Book review: What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey, by J. Albert Mann

Mann, J. Albert. What Every Girl Should Know: Margaret Sanger’s Journey. Atheneum, 2019. $18.99. 228p. ISBN 978-1-5344-1932-2. Ages 13-16. P6Q7

Born into poverty in the late 1800s, Maggie Higgins grows up rebelliously helping her mother with the other 10 children while she dreams of being a writer. Her alcoholic freethinking father drives her mother into the grave with his lack of jobs and her many pregnancies, several of them ending in miscarriages, and Maggie is forced to leave nursing school to care for her father after her mother’s death. Although many of the episodes are fictional, Maggie’s life as a child and young adult shows why she becomes a strong advocate for birth control to save other women from the misery that her own mother suffered.

Verdict: An afterword explains why Sanger, a believer in eugenics, did not deserve the stain of racism given her throughout history because she provided birth control for minorities and poor people. The focus on Sander’s childhood without showing how she developed into become an activist leaves a gap in her life.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Another, by Christian Robinson

Robinson, Christian. Another. Atheneum, 2019. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-5344-2167-7. Ages 3-6. P8Q7

When a cat leaves its perch on a small black girl to follow another cat into a circle of light, the girl follows, crossing barriers to a place with playing children. The author finishes the sequence with the girl and the cat both right side up and upside down before they both return to the bedroom, and the girl happily returns to her sleep as the cat watches out for her. Colorful illustrations against a white background during the dream sequence are paint and collage.

Verdict: The wordless book seems to have little point other than imagining what could happen. Turning the characters upside down also doesn’t seem to work in the story. The illustrations, however, do feature a black girl with dreads.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition 1945-1962, by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, adapted by Eric S. Singer

Stone, Oliver and Peter Kuznick. Adapt. By Eric S. Singer. The Untold History of the United States: Young Readers Edition 1945-1962. Atheneum, 2019. $19.99. 305p. ISBN 9781481421768. Ages 13-16. P7Q9

This second volume of Stone’s progressive perspective on U.S. history, published almost four years after the first volume of Untold: Young Readers Edition, begins where the first volume left off, with the atomic bombings in Japan by President Harry Truman, and finishes with the Cuban missile crisis. Following the nuclear attack on Japan, the narration describes the nuclear threats throughout the 1950s and 1960s during the terms of Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy as the U.S. experimented with the hydrogen bomb that destroyed the Japanese fishing industry. To provide background for the U.S. destructive replacement of leaders, the book goes back in history to fill in information about U.S. business control of the oil interest in Iran, the banana industry in Guatemala and the U.S. attempt to take over Cuba to protect Hersey’s interest in sugarcane.

Verdict: This highly accessible adaption of an adult reader, although by a different person from the first volume, is equally successful. At this time, the information is also timely because of the immigration issue, the threatened U.S. coup in Venezuela and the danger from nuclear war from Russia, after the U.S. departure from a nuclear arms reduction treaty, and North Korea. Again, Stone’s book should be required reading for both teenagers and adults to give additional information to the standard history taught in schools. Stone’s book for adults was a lead to Stone’s 2012 documentary film. (Review of Volume 1: )

February 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma, by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina

Calabrese, Keith, and Juana Medina. Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma. Atheneum Books, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781534408944. Unpaged. Ages 4-7. P6 Q7

Lena is very excited about the first day of school, but her shoes are nervous. Lena has her headband talk to her shoes and remind them of past situations when they were scared, but decided to be brave. A simple story of first day of school jitters. Some of the illustrations are colorful and others are mainly black and white. Her bedroom is in black and white, except for the colorful clothes she has set out to wear on the first day of school. It appears that the illustrator was trying to accentuate her clothes by making the rest of the page black and while. I think the illustrator was successful using this technique.

Verdict: Children can relate to feeling nervous about school or any new situation. I recommend this simple book on facing our fears and being successful. Focusing on the shoes instead of the child being nervous makes it more comfortable for a child to read.

September 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Engle, Margarita. The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar. Illus. by Sara Palacios. Atheneum, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-4502-3. Ages 4-8. P7Q9

The sight of a balloon with a man in an airboat inspired a white Hispanic teenager from New Jersey traveling to Paris inspired Aida to be the first woman to pilot a dirigible. Her 1903 journey caused criticism from people who believed that girls should not learn to fly and instead keep to the stereotypes of cleaning and sewing. The author’s note at the end tells how she promised her father conceal her audacious journey and her coming the director of the first eye bank in the United States after she developed glaucoma.

Verdict: The National Young People’s Poet Laureate’s joyful free verse joins Palacios’ exhuberant digital mixed media using gouache, markers, colored pencil, and pencil in bold, strong colors with an emphasis of lime on red birds following Aida on her flight. The whimsical story will delight young readers who will also benefit from Aida’s courage.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Teddy’s Favorite Toy, by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Madeline Valentine

Trimmer, Christian. Teddy’s Favorite Toy. Illus. by Madeline Valentine. Atheneum, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-8079-6. Ages 4-7. P9Q9

Although the cover reveals that the boy’s favorite toy is a doll, beginning images show that he appreciates a diversity of entertainment—blocks, puzzles, firetrucks, etc. Yet Teddy is distraught when Bren-Da, Warrior Queen of Pacifica, loses one of her legs. After trying to mend her before he goes to school, Teddy returns home to discover that his mother had accidentally thrown way the toy. His accepting mother exhibits great athletic ability in her attempts to rescue Bren-Da from the garbage truck, who is reunited with a joyful Teddy. Gouache and pencil digitally composed illustrations on a white background display Teddy’s play with the doll from its “best manners” to the “sickest fighting skills” as well as the energy displayed by the mother in her fiercely comical romp to find Bren-Da.

Verdict: Trimmer’s mother and son interactions show the value of her acceptance of her son’s choice of an unconventional toy as his favorite and her resistance to gender stereotyping in a humorous way.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.


Out of his many cool toys, Teddy’s favorite is a doll named Bren-da.  She not only has an amazing fashion sense, but also fierce fighting skills.  When a particularly fierce battle results in her broken leg, Teddy tries to bandage her, but cannot fix the leg.  He leaves her wrapped tenderly in a makeshift bandage.  When Teddy’s mother comes to clean up the room, Bren-da ends up in the trash, leading to a crisis when Teddy returns and cannot find the doll.  Teddy’s mother comes to the rescue with cool moves of her own and saves the day.

Verdict: Tony and his mom are portrayed with warm, brown skin tones and the book includes references to Mexican culture making this an engaging picture book welcoming for children who may not often see themselves in books.  It also shows a boy whose favorite toy is a female doll and does not make this a point of gender based bullying or other problem behavior.  Highly recommended for preschool and public libraries.

May 2019 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, by Michael Mahin, illustrated by Evan Turk

Mahin, Michael. Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters. Ill. By Evan Turk. Atheneum, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-4349-4. Ages 6-9. P7Q9

Brought up by his grandmother, McKinley Morganfield, Muddy Waters grew up in the Mississippi Delta and earned his nickname from playing in the river’s “muddy waters.” The repetition of “but Muddy was never good at doing what he was told” is used to show his transitions from field hand to musical legend as he gained fame in Chicago. The fusion of watercolor, oil pastel, china marker, printing ink, and newspaper collage match the strength of his music as Turk shifts from the country reds and blues to the city neon blue, green, and black.

Verdict: Powerful lyrics and dialog created for the book match the strong affect of the visuals.

November 2017 review by Nel Ward.