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: Pirate Queen: The Legend of Grace O’Malley, Tony Lee, illustrated by Sam Hart

Lee, Tony. Pirate Queen: The Legend of Grace O’Malley. Illus. by Sam Hart. Candlewick, 2019. $19.99. 128p. ISBN 978-1-5362-0019-5. Ages 10-14. P8Q8

Learning her seafaring craft as a child with her chieftain father, the daughter of the O’Malley clan is forced into marriage until she enters the fight to save her Irish homeland from Henry VIII’s English invaders in the mid-1500s after her husband’s murder. Her ability with sword fighting and leadership skills gives her the nickname of Pirate Queen and a confrontation with Elizabeth I. In her lifetime, she lost two husbands, a lover, and a son, but she never gave up, even killing a boarding man on her ship just minutes after she gave birth.

Verdict: The duo who created epic comics of Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Joan of Arc have scored in their fourth exciting historical narrative, complete with strong visuals. The variety of perspectives gives a cinematic feel to the panels depicting fights on both land and sea. Fraught with deception and retaliation, the fast-paced tale has the advantage over other books about Grace O’Malley of covering her childhood and motivation for her determination to conquer the seas and preserve her land.

May 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Simone Biles, by Jon M. Fishman

Fishman, Jon M. Simone Biles. (Sports All-Stars series). Lerner, 2017. 32 pgs. $25.88. ISBN: 978-1-5124-4897-9. Gr. 2+. P8 Q8

This biography of gymnast Simone Biles is included in the Sports All-Stars series. This particular volume has a brief look at her childhood, not really detailed, before she starts her climb to athletic stardom. There are color photographs of her parents and her practices and performances which have comments on each one. There are references to the things she likes to do, hobbies, eating habits and her future plans. Includes glossary and index.

Verdict: Sports books are enjoyed by both girls and boys of all ages. I know that this one will be a great addition for this age group.

January 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: Taking Action to Help the Environment, by Eric Braun

Braun, Eric. Taking Action to Help the Environment. (Who’s changing the world? series) Lerner 2017. 48 pgs.  $32.69. ISBN: 978-1-4677-9392-6. Gr. 4+. P7 Q8

This volume of the Lerner Publishers series Who’s Changing the World? is about people who are taking action to help our environment. The profiles in the book range from a young teen who raised $200,000 to clean up the BP Horizon oil spill by selling her drawings to a mother who coordinated street theater and neighborhood murals to let people know about the health effects of the local power power plant and many others.  Activists ranged from the young to those who have championed this effort for years, from high school students to teachers and parents, as well as leaders and individuals from other countries around the world. Clear color photographs accompany each person’s entry along with a story about how they have contributed to helping our environment. Includes glossary and index.

Verdict: This book should inspire those who want to become more active in saving the environment.

January 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.

Book review: The Little Prince, 75th anniversary edition, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de.  The Little Prince. 75th Anniversary Edition. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing Company, 2019. ISBN: 9781328479754.  225p. Gr. 9-adult.  P5 Q4. 

I wanted to like this book. I loved The Little Prince and was looking forward to knowing more about the author.  The biographical sections are incredibly hard to follow and not engaging at all, despite being liberally peppered with photos and letters from the author.    Illustrative studies by the author (pre-Little Prince publication) are fun but the off-white-cream color of the paper makes the illustrations appear dull and lifeless.  The actual Little Prince section of the book spans 90 pages of this edition, slightly less than the original.  Also, the margins of that section are set smaller than the original margins, even though the books are the same dimension. All this means that the text and illustrations of the book are smaller and duller (given the cream-colored background of the paper). Another issue with this edition is that it uses the Richard Howard translation, and not the more lyrical, original (and preferred) Katherine Woods translation.   Finally, I feel that the 60 pages of text analysis (labeled “appreciations of The Little Prince”) do not add to the understanding of the text or the author.  While this book might be useful to someone who is doing in-depth analysis of The Little Prince, it detracts from the original.  From the reviews I read on, it’s obvious this is a book that a lot of folks are purchasing as a gift or coffee-table book.  Better to purchase an oversize edition of the original Katherine Woods translation, than to spend the money on this version.  Contains biography of author, collections of illustrations, multiple text dissections.  Genre: Nonfiction biography of author + fiction.

March 2019 review by NHS staff.

Book review: Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer, by Emily Arnold McCully

McCully, Emily Arnold. Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer. Candlewick. 2019. $19.99. 164p. ISBN 978-0-7636-9356-5. Ages 10-14. P7Q9

Born in the early 19th century, the daughter of famous romance poet Lord Byron and his bitter wife who took Ada away from her father when she was only one month old added greatly to scientific innovation until she died at the age of 36 years. Largely ignored until recently, Lovelace survived her highly strict upbringing to work with Charles Babbage, helping to interpret the intricacies of his “analytic engine,” the precursor of the modern computer.

Verdict: An award-winning author, McCully is known for her clear language and intricate illustrations. This biography introduces a fascinating woman to middle school readers.

March 2019 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown

Brown, Box. Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman. First Second, 2018. $19.99. 260p. ISBN 978-1-626-72316-0. Ages 16+. P5Q6

Best known as Lafka in the television sitcom Taxi, Andy Kaufman also made his name as a stand-up comedian. His obsession with wrestling combined with his need to make people dislike him led to fame during his short life. Kaufman’s pretense as a lounge singer Tony Clifton and his practical jokes caused people to boycott his real funeral because they thought he was pulling another joke on them. As in Andre the Giant, Brown laboriously tracks his career and detailed conversations between Kaufman and Jerry Lawler in following the Memphis (TN) professional wrestling scene.

Verdict: Filled with trivia, this graphic biography for adults becomes tedious and Kaufman is not a likable subject.

January 2019 review by Nel Ward.