Book review: Newton’s Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist, by Kathryn Lasky, pictures by Kevin Hawkes

Lasky, Kathryn. Newton’s Rainbow: The Revolutionary Discoveries of a Young Scientist. Illus. by Kevin Hawkes. FSG, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-374-35513-5. Ages 8-12. P6Q9

Born prematurely, sent to live with his grandparents when he was three, and bullied in school, Isaac Newton became one of the most famous scientists of the 17th century because of his introspection about the world around him. Lasky concentrates on his failures at farming and indifference in school because his curiosity kept him busy thinking about motion and gravity as well as light, studying prisms to discover how these changed colors. The book also covers the bubonic plague and great fire in London during the 1660s.

Verdict: The dense text makes this book suitable for young readers older than the customary picture biographies, but the colorful watercolors will move youth through the pages. It would also make an excellent readaloud, and classes might want to replicate his experiments.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Curious Constructions: A Peculiar Portfolio of Fifty Fascinating Structures, by Michael Hearst, illustrated by Matt Johnstone

Hearst, Michael. Curious Constructions: A Peculiar Portfolio of Fifty Fascinating Structures. (Series: Uncommon Compendiums). Ill. by Matt Johnstone. Chronicle, 2017. $19.99. 102p. ISBN 978-1-4521-4484-9. Ages 8-12. P8 Q7

From the expected, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Stonehenge in England, to the unusual, such as a cathedral termite mound over 13 feet tall, author and illustrator delight and educate in this collection of human- and animal-created buildings. Each two-page spread has a full-page illustration, accompanied by smaller drawings, maps, diagrams, and portraits as well as true/false questions, history, or quirky facts following a few paragraphs about the structure. Earlier books in the series are Extraordinary People and Unusual Creatures.

Verdict: Humor and simplicity made this accessible book a great one to dip into although the narrative is stronger than the visuals. It’s global perspective is a boon to broadening the perspectives of youth to the entire world.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Favilli, Elena and Francesca Cavallo. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women. Timbuktu Labs, 2016. $35.00. 212p. ISBN 978-0-7798958-1-0. Ages 8-10. P8 Q9

Heroic women of all seven continents from the past four millennia are celebrated in two-page spreads that include a charming narrative about each woman and a full-page colorful illustration in a variety of artistic styles depending on the subject. Each description includes a short descriptor of the “girl,” birth/death dates, and country of origin.  Names of the 60 women providing the artwork are listed in the back. Selection of these pioneers varies from ten-year-old transgender Coy Mathis, brave enough to fight to use the bathroom of her gender identity, to Hillary Clinton, strong enough to survive sexist attacks in her campaign for U.S. president. In feminist tradition, the alphabetical order uses the women’s first names. Through crowdfunding, 20,025 backers from over 70 countries provided more than $1 million for the book published by a children’s media innovation lab.

Verdict: Advertised as “bedtime stories,” these brief accounts of the subject’s life and adventures should whet the appetite of readers who will want to know more about them, inspiring further research. Some of the women included are famous, but others are everyday women who managed to accomplish “extraordinary” things. This is recommended for all collections for youth and as gifts for all young girls.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a Changing Sea, by Bryn Barnard

Barnard, Bryn. The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a Changing Sea. Knopf, 2017. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-375-87049-1. Ages 9-12. P6 Q9

Pollution, global warming, overfishing—these are all problems that are creating a “new ocean,” more similar to the simplicity of the past with the loss of many of its 230,000 species. Four pages about each of six different species—jellyfish, orcas, sea turtles, tuna, coral, and blue-green algae—detail their history, characteristics, and problems they face from the carelessness of humans. The two-page conclusion briefly describes five extinctions of the past with ways that young people can help reverse the tragedy.

Verdict: Although heavy in text, the narration sometimes uses generalities, for example with no specific information about the extinctions, that make the book more accessible to younger people. The full-page oil illustrations cross the fold for a more magnificent image, and the two double-page maps in the end papers show the areas of garbage and the ocean acidification during the past two decades. A thought-provoking wake-up call to the world of the future.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Runaway, by Kate O’Hearn

O’Hearn. Kate. The Runaway. (Valkyrie series, book 2) Aladdin, 2014. 362 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-4814-4740-9. Gr. 6+. P8 Q8

This is the second book in the Valkyrie series and what a book it is. Action from the get go and I was so absorbed in it I did not realize that it was the second book; it can definitely stand on its own merits. Set in the city of Asgard, where Odin is the ruler, Freya is a young reaper who is being punished for defying Odin. Her punishment is to clean the stables daily. A competition between the nine separate realms, sort of like the Olympics, is take place soon and Freya thinks she will not be allowed to attend. Odin does allow her to participate in the tug of war completion, where Dirian, a dark searcher, kills her. He loathes Freya for having shamed him in front of other dark searchers. Freya is a reaper and collects people as they die. A dark reaper is a winged man who pledges himself to to Odin and collects those who go astray. Freya returns to life and is ordered by Odin to bring a Valkyrie back to Asgard, as a war between the realms is rumored to take place.

Verdict: I cannot wait for the next book in this series; it is necessary read for all who love action packed mythology literature.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Courage Test, by James Preller

Preller, James. The Courage Test. Feiwell and Friends, 2016. 212 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-09391-2. Gr. 4+. P7 Q8

William Meriweather Miller, what a name–all due to his professor father who loves anything to do with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William has plans for the summer, playing on the all-star baseball team. His mother and father are divorcing and his mother wants him to spend time with his dad. William, does not want to go on a road trip that follows the Lewis and Clark Trail, he wants to play baseball. Loaded with his essentials, phone, computer and his  iPod they start out. William is on a journey of growing up and coming to terms with himself, his father and a family crisis.

Verdict: This book would be a great read aloud to students who are studying the Lewis and Clark Trail.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Furthermore, by Tahereh Mafi

Mafi, Tahereh. Furthermore. Dutton’s Children Books, 2016. 401 pgs. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-101-99476-4. Gr. 4+. Q8 P8

Life for Alice is horrible. Her world is full of color and magic, but Alice has neither color nor magic. She thinks that her mother hates her and the students of her school do too. The date where all the students in her class must show their talents to the city is fast approaching. This is a very important event that establishes what your job will be in the future. This is another problem for Alice because along with no magic she has no talent. The day of the ceremony, Alice is prepared but she fails, truly fails. When Oliver asks her to go on a journey to find her father she jumps at the chance. They go through doors that lead them to other places that are steeped in magic, have different rules, and other trap doors to fall through. Each place, some vibrant with life, others in the clouds and some with just very difficult beings but through it all they get closer to finding her father.

Verdict: A story that at times felt like Alice in Wonderland. Though all of this I and hopefully other readers will come to realize, as Alice did, that being yourself and being different is okay.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.