Book review: Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, by Catherine Thimmesh, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Thimmesh, Catherine. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women. Illus. by Melissa Sweet. HMH, 2000, 2018. Updated edition. $17.99. 106p. ISBN 978-1-328-77253-4. Ages 8-12. P8Q9

From the popularity of Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Cookie recipe in 1930 to Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen’s Roominate, a toy to encourage girls to build and use circuits, these 15 profiles of women innovators describe how they made lives better through their curiosity and creations. The seven additions to the 2000 version include women and girls’ innovations in solar, waste management, cyberbullying prevention, and drought while eight earlier inventor such as windshield wipers and Kevlar are retained.

Verdict: The lively style of illustrations by a Caldecott Honor winner and accessible format have been retained with the advantage of more diversity of subjects in ethnic background and age that reflect fast-growing technology during the 21st century. Recommended for middle-school libraries.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Crossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin, by Matt Tavares

Tavares, Matt. Crossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin. (Candlewick Biographies). Candlewick, 2016. $14.99. 33p. ISBN 978-1-5362-0341-7. Ages 6-9+. P9Q8

The following review is for the original larger-format title from 2016: In the summers of 1859 and 1860, Jean François Gravelet, known as the Great Blondin, thrilled huge crowds when he made a one-fourth mile journey across the top of Niagara Falls from the U.S. to Canada—and back—on a three-inch rope. Each time, he added to the challenges, one time carrying a man on his shoulders. When his dangerous feats no longer attracted crowds, he left for other adventures. The author’s large gorgeous watercolors dramatically illustrate Blondin’s careful preparations and complexity of his bravery, and a gatefold provides a look into his tricks, including the use of stilts and a chair. A brief author’s note and list of resources completes the tale.

Verdict: The larger format is more suitable for the sweeping images; stick to that one.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator, by Catherine Reef

Reef, Catherine. Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein’s Creator. Clarion, 2018. $18.99. 212p. ISBN 978-1-328-74005-2. Ages 10-14.

The daughter of feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft led an unorthodox life from the time of her widowed father’s remarriage when she was four years old to her death at the age of 53 and her son’s discovery that she had kept what was assumed to be her husband’s heart after his cremation. In between, she ran away from home at 16 with the charismatic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, lost all except one of four children at early ages, and traveled throughout Europe until she returned to England after her husband’s drowning when she was 24. Well educated, Shelley suffered terrible losses but managed to write seven novels. Small black and white vintage illustrations have been added to the text.

Verdict: By omitting the stressful relationship between Mary and her stepmother and attributing childhood issues to her father, Reef has restructured the biographical information and left out part of the impetus for Mary running away. The book is also somewhat slow. A better view of Mary Shelley is Lita Judge’s Mary’s Monster.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book reviews: Alexander Hamilton, by Teri Kanefield

Kanefield, Teri. Alexander Hamilton. (The Making of America Series). Abrams, 2018. $7.99. 203p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2943-0. Ages 10-13. P6Q8

From Hamilton’s early life as an orphaned illegitimate child to his untimely end in a duel, he demonstrated great drive and principles that led him to a prominent place in the Revolutionary War and the ensuing formation of a government. Kanefield uses a comparison with Aaron Burr, the man who killed him, to show Hamilton’s belief in a strong central government and a federal bank to stabilize the new country’s economy. Her narration brings such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson to life, complete with many of his flaws. Liberally sprinkled throughout are quotes from Hamilton and the black and white illustrations are copies of those from the 18th and 19th centuries. Parts of his writing are included at the end of the book. Verdict: The popular Broadway hit Hamilton may create interest in the first of this series, and Kane has written a personal view of the subject. She has also done an excellent job presenting the battle between lawmakers’ difference of opinion between an agrarian society with local governments and an urban structure that could be strengthened.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York, by Peter J. Tomasi, illustrated by Sara Duvall

Tomasi, Peter J. The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York. Illus. Sara Duvall. Abrams, 2018. $24.99. 201p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2852-5. Ages 8-13. P8Q9

Much more than an explanation of how the Brooklyn Bridge was built, this graphic narrative also deals with personal relationships, political problems, and restrictions on women in the 19th century. The story begins with the childhood of Washington Roebling, son of a German immigrant, and his inventive nature that led to creating pontoons during the Civil War when he was a soldier. The building of the longest suspension bridge in the world was marked by tragedy: the designer, John Augustus Roebling, died before construction began; his 32-year-old son and instigator of the bridge, Washington, was left to finish the massive structure. Washington became largely bedridden after he developed caisson disease (aka the “bends”) which left his wife, Emily, to manage the work site for the final eleven years of the fourteen-year construction period while her husband watched from the apartment through a powerful telescope. Yet she persisted, despite the objections of the press and politicians who believed that a woman should not be in this position. The fourteen years starting in 1869 were marked by corruption, fraud, deadly accidents, and other adversities, but Washington and Emily lived to cross the bridge.

Verdict: A bonus to the information about building is the personal aspect of a married couple’s collaboration as Tomasi brings Emily out of the shadows to become a valued part of the relationship and work. The crisp, colorful illustrations by a debut graphic novel illustrator quickly move the experiences of those who people this story behind the building of an icon. Highly recommended.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide, by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña

Quintero, Isabel. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide. Illus. by Zeke Peña. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. $19.95. 95p. ISBN 978-1-947440-00-5. Ages 13+. P7Q8

In this graphic biography, black and white drawings with digitally-added grays are combined with the author’s brief poetic narratives to each chronological section and over two-dozen of Iturbide’s unstaged feminist—and sometimes disturbing—photographs. As a child, Iturbide tried to follow the traditional lifestyle of her conservative Catholic family in Mexico, but her drive to be a writer and the loss of her daughter led her to photography. She travelled the world, engaging with diverse cultures as the book follows her for over 50 years. A common theme pervading the book comes from the use of birds, frequently appearing in backgrounds apart from the graphic panels.

Verdict: This startling look at indigenous communities through the eyes of an artist who experiences them can engender discussions and shifts in critical perspectives.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by 25 artists

Meltzer, Brad. I Am Gandhi: A Graphic Biography of a Hero. [Ordinary People Change the World series]. Illus. by 25 artists. Dial, 2018. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-525-55272-7. Ages 8-11. P6Q7

Meltzer has taken his mediocre book about Gandhi, I Am Gandhi, and made it into a graphic narrative with the help of 25 different artists. The language expands the first book as Meltzer follows the life of the Indian man who developed a strategy of peaceful protesting during his 23 years in South Africa before he returned to India to lead a nonviolent revolution intended to free his country from British rule. The book covers key events in Gandhi’s life—his training as a lawyer, the Salt March to the ocean because the British forced Indians to buy the salt they produced, the British massacre of striking Indians, his fasts, and his years in prison. Proceeds to the book’s creators go to Seeds of Peace.

Verdict: Most of the artists’ illustrations work together well, but the narrative is disturbed by a young boy who frequently pops up and shouts, “Truth Force.” Because of the similarity of the books’ names, buyers should be sure to purchase the one with the subtitle, A Graphic Biography of a Hero. 

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.