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.


Book review: A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, by Claire Hartfield

Hartfield, Claire. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. Clarion, 2018. $18.99. 198p. ISBN 978-0-544-78513-7. Ages 11-15. P6Q8

Eighteen people died and 229 were injured in the week following the death of a black teenager hit by a rock thrown by a white man at a raft on July 27, 1919. Most of the book covers the buildup to the disaster as blacks migrated from the South and whites came to the city from Europe, both groups looking for better jobs. The whites were given the jobs first, particularly in the meat packing plants; blacks were left to be strike-breakers, worsening the animosity between the races. The title comes from Carl Sandburg’s “I Am the People, the Mob,”: “Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget”

Verdict: The writing is highly accessible, but the title is somewhat misleading: only 20 pages cover the actual riot. The 80-year history leading up to the disaster is of interest, and the visuals, mostly photographs with a few period cartoons, add greatly to the large-format book. Recommended for libraries to accompany social studies.

December 2017 review by Nel Ward.

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: Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961, by Larry Dane Brimner

Brimner, Larry Dane. Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. Calkins Creek, 2017. $18.95. 111p. ISBN 978-1-62979-586-7. Ages 9-15. P8Q9

Black and white backgrounds alternate by page in the chronicle of thirteen activists—a mix of young and old, men and women, black and white—board two different commercial buses in Washington, D.C. bound for New Orleans. Their intent was to break the illegal color barrier in the South, and their trip became increasingly dangerous as they went deeper into the South, facing severe beatings in Alabama from angry white people despite the nonviolence of the Freedom Riders. Stories of the individuals on the trip are accompanied by a multitude of photographs, often full page, as Brimner shows the peril of their journey, for example when angry whites fire-bombed one bus and tried to keep the people inside the burning vehicle while the police stood by and watched. The Sibert Honor-winning author tells about the arrests when blacks tried to use areas identified as “Whites Only” despite laws desegregating the nation.

Verdict: The clear depiction of struggles to overcome “Jim Crow” demonstrate the necessity for the Civil Rights movement and the life-threatening experiences of those who fought for black rights. Students may be interested in doing further research about the Freedom Rides, including this article on the first one:

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: The Dangerous Book of Monsters, written by Justin Richards, illustrations by Dan Green.

Richards, Justin. The Dangerous Book of Monsters. (BBC Doctor Who: the Doctor’s official guide series) Illustrations by Dan Green. Penguin Random House UK, 2015. $16.99. ISBN 9781405920032. 176 pgs. Ages 9-12. P8Q7.

We have a strong Doctor Who following both among kids and adults at my library, but this book will be especially popular among the younger readers. It is a kind of personal log of many of the strange, dangerous and interesting creatures/ monsters encountered in the Doctor Who universe. There is a table of contents at the beginning, an introduction by the current doctor (played by Peter Capaldi), and the final page gives advice for surviving encounters with these creatures. I like the first two the best: 1.Do as I say. Always. No questions. Because I’m right and you’re probably wrong. 2. Trust your instincts. If you think you might be in trouble, you probably are. If you know you’re in trouble, then you’re in big trouble.

I enjoyed flipping through this book- each page or spread has a Monster Data chart which in includes information about the origin, speed, danger rating, and size of each. There are also survival tips, drawings and photos, and anecdotes from the Doctor. I liked the humorous/serious tone of the book and I think the authors did a good job of making the writing sound like it came from the Capaldi Doctor.

VERDICT: Most young Whovians won’t be able to put this book down.

October 2017 review by Carol Schramm.