Book review: Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minutesuperhero, by Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Dorey, Martin. Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minutesuperhero. Ilus. by Tim Wesson. Candlewick, 2019. 127p. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-5362-1587-8. Ages 8-11. P7Q8

British anti-plastic campaigner Dorey has sent young people on 16 missions and 50 challenges to protect oceans by reducing the use of plastics in all parts of their lives. Points are assigned to everything young people do with an explanation at the end of the value of the totals. Dorey created his #2minutebeachclean when he found an area of his beach off Cornwell (England) “knee-deep in plastic bottles.” To explain the desperate problem of plastics in the ocean, diagrams describe varying kinds along with the history of plastic. The book is more of a call and direction for environmental actions instead of the science; a guide at the end lists organizations fighting the proliferation of plastics.

Verdict: Heavily cartooned in multi-colors starring superheroes in masks, the book is appealing and accessible. The book, made from non-plastic, is also recyclable although it’s a resource that people should keep. The main message with this practical approach is that each person can make a difference.   

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Code name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall, by Heather Demetrios

Demetrios, Heather. Code name Badass: The True Story of Virginia Hall. Atheneum, 2021. 368p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-3187-4. Ages 13+. P7Q9

Rejected by the U.S. as a World War II spy, Virginia Hall, nicknamed Dindy, joined the UK Special Operations Executive and became one of the most respected operatives during a man’s war where she worked herself up to a wireless operator of the American Office of Strategic Services, a French Army volunteer, and later a member of the CIA.  Known as the “Limping Lady of Lyon,” she had lost her leg below the knee and carried out all her duties, including a two-day, 50-mile hike across the Pyrenees in the snow on a wooden leg and aluminum foot. Hall’s life, spanning most of the 20th century, began in privilege a private schools and trips to Europe where she learned French, German, and Italian and ended with her CIA work. Self-trained, Hall’s escapes from dangerous situations comes from her ability to be invisible—something most women have been in history—and her professionalism. During the war, she fought against Klaus Barbie, the German Nazi “Butcher of Lyon” who tortured and killed over 14,000 Jews and members of the French Resistance, but remained noncommittal when the CIA employed Klaus after the war when he lived in Bolivia. Demetrios tells Hall’s extremely well-researched story in colloquial, often very salty language, expressing Hall’s adventures with combined, flippancy, snark, and affection. End material includes information about the author’s research, list of code names, female espionage “sheroes of WWII,” bibliography, extensive end notes, and an index. Black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the book allow visualizing of major figures.

Verdict: The rich sources of this biography about a lesser-known woman include interviews with her family, and Demetrios’ breezy language makes this biography eminently readable. She also points out the racism, sexism, and ableism during a white male-centric century. Black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the book allow visualizing of major figures.

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Memory Super-Powers!: An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don’t Want to Forget, by Nelson Dellis, illustrated by Steph Stilwell

Dellis, Nelson. Memory Super-Powers!: An Adventurous Guide to Remembering What You Don’t Want to Forget. Illus. by Steph Stilwell. Abrams, 2020. 207p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-4197-3187-7. Ages 10-12. P5Q5

The author, four-time winner of the U.S. Memory Championship, is inviting young readers to use his method of mnemonics to join him into being a memory holder. He begins by creating a Memory Thief at the top of the mythical Mount Foreverest and explains that the reader will set out to explore the world, following a blue elephant, to reach the summit of the “mountain of remembering forever.” The book’s nine chapters include sections on remembering foreign words, names and faces, spellings and definitions, the periodic tables, multiplication tables, passwords, and poems and speeches. The last chapter provides a few useful improvements to memory such as enough sleep, good nutrition, exercise, and relaxation. Techniques include Story Method, Peg Method, and Number-Rhyme System. 

Verdict: The illustrations and text are cute and enthusiastic, and the systems may have worked for Dellis. Solutions to remember, however, might seem unnecessarily complicated. For example, the way to remember that chromium is one of the 26 elements on the periodic table, memorize it equals “a Xmas reindeer using a chrome bumper to pick his teeth.” In the multiplication table, remember that 6 X 7 = 42 by recalling that “6 is a golf club and a 7 is a boomerang.” Dellis directs the reader to hit the boomerang across the field with the golf club so that “it lands on a sailboat ® that has a swan (2) as a captain.” Entertaining but perhaps not practical for all.  

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Ms. Gloria Steinem: A Life, by Winifred Conkling

Conkling, Winifred. Ms. Gloria Steinem: A Life. Feiwel and Friends, 2020. 311p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-250-24457-4. Ages 12+. P5Q9

And what a life it has been! From a life of childhood poverty and deprivation while caring for her mentally ill mother after her parents’ divorce, the jewel of American feminism, now 87 years old, went from a model and freelance writer through changing the lives of women in the United States, even earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The theme of marriage pervades this biography beginning in the first chapter when the 22-year-old contemplated marriage to a man seven years older. Her decision against it after long thought gave her the opportunity to form her own life as she wanted. Considering herself a “humanist” rather than a “feminist” until she was 34, she came to realize an oppression because of her gender, an understanding that led to her co-founding Ms. Magazine which has endured for almost 50 years.

Verdict: Complaints from Steinem aficionados might focus on the lack of depth, but those less familiar with Steinem will benefit from this overview of an icon in U.S. culture as well as gain an understanding of changes in social justice and intersectionality during her lifetime. Many of these shifts came from Steinem’s work. Back material includes a timeline of her life and the nation’s feminist events, a “Who’s Who,” source notes, bibliography, and an index. An excellent window for young people into the privileges they have compared to their mothers and grandmothers.

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees, by Dana L. Church

Church, Dana L. The Beekeepers: How Humans Changed the World of Bumble Bees. Scholastic, 2021. 308 p. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-338-56554-6. Ages 13+. P4Q8

In her debut book, scientist Dana Church uses her work on a Ph.D. for this extensive examination of bumble bees beginning with 34 million years ago. Topics of the book include their life cycle, foraging habits, invasive and predatory natures, migration, relationship to honeybees, endangering pesticides, and importance to ecosystems as well as human impact on the species. Footnotes are within the text, and end material includes a glossary, 19 pages of references, photo credits, and an index.

Verdict: The technical aspects and length of the book make the age of the audience questionable. Bee aficionados will appreciate the informational book which feels like a long scientific article, but others may find it dry despite an attempt to liven it up with anecdotes. Small black and white photos make different species difficult to delineate.

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote, by Veronica Chambers and the Staff of the New York Times

Chambers, Veronica and the Staff of the New York Times. Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote. Versify/Houghton Mifflin, 2020. 132p. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-358-40830-7. Ages 10-13. P6Q8

For many years, books for youth about women’s suffrage focused on two white women, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; now a group of female journalists have written and illustrated a collection about women from diverse minority backgrounds—Native American, Black, Latina, Asian, and queer—and their contributions. The first chapter focuses on the matrilinear Haudenosaunee Confederacy, site of the Seneca Falls convention sometimes described as the beginning of women’s rights in the U.S. Quotations in colorful banners intersperse with the text, and artwork includes symbolic flowers and plants. An illustrator’s note at the end explains the meaning of specific design—hope, perseverance, knowledge, justice, strength, healing, etc.

Verdict: The informational book has a quiet richness in both illustration and text, demonstrating the struggle of women for over seven decades to win the right to vote, women who didn’t stop despite the fact that many racially minority females would not be included in the 1920 Constitutional Amendment. It should be included in all libraries.

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General, by Joseph Bruchac

Bruchac, Joseph. One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General. Abrams, 2020. 242 p. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-4197-4657-4. Ages 10-13. P5Q8

Scholar, translator, lawyer, engineer, diplomat, and U.S. Army officer, Parker straddled two worlds during the 19th century between his Iroquois tribal leadership and his White relationships, personal and professional. Born in 1828, Parker was educated by Baptist missionaries and learned English, giving him the opportunity to translate for tribal members in negotiating with the federal government. His friendships led him to run the Department of Indian Affairs and make a fortune in the stock market. He saved the life of Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War and wrote the final transcript of the surrender agreement at Appomattox. Beyond biographical information, Abenaki author Bruchac describes the complexities of the Native American culture, racism, and importance of citizen militia during the times. Visuals includes archival photographs, drawings, and maps; the border design and other motifs are from beadwork and basket weaving patterns found in Native American museums. Incorporated in the author’s prose are quotes from Parker’s autobiography. A concluding five-page timeline makes an excellent summary for one and half century of history.

Verdict: A bonus to this biography is the research packed into a slim volume so heavily illustrated that the book is highly accessible. Readers unaware of the bigotry toward Native Americans will learn about limited opportunities for Native Americans who were even banned from voting until 1924 and how their land was stolen without any move to stop it by the government. Bruchac stresses Parker’s loyalty to his people and willingness to sacrifice for his tribe’s benefit. The author also gives a much kinder view of General and President Grant. This book is a must purchase.

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Whose Right Is It?: The Second Amendment and the Fight over Guns, by Hana Bajramovic

Bajramovic, Hana. Whose Right Is It?: The Second Amendment and the Fight over Guns. Holt, 2020. 244 p. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-250-22425-5. Ages 12+. P5Q9

The Second Amendment, covering the permission of people to “carry arms” has a history going back to England’s Glorious Revolution in 1688 which caused the development of the nation’s Bill of Rights. The nonfiction book’s author follows the evolution of gun rights—and gun control—from that time through the influence on the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights amendment to “keep and bear Arms.” Since that time, the U.S. has a record of gun-ownership restriction because the amendment connects gun ownership to a “well regulated militia” until the Supreme Court reversed that position in 2008. Because of the amendment’s ambiguity, groups have used it for greed, power, and/or systemic racism; i.e., the laws restricting gun ownership after the Black Panthers were seen carrying them in public places. Other histories in the book are of gun manufacturing and the National Rifle Association, which morphed from an educational group into a political one. The book also includes a discussion guide, bibliography, and index.

Verdict: Clear, accessible language explains concepts with black and white charts, photographs, and painting reproductions. Although the content might be accused of bias by people searching for unfettered purchase, possession, and carrying of any guns, the narrative is factual with over 800 endnotes providing sources.

Informational books, 2020-2021, review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A House, by Kevin Henkes.

Henkes, Kevin. A House. Greenwillow Books, 2021. Unpaged. $18.99. ISBN: 9780063092600. Ages 3-6. P8Q8

Simple questions and descriptions invite the reader and listener to identify specifics in illustrations of a house with a door, roof, chimney and window as the days and seasons change and a family makes It a home. Each new full page illustration has a simple statement on the facing page, “A house,” “A house in the rain,” “A house in the snow” and a similar illustration on the next 2-page spread with facing text that asks questions of the reader/listener, such as “Where is the moon?,” “Where are the clouds; which one is smallest?,” “What are they doing?.”  The interactive reading/response teaches shapes, time, weather, and close observation as it encourages close interactions between the reader and listener.

Verdict: According to an ALA press release announcing the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) honoring Kevin Henkes with the 2020 Children’s Literature Legacy Award, his “award-winning works include Kitten’s First Full Moon which won the Caldecott Award in 2005 and The Year of Billy Miller, recipient of a Newbery Honor in 2014. In addition, Henkes has received two Geisel honors, two Caldecott honors, and a second Newbery honor.” Henkes’s Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse (Greenwillow Books, 1996) has been a long-time favorite of young reader. Mr. Henkes has a fabulous body of work and his place as an influential author and illustrator is assured.

And so, I am puzzled by the fact that my first impression of A House was that the illustrations looked very similar to those of the late author/illustrator Tomie dePaola in his Strega Nona books. It is not unusual for illustrators to honor other illustrators in this way. I was surprised not to find a dedication nor afterword nor any mention of Tomie dePaola or his work in the book. In a Booklist webinar, I was pleased that hear Mr. Henkes speak to his artistic influences for this book. He mentioned Paul Klee and another Dutch illustrator as specific influences. The color palette and simple lines do reflect Klee’s work. Then I considered that drawings of houses by young children often are similar. However, I am still struck by the similarity of this specific simple house WITH round red shingles to Strega Nona’s house and stylistically with the work of Tomie dePaola.

I recommend this book for kindergarten collections, public libraries, and personal collections for persons with very young children. The simplicity of illustration and the interactive questions will bring moments of intimacy for both readers and the small children who share the book.

December 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Outside, You Notice, by Erin Alladin, illustrated by Andrea Blinick

Alladin, Erin. Outside, You Notice. Illustrated by Andrea Blinick. Pajama Press, 2021. Unpaged. $18.95. ISBN 9781772781939. Ages 4-8. P6 Q7

When children are outside, there are many things they may notice. Focusing on the five senses, smell, noise, feel, taste, and sight, children are encouraged to use those senses while they are outside. Children will take a journey starting with smells and progressing through the senses. Each sense follows the pattern of explanation and facts of the sense in text bubbles. For smell, children learn about trees and plants. For noises, text bubble includes animal facts, Next is taste, with text bubbles including fruit/plant facts. Touxh is shown by digging and includes facts about soils. Sight is shown by noticing, with plant themed facts. The end page includes places shown in book which the reader can turn to if they do not want to read the book straight through. Illustrations show children and families of all abilities and races. enjoying the outdoors. The poetic nonfiction text includes sensory experience for children. The illustrations were created with gouache, colored pencil, collage, and chalk pastel. The book was originally published in Canada.

Verdict: With an outdoor setting, this book encourages children to wonder and question. Due to the numerous facts in the text bubbles, it would be best read one on one as opposed to read aloud to a group of children. If you want to instill mindfulness and do not know where to start, this book fits the bill. One can go to the end of the book, pick a location, read the page and then physically go to a similar location and practice that mindfulness technique. This child friendly, appropriate text promotes interaction between children and the reader. Children may not gravitate to the book, but may enjoy an adult reading the book to them.

June 2021 review by Harris.