Book review: Finding the Speed of Light: The 1676 Discovery That Dazzled the World, by Mark Weston, illustrated by Rebecca Evans

Weston, Mark. Finding the Speed of Light: The 1676 Discovery That Dazzled the World. Illus. by Rebecca Evans. Tilbury House, 2019. Unp. $17.95. ISBN 978-0-88448-545-2. Ages 8-11. P8Q8

Cartoon-style illustrations combine with diagrams and mathematical calculations to highlight the life and experiences of Danish astronomer Ole Romer who not only discovered that light moves but also measured its speed with a clock and homemade telescope—all two centuries before Albert Einstein was born. When Romer saw that Jupiter’s moon sped up and slowed down in a regular pattern, he began his investigation.

Verdict: Puns and humorous drawings bring the events of over three centuries ago into the 21st century and make this book highly readable.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell

Mortensen, Lori. Away with Words: The Daring Story of Isabella Bird. Illus. by Kristy Caldwell. Peachtree, 2019. Unp. $17.95. ISBN 978-1-68263-005-1. Ages 7-10. P8Q8

In 19th century England, girls were supposed to be married at an early age, but stubborn Isabella, frequently ill, refused to fit in that mold. Only when she broke free from the confinement of her home and expectations for women, did she escape the strange malaise she suffered. She bloomed when her father taught her to ride a horse, and then went out into the world in her early 20s, taking a voyage to the United States and traveled through the rural areas to the West. Throughout her life she visited other faraway places in Australia, Hawaii, and Asia. After her adventures she wrote a dozen books and several articles about her journeys.

Verdict: The digital illustrations seem a bit flat, but the narrative, sometimes using excerpts from Bird’s books, is spirited. One flaw is the confusion of her last name because the narration doesn’t mention her marriage; another is her imperialist writing.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Rescuing Rialto: A Baby Sea Otter’s Story, by Lynda V. Mapes, photographs by Alan Berner

Mapes, Lynda V. Rescuing Rialto: A Baby Sea Otter’s Story. Photo. By Alan Berner. Roaring Brook, 2019. Unp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-250-14764-6. Ages 7-10. P8Q8

“The baby sea otter was hungry.” That is how Mapes begins her odyssey following the rescue of the infant stranded alone on Rialto Beach in northern Washington. As Mapes chronicles the steps taken to bring Rialto back to health, care for his as he grows, and train him for his future to be with other orphaned baby otters at Vancouver Aquarium, she describes otters’ characteristics, characteristics, and nature. Photographs contribute to the text in their depictions of staff members working with Rialto.

Verdict: Rialto’s story is lively, and the photographs are captivating. An advantage of the book is the use of photographs instead of illustrations that give a sense of reality to Rialto and his needs that creates empathy for this endangered species.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickergill and the Star-Spangled Banner, by Jessie Hartland

Hartland, Jessie. Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickergill and the Star-Spangled Banner. Simon & Schuster, 2019. Unp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-0233-1. Ages 5-8. P7Q7

In 1813, George Armistead commissioned Mary Pickersgill, a flag-maker, to create a huge U.S. flag in two weeks to fly over Fort McHenry when the British tried to capture Baltimore. Text and gouache illustrations show the process with panels on two pages describing its 200-year history afterward, first in private ownership and then restored to a honored place at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. An author’s note at the end gives the names of the five girls and women who worked on the flag, information about the writing of the song that became the national anthem, and changes to the flag’s design as states were added to the union.

Verdict: The naïf style of illustrations may not please everyone, and the narrative skips over the work of Pickersgill’s crew. A more appealing book to younger readers, Kristen Fulton’s Long May She Wave: The True Story of Caroline Pickersgill and Her Star-Spangled Creation illustrated by Holly Berry, tells the story of the flag’s creation from Mary’s 13-year-old daughter, Caroline.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids, by Elizabeth Haidle

Haidle, Elizabeth. Before They Were Authors: Famous Writers as Kids. Houghton, 2019. 64p. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-328-80153-1. Ages 9-12. P6Q6

Cartoon panels highlight lives of ten famous authors, all from the U.S. or Britain and 70 percent white, and 70 percent no longer living. Each five-page chapter begins with a full-page illustration digitized watercolor of the subject with a brief timeline showing birth, death (if applicable), and a few famous works. The pleasant artwork is accompanied by standard biographical information.

Verdict: The choice of subjects is fairly standard, and the information can be vague. For example, the reference to Maya Angelou’s “terrible crisis” at the age of seven skips over the fact that the crisis was a rape by the man her mother was dating. It also ignores the many honorary doctorates Angelou received. The piece about Ted Geisel glosses over the racism in his books. In an oddity, the cover has panels for only nine authors; J.R. Rowling is missing. Artwork good; choice of subjects and narrative not so much.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Two Men and a Car: Franklin Roosevelt, Al Capone, and a Cadillac V-8, by Michael Garland

Garland, Michael. Two Men and a Car: Franklin Roosevelt, Al Capone, and a Cadillac V-8. Tilbury House, 2019. Unp. $17.95. ISBN 978-0-88448-620-6. Ages 7-10. P8Q8

Culture and biography from the first half of the 20th century blend in this possibly true story of how an armored car constructed by a famous mobster in 1928 was later used to protect the president of the United States on his way to give a speech the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. With biographical information about the two men, both New Yorkers, Garland shows the contrast in backgrounds between the wealthy, privileged only child who changed the U.S. with his political acumen and the poor immigrant with eight siblings who controlled the Chicago underworld. Thousands of lines cover the illustrations of the subjects and the places where each spent part of his life—13 years in the White House and eight years in Alcatraz.

Verdict: Dense scratchwork art is distracting, but the use of the story to show U.S. history during a half century is clever.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Fish Everywhere, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

Teckentrup, Britta. Fish Everywhere. Big Picture/Candlewick, 2019. Unp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-5362-0625-8. Ages 6-9. P8Q8

Double-page spreads briefly explain the anatomy of fish, their evolution, and their habitats as well as how they are distinguished from other animals. Other subjects are their survival and defense, propagation, and relationship to humans—all in a slim volume with brief text and energetic digital illustrations of different species.

Verdict: Boldfaced fonts and striking design make viewing the book highly accessible. Students can compensate for the lack of glossary and pronunciation guide to further research the subjects. A great starting point for the subject.

June 2019 review by Nel Ward.