Book review: Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship. Illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Carolrhoda Books, 2018. 39 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5. Ages 8 -12. P7 Q8

This collection of poems encapsulates the interactions that happen between a pair of middle schoolers – a white girl and a black boy. The freestyle poems capture a variety of moments from each child’s point of view, from attending church, to dealing with other students on the bus, to incidents on the news, and dinner with the family. The poems capture the complex feelings of the children, from wanting to fit in, to different ways our parents try to protect us, and forgiving our friends for their misunderstandings as we learn to navigate the issue of race.

This collection reads more as a series of single-page journal entries than as poetry, but the dichotomies that are introduced are important. The POV approach to discussing different experiences around similar topics works well to highlight how different people have different understandings around similar topics. The illustrations are simple and the text is the central focus on each page.

VERDICT: A strong choice for discussions about race in a way that allows for personal interpretation.

May 2018 review by Sudi Stodola.

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Book review: The World of Minecraft, by Heather E. Schwartz

Schwartz, Heather E. The World of Minecraft. “World of Gaming series.” Lerner Publications, 2018. $30.65. ISBN 9781512483130. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

Minecraft is popular, but where did it come from? Did you know that Markus “Notch” Persson created Minecraft in only a few days?  Four short chapters, “Mining and Crafting,” “A World of Choices,” “Mining for More,” and “Minecraft Moves Forward” explain the different ways the game is played, where the inventor came up with the idea for the game and much more. Photographs and orange boxes with text containing trivia information will keep the reader engaged. There is a table of contents along with a glossary, index, and book titles and websites about video games. The format of the book makes it easy for readers to quickly glean information. One can read straight through the book or pick and choose chapters that are interested in. In the Searchlight series, this book contains photographs of the animator, Minecraft merchandise, and the Minecraft video game. Minecraft players can build almost anything they can imagine, the options are endless. Upon reading the book, I was intrigued to check out Minecraft and see why it is so popular.

Verdict: I read the book to learn more about Minecraft so I can talk to my students about it. I discovered that there are many ways you can play the game. Children will enjoy the book, learning about the origins of the game, adding an extra element, making it more than just a video game.

March 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Runny Babbit Returns, written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein

Silverstein, Shel. Runny Babbit Returns. HarperCollins, 2017. $19.99. ISBN 9780062479396. 89 pages. Ages 5-10.  P7 Q9

If you like tongue-twisting word play, you will enjoy Runny Babbit Returns, a collection of forty-one poems and drawings that were assembled from the completed but unpublished works in the Silverstein archive. Featuring Shel Silverstein’s style, this New York Times bestselling poetry book was awarded Amazon Best Book of 2017 and Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2017. This story is filled with spoonerism poems following Runny Babbit and some of his friends, Goctor Doose, Dungry Hog, and Skertie Gunk, as they have adventures. Some of the poems are simple to understand and others are a little more difficult. The illustrations are black and white with large characters. Children who have a good grasp of language will enjoy the challenge of figuring out the poems.

Verdict: I read this book to kindergarten, first and second grade students. The children who enjoyed the poems really liked them. The other children caught on as the children shouted out what the poem was supposed to say. The children’s eyes lit up when they were able to decipher what was trying to be said. Over half of the students in each class said they would check out the book to read with their families. This poetry book would be a good addition to any public and elementary school library. Shelsilverstein.com has an event kit which includes reproducible Storytime activities, exploring poetry, a decorative event poster and even Runny Babbit rabbit ears one can download that go along with this book.

March 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Animal Mating Game: The Wacky, Weird, World of Sex in the Animal Kingdom, by Ann Downer

Downer, Ann. The Animal Mating Game: The Wacky, Weird, World of Sex in the Animal Kingdom. Twenty-First Century Books, 2017. $35.99 ISBN: 9781467785716. 104p. Ages: 12-18. P9Q9

This book is absolutely fascinating, containing information on little-known sex traits in the animal world.  In the brief introduction, the book spells out that evolution, DNA mutations, and natural selection are the driving forces behind these highly adapted, unique traits.  Well-researched, the thoughtfully-organized, clearly-presented text is engaging and entertaining.  The large text size the publisher chose is confusing, however, as it appears to be formatted for grades 5-8.  However, content, subject matter, and level of detail makes this book more appropriate for high schoolers. Also contains T of C, bibliography, glossary, FYI, online resources, and index.

March 2018 review by N.H.S. students, edited and compiled by Liz Fox.

Book review: Robots and Drones: Past, Present, and Future, by Mairghread Scott, illustrated by Jacob Chabot

Scott, Mairghread. Robots and Drones: Past, Present, and Future. Illus. by Jacob Chabot. [Science Comics series]. First Second, 2018. $12.99. 121p. ISBN 978-1-62672-792-2. Ages 8-12. P8Q9

Pouli, the author’s name for a mechanical flying pigeon developed in 350 BCE, is the host for this trip from this first flying machine to the current times of robots, varying from a simple coffee maker to the Mars Rover. Beginning with an explanation of simple concepts used in pulleys and levers, Scott moves on to programming techniques.

Verdict: Full-color panels combine with diagrams to explain structures in a highly accessible and entertaining manner. Highly recommended for school libraries and classrooms.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Dogs: From Predator to Protector, by Andy Hirsch

Hirsch, Andy. Dogs: From Predator to Protector. [Science Comics series].  First Second, 2017. $19.99. 119p. ISBN 978-1-62672-767-0. Ages 9-14. P4Q4

Rudy, a mixed-breed canine, narrates the trip through the history of dogs as he chases a ball from “25,000 BP (before present)” back to his trip to the dog park. An explanation of genetics follows the dog’s transition from the wolf and then into the obsession of dog breeding that started in the 19th century.

Verdict: This graphic narrative is one of the weakest in the Science Comics series, as the extensive scientific information slows down the reading. The book also overlooks the recent revelation that domestic dogs originated some 36,000 years ago and that dogs releass heat through panting as well as sweating from the pads of their feet. Although not a graphic novel, Kay Frydenborg’s A Dog in the Cave: The Wolves Who Made Us Human is a far more interesting and accessible read.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle, by Erica Fyvie, illustrated by Bill Slavin

Fyvie, Erica. Trash Revolution: Breaking the Waste Cycle. Illus. by Bill Slavin. Kids Can Press, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-77138-078-2. Ages 10-14. P5Q8

Contents commonly found in student backpacks—water, food, clothing, paper, plastic, metals, and electronics—are the focus of the first seven chapters, how they are made and how much water and other resources are necessary for their creation. Other chapters cover “Waste in Space” and “Zero Waste Future.”  In Fyvie’s emphasis on recycling, she explains the serious environmental costs of trashing these objects instead of recycling. Also of interest are the innovations described such as edible/compostable spoons, “growing” fabric, and the proposed ocean cleanup from a 19-year-old. Humorous illustrations of classrooms, workers, and production systems are in pencil and ink, colorfully enhanced by Photoshop.

Verdict: Many young readers may be familiar with parts of the book, such as the water cycle, but others like the making of plastic may contain new information. Highly specific details about humans’ wasting purchases, i.e., that each person throws away an average of 70 pounds of clothing each year, is horrifying, but the overwhelming number of facts may need to be absorbed over time. The book may be best used in the classroom or with parents with the opportunity for discussing the problems and solutions for purchases. The glossary at the back is useful for some terms, but it includes more obvious ones as “surface water” and skips over most of the scientific language within the book. Yet the accuracy and details of the book make it highly useful for all schools.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.