Book review: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, by Catherine Reef

Reef, Catherine. Victoria: Portrait of a Queen. Clarion, 2017. $18.99. 246p. ISBN 978-0-544-71614-8. Ages 12-16. P6Q9

Lush paintings and vintage photos illustrate this biography of the English queen who ruled for 63 years after her 18th birthday. Even her childhood was filled with intrigue as her mother tried to control Victoria with the help of her consort. As a queen, Victoria struggled with the vicissitudes of ruling and her desire to create a better world for her subjects while still bound to the class society in which she was reared. Reef describes her relationships with various prime ministers, her emotional response to the death of her beloved husband Albert when he was only 42, and her attachments to other men after he died. The Victorian Era covered most of the 19th century, a time of great technological and industrial change when the position of royal family was shifting into one of less authority.

Verdict: Although Reef aptly describes the queen’s personality, she sometimes glosses over some of Victoria’s flaws. The subject and treatment of it makes the book better for young readers interested in British history during this period of time. Victoria includes a list of British monarchs, Victoria’s family tree, source notes, and an extensive bibliography including newspaper articles from the 19th century.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Pope Francis: The People’s Pope, by Beatrice Gormley

Gormley, Beatrice. Pope Francis: The People’s Pope. (A Real Life Story). Aladdin, 2017. $17.99. 264p. ISBN 978-1-4814-8141-0. Ages 11-14. P5Q5

As the first non-European and Jesuit to achieve the office, Jorge Mario Bergolio hit the world by storm when the quiet Argentine was named the leader of the Catholic Church in 2013. With adoration, the author follows his spiritual story from childhood throughout his career in the politically disturbed and sometimes violent nation as she emphasizes his compassion for the people and his determination to follow the religion’s directions. Most of the narrative covers his professional life with very little about his family and friends except for their religious connections.

Verdict: Highly one-sided, the book can be used for Catholic teachings in a typical middle-school format.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photography, by Marc Aronson and Marina Budhos

Aronson, Marc & Marina Budhos. Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photography. Holt, 2017. $22.99. 294p. ISBN 978-0-8050-9935-8. Ages 12-17. P6Q10

“Dreams matter.” That is Aronson’s theme in this book by the noted author/editor/columnist and his wife in a blended history of the Spanish Civil War, photography, and the event’s famous chroniclers. It is a story of communism and socialism versus fascism that led up to the explosion in Europe of World War II as both sides of the precursor to Adolf Hitler’s destruction were fronted by horrific leaders who tried to enforce their philosophies through war crimes. “Interludes” explains the history of photojournalism, and the book discusses war refugees and other tragedies. The authors’ passionate writing extends to the love affair between two Jewish refugee photographers and explaining the war’s events through action-filled black and white photographs, a task so important that 27-year-old Gerda Taro lost her life after being run over by a tank. The image-filled book includes explanations of the pictures from writers who understand the art of photography and finishes with an unbiased clarification of the factions on both sides of the battles and the unlikely allies that brought each side together. A detailed timeline ties in the war’s events with related occurrences, and both authors relate reasons for their writing the book and the methods of their collaboration. Seventeen years after Taro’s death, Capa stepped on a landmine in Indochina while filming the Vietminh. Omaha Beach on D-Day tells more about Capa’s life with many of his photographs.

Verdict: The authors’ strong feelings for their subject shine in the beautiful writing, and the clear detailing and description of the Spanish Civil War is superb. Both photographs and narrative give history and biography a sense of immediacy with its bonuses of romance and excitement. A must for libraries.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Who was Lewis Carroll?, by Pam Pollack and Meg Belviso, illustrated by Joseph J. M. Qiu

Pollack, Pam and Meg Belviso. Who Was Lewis Carroll? (Who Was series) Illustrated by Joseph J. M. Qiu. Penguin Workshop, 2017. $16.00. ISBN 9780515159318. 107 pages.  Ages 10-14. P6 Q7.

The book is a simple to read biography of Charles Dodgson who wrote under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.  Following the introduction, the chapters trace his life as you learn about how Charles got his pen name, became an author, and came up with the ideas for his famous books. Alice in Wonderland, for instance, is based on a real friend named Alice.  She asked him to write down the adventure he told her.  Not having studied the history of Charles Dodgson, I don’t know accurate the information is about his life. The book did not state whether he ever got married or had a family.

Verdict: It is a must for school libraries needing biographies in their collections.  In our school system, this is a useful addition to the library for doing “Night of the Notables,” a fun event where students dress up as a notable person after researching their lives.  Students prepare a speech to tell about a person from that person’s point of view for families and guests on a special night.

Joseph J. M. Qiu

Book review: Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands, by Susan Goldman Rubin

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands. Chronicle, 2017. $17.99. 99p. ISBN 978-1-4521-0837-7. Ages 10-15. P7Q8

Although Lin was largely known as the architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when she was in college, her work has gone far beyond that one project to such works as a library for the Children’s Defense Fund and the Museum of Chinese in America. Chapters divided into artists’ materials such as granite, water, earth, glass, and celadon (a type of pottery) each concentrate on a specific project and include the reasons and background for her designs. Black and white photos of Lin’s family accompany color images of her designs during and after completion.

Verdict: The book has a stiff feel but still has an inviting layout with large-print text and wide variety of illustrations, and is about an important Chinese-American woman. Also interesting is Lin’s description of how she fought to guarantee that her vision of the Vietnam Memorial was unchanged.

Summer 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: Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents, by Ken Burns, illustrated by Gerald Kelley

Burns, Ken. Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents. Ill. By Gerald Kelley. Knopf, 2016. $25. 94p. ISBN 978-0-385-39209-9. Ages 7-11. P8Q7

burns-grover-cleveland-againJust in time for the 45th president, the brilliant creator of award-winning historical documentaries has written this book with two-page spreads on every U.S. president, inspired by the tales he told his daughters about the people who led the nation. Included for each of the 43 men is a column of factual information with the official portrait, digital action illustrations reminiscent of watercolors featuring each in a variety of backgrounds, snippets about presidential information set against red or blue backgrounds, and a few paragraphs about their presidencies.

Verdict: Burns maintains a balance for his information, for example, addressing both Andrew Jackson’s racism against Indians and his adoption of a Creek orphan. The book would be useful as a reference source and teaching tool.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.