the trial. Readers may come away with an understanding that evil wears many faces and that it is unfair to generalize about a particular nation and its citizens. Ultimately, Jordana meets kind-hearted Germans and realizes that simply standing by and doing nothing in the face of evil is the worst crime of all, a lesson readers today might take to heart.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school, as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in Communications and a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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    The Effects of Negative News on Young People: Harnessing Literacy for Healing

    By Summer Edward
     | Sep 27, 2017

    Mother daughter readingSomeone recently told me—quite flippantly, I might add—that they view U.S. politics as a source of entertainment and escapism. While I did not agree, I understood their position. In the wake of the contentious 2016 presidential election, U.S. political news coverage has taken on a particularly charged and riveting quality—an almost surreal, movie-like dimension. Many people, both within the U.S. and beyond its borders, are engrossed by the nonstop reel of political news. But is this healthy for us? What about young people?

    It may appear that we have become desensitized to the onslaught, but studies show that watching the news raises cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in the brain, and that parents pass stress onto children through a trickle-down effect. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of direct media exposure; in a recent Common Sense Media survey, 63% of children said the news has a negative impact on their mood.

    By modeling purposeful news consumption, adults can help children practice active citizenship and become critical consumers of today’s increasingly complex technology. In the age of “fake news,” young people need tools and guidance to help them think critically about information.

    Engage in family reading time

    Family reading time builds emotional bonds and is mentally restorative. Set aside quiet, distraction-free time to allow children to immerse themselves in books. Create rituals around story time, listen to what they have to say, and prompt them to make connections between the stories in books, news stories, and the things that are happening in their own lives. Use the think-aloud strategy to model text-to-world connections (i.e., “What I just read makes me think about X event in our community/country/world.”) and help children to think about “What if this happened to us?” For an at-home reading activity, children can create a news timeline of top news stories related to books they have read. Emphasize that news reports aren’t always true, then use picturebook biographies to discuss the parts of stories that are factual and the parts that are made-up.

    Choose diverse books

    As xenophobic, sexist, racist, and homophobic rhetoric becomes increasingly commonplace, young readers need empowering, accessible books that celebrate diversity, tolerance, and social justice. The right books and stories can open doors for meaningful conversations and propel young people toward civic engagement. Teaching for Change, Horn Book Magazine, the American Library Association, and the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) all provide applicable book lists.

    Embrace community-based learning

    Reinforce book learning by providing real-life opportunities for children to act as socially engaged citizens. Activities that allow children to disconnect from their devices and connect with reality bolster their well-being and social awareness. Participating in multicultural events in the community, visiting a polling station or local community health center, or volunteering at a park clean-up project are just a few ways children can practice the civic values and cement the lessons gleaned from books.

    Young people may not understand everything that’s being discussed on the news, but they know and feel enough to be concerned. The simple act of reading, and reading regularly, can guard children against stress and support social-emotional development. Even more, books exercise the imagination, and one of the best things we can do for children, perhaps now more than ever, is help them imagine a better world, and empower them to act on that vision. 

    Summer EdwardSummer Edward is the foundress and editor-in-chief of Anansesem, a Caribbean children’s literature e-zine, a Highlights Foundation alumna, and a former judge of Africa’s Golden Baobab Prizes for children’s literature. As a teaching artist, writing tutor, mentor, workshop leader, editor, and kamishibai storyteller, she helps children understand the power of words and stories. She teaches at the University of the West Indies and lives in Trinidad and Philadelphia.

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    Adventure and Survival Stories

    By Barbara A. Ward
     | Sep 25, 2017

    Stories of adventure and survival get readers’ hearts pounding as they worry about whether the protagonist is going to make it out of a bad situation—or not. These books are hard to resist because they allow readers to live vicariously through unimaginable experiences, providing a chance to laugh in amusement or gasp in awe at the trouble in which the characters find themselves.

    Ages 4–8

    Claude on the Big Screen (Claude #7). Alex T. Smith. 2017. Peachtree.

    Claude on the Big ScreenFans of curious canine explorer Claude will happily follow him and his sidekick, Sir Bobblysock, as they set off on another adventure. This time the two check out the movie being made on Waggy Avenue. Claude’s curiosity results in the film’s stars being wrapped up in the clothesline he has been dragging around. Claude and Sir Bobblysock prevent the shutdown of the movie set by channeling their inner thespians, of course, and even rescuing one character from a rooftop. Claude's human companions are in for a big surprise when they see what he drags home. It is entertaining to watch Claude in action and to wonder what his sidekick is thinking. Absurd situations, wrapped up with a wry sense of humor, make it all silly fun.

    Out! Arree Chung. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Out!What young child doesn’t resist winding down after being put to bed? In this case, Jo Jo, the family dog, tries to entertain the little one, but the child is determined to get out of his crib. Jo Jo sticks with him as they have the time of their lives, flying down the stairs, knocking a cake from the table, devouring it, and leaving tell-tale tracks all over the house. The parents follow the tracks upstairs and find the two culprits asleep in the crib. Although Jo Jo ends up in his kennel, he might not stay there for long since the boy knows how to climb out of his crib and can open the door to the kennel. With a spare text of only a few words in dialogue balloons and full-page and paneled illustrations, created with acrylics, found paper, and Adobe Photoshop, Out! could serve as an introduction to the graphic novel format for young children, who will also enjoy predicting what mischief the pair might get into next.

    Rapunzel. Bethan Woollvin. 2017. Peachtree.

    RapunzelAs she did in Little Red (2016), Woollvin chooses one color—bright marigold yellow—as the focal point in her fractured version of this classic fairy tale with a sly message of self-empowerment. Rapunzel is no damsel in distress, and no prince is needed in this imaginative retelling. Although she has been warned by the witch not to leave the tower with the threat of a terrible curse, Rapunzel is curious about what lies beyond the tower in which she’s been imprisoned. She cunningly fashions her long locks into a ladder and explores the natural world around her, and eventually comes up with a clever plan for escaping from the witch. Readers will enjoy finding Rapunzel’s animal friends, including a bunny and a chicken, and the scissors in the illustrations, as well as the witches peeking out from behind trees on the back endpaper, which highlights the delightful happily-ever-after ending Rapunzel makes for herself.

    This Is a Book Full of Monsters. Guido van Genechten. 2017. Clavis.

    MonstersAfter warning readers about how scary the monsters in this picture book will be, van Genechten takes readers on an increasingly frightening and somewhat gross journey filled with monsters. Readers are given every chance to stop reading at any time, and there’s even a diploma to be given out to anyone who survives the book unscathed. The book is both scary and funny, primarily because of the images of the ugly monsters, some oozing with slime and others uttering horrible sounds. The story is a good way for readers to overcome some of their fears of the dark and the unknown. After all, they have survived a book full of monsters. What could possibly be worse?

    Ages 9–11

    Danger at the Dinosaur Stomping Grounds (The Wild World of Buck Bray #2). Judy Young. 2017. Sleeping Bear.

    Wild World of Buck BrayEleven-year-olds Buck Bray and Toni Shoop continue to travel with their fathers as part of a nature-themed TV reality show, The Wild World of Buck Bray. Having met at Denali National Park in Alaska, they now are exploring Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Buck is fascinated by the unique terrain of the canyons, but even more so by the dinosaur fossils nearby. To the youngsters’ dismay, the park’s pictographs have been vandalized by a most unlikely culprit. Although Buck’s impulsivity causes him to take foolish risks and make mistakes, usually his heart is in the right place. Curious-minded readers will appreciate the science snippets that introduce each chapter and are threaded through the dialogue in Buck's scripts.

    How Could We Harness a Hurricane? Vicki Cobb. Ill. Theo Cobb. 2017. Seagrass.

    HurricaneWith the arrival of hurricane season, this informational book that ponders whether humans might ever be able to stop, slow down, or even harness the hurricanes’ energy in a positive way. Complemented by colorful photographs provided by NASA and NOAA, the book imagines some possible solutions, but Cobb is careful to point out the disadvantages as well as the advantages. Readers will realize just how unlikely some of the ideas are. For instance, how much ice would a tug have to tow in order to cool an oncoming hurricane's path? The author also explains what a hurricane is and how it forms, and takes readers inside the eye of a storm. Several hands-on experiments for readers are included. The concluding section explores the role of humans in destroying the coastlines that act as barriers to hurricanes and slow them down as they approach land as well as our having built structures in vulnerable spaces. Back matter includes a glossary, a bibliography, an author’s note, and an index.

    Ages 1214

    Knife’s Edge (Four Points #2). Hope Larson. Ill. Rebecca Mock. 2017. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

    Knife's EdgePicking up right where Compass Point (2017) concluded, this graphic novel follows twelve-year-old twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge as they search for the treasure they are sure has been left for them. They hire Captain Tarboro to sail to the location and are grateful to have their adoptive father along as well. But the siblings argue over everything, and Cleo resents that only Alex gets to learn how to sail the ship. Even while things are unpleasant between the youngsters, the Dodges and their allies must keep an eye out for Felix Worley, the fierce pirate who is relentlessly seeking the same treasure. The book introduces some new characters and keeps readers on the edge of their seats as risks are taken, mistakes are made, and unwise alliances formed. There is a surprise reunion at the end, setting up more adventures. Middle school readers will be captivated by the story’s setting, its imperfect characters, and the realization that even heartless villains aren’t always without compassion.

    The Last Panther. Todd Mitchell. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

    The Last PantherIn this grim, futuristic foretelling, eleven-year-old Kiri has strong connections with animals and is sad to realize that many species now exist only in captivity. Kiri spends her days helping her conservationist father as he tests ocean waters and watches over the native species in an unnamed jungle, but she also spends time with her best friend, Paulo, and her pet rat, Snowflake. Outsiders such as Kiri's father are considered to be wallers, and their interests clash with those of fugees, the jungle’s original inhabitants. Because Kiri's deceased mother was a fugee, Kiri is given some leeway in her actions, but there have always been conflicts between both sides. Differences are exacerbated after the villagers kill a large leatherback turtle for its meat. When Kiri happens upon a rare panther with three cubs, she is determined to save them. The hopeful ending points to a way to broker a compromise when it comes to environmental issues.

    Ages 15+

    Bang. Barry Lyga. 2017. Little, Brown.

    BangFourteen-year-old Sebastian Cody has never recovered from accidentally killing his baby sister when he was four. His story is told through two different sections, one labeled "History" with details of the accident and another labeled "The Present.” Sebastian has long known that he will kill himself when he can bear the guilt no longer. His friendship with one classmate, Evan, helps stave off the demons as does his budding relationship with Aneesa, a Muslim girl whose family has recently moved into the neighborhood. While Evan is away, Sebastian and Aneesa spend the summer posting videos of Sebastian's delicious and original pizzas online, attracting followers. Sebastian vacillates between guilt and thinking he might actually have found a reason to live. Clearly, Sebastian must learn to forgive himself for something that he considers unforgiveable. Teen readers will race through the pages to see whether Sebastian decides to choose life. This is gritty territory for a young adult novel. The book may provoke conversations about trauma, healing, and forgiveness.

    Odd & True. Cat Winters. 2017. Amulet/Abrams

    Odd & TrueThis unusual tale of adventure follows Trudchen Grey and her older sister Odette. Trudchen (Tru) is living in Oregon in 1909 when her sister returns after two years' absence. During their formative years, Odette (called Od by her family) often entertained her little sister with wild tales of monsters and stories about their mother's job as a monster hunter. The girls are given to using various supernatural rituals to keep scary things at bay, but as it turns out, the monsters are nothing like what one might expect. After Od persuades Tru to leave home to hunt monsters with her, Tru learns the truth about their mother, their family, and where Od has been during the time she's been away. There is just enough mysticism and fantasy to entice readers, making them eager to spend more time with the sisters. Perhaps magic is in the eye of the beholder, talismans work if someone believes they work, and truth may be found by reading tea leaves. Then again, perhaps not.

    Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students at every grade level, from kindergarten through high school as well as several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor’s in Communications and a master’s in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.

    These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.

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