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: Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives, edited by Catherine Gourley

Journeys: Young Readers’ Letters to Authors Who Changed Their Lives. Ed. by Catherine Gourley. Candlewick, 2017. $9.99. 226p. ISBN 978-0-7636-9578-1. Ages 10+. P3Q9

Selections from thousands of letters sent to “Letters about Literature” for Grades 4 through 12 sponsored by the 40-year-old Book of the Library of Congress reveals how “hearts are inspired and at times healed by the power of an author’s words.” The 52 entries are divided into three age groups which are each subdivided into Destinations, Realizations, and Returning Home. Each young author shows how reading has made a difference to them in highly poignant and personal ways. The editor has been national director for the program for 25 years.

Verdict: The thoughtful entries will probably be of more interest to adults than youths.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Magellan: Over the Edge of the World, by Laurence Bergreen

 Bergreen, Laurence. Magellan: Over the Edge of the World. Roaring Brook, 2017. $19.99. 211p. ISBN 978-1-62672-120-3. Ages 11-14  P3Q6

The author adapts his adult book on Magellan’s journey, the first circumnavigation of the world, which began with his ambitions that led him from his native Portugal to its rival Spain. Magellan died before a few of his sailors straggled back to their starting point after three years, and his family lost all of his money while he was gone. Treachery, mutiny, illness, starvation—Magellan and his men experienced all these and worse before he was killed in the Philippines on his way to the Spice Islands.

Verdict: The dull prose doesn’t match the excitement of the adventures, and the illustrations and few maps are muddy and difficult to read. There is room for a more accessible book about the explorer.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem, by Patricia Newman

Newman, Patricia. Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing, 2017. $31.99.  ISBN 9781512426311. 56 pages. Includes source notes, glossary, selected bibliography, “More you ‘otter’ read and watch (books and websites), and index.  Ages 8-14. P8Q9

Water pollution from fertilizer runoff causes algae overgrowth and usually results in the death of seagrass in estuaries.  However, in California’s Elkhorn Slough, one of the world’s most nutrient-polluted estuaries, the seagrass is thick and healthy.  Marine biologist Brent Hughes’ careful research into the ecology of Elkhorn Slough found an unexpected relationship between the reintroduction of sea otters and healthy sea grass.  As the otters ate the crabs, the sea hares—a type of small sea slug—survived to eat the algae that had been killing the sea grass, creating a trophic cascade in which a top predator introduced into an ecosystem changes the entire system, often in unexpected ways.

Verdict: This is a well-organized depiction of the scientific process in the field, from observation to hypothesis to experimentation and revision of the thesis.  Highly recommended for those collections needing STEM materials, especially elementary and middle school libraries and classroom collections, as well as public libraries.

September 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest, by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Keith Ellenbogen

Montgomery, Sy. Amazon Adventure: How Tiny Fish Are Saving the World’s Largest Rainforest. Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen. (Scientist in the Field series) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. $18.99. ISBN 9780544352995. 65 pages.  Includes selected bibliography, web resources, and index. P7Q8

When Scott Dowd of Boston’s New England Aquarium first came to Barcelos to study the cardinal tetras and other aquarium fish to be exported from the dark, tannin-rich waters of Brazil’s Rio Negro, he was appalled by what he saw as drastic overfishing.  Further study brought him to the conclusion that the people who fished for the piabas—the brightly colored tiny fishes exported for the aquarium trade—were actually protecting the river and watershed from deforestation and the goldmining that plagues much of the Amazon’s rainforest.  Sy Montgomery, author of 20 books for adults and children, explores Brazil’s Rio Negro along with photographer Keith Ellenboggen to understand the relationship between the humans who collect the many small, brightly colored fishes and the ecosystem that produces the fishes.  Scientists from Project Piaba work with the fishers—the piabeiros—to safeguard the fisheries and protect the watershed.

Note: Scientists from Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon are mentioned.

Verdict: The book is divided, with approximately half devoted to the ecology and the work of scientists and the other half exploring the piabeiros and the towns that depend on the fisheries.  As with all of the Scientist in the Field series, the layout is appealing, with maps, sidebars explaining additional aspects of the topic.  The science is sound, with the acknowledgement of problems to be faced.  Highly recommended for school and public library collections and for middle school STEM classroom collections.

September 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species., by Sandra Markle

Markle, Sandra. The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species. Millbrook Press/Lerner Publishing, 2017. $30.65. ISBN 9781512410150. Ages 8-14. P8Q9

Kristofer Helgen, a scientist studying olingos, a predator in the raccoon family, found preserved pelts in museums that were quite different from the other olingo pelts.  After years of study and DNA tests of existing pelts, he was fairly certain that the pelts belonged to a new, undescribed species that might even have gone extinct in the years since the pelts were collected. Further study and expeditions into Ecuadorian cloud forests located living animals.  In 2013, Helgen announced the newly described species, the olinguito.  Sandra Markle’s careful depiction of Helgen’s long search, along with vivid photographs, informative sidebars, and maps bring the scientific process of describing a new species to life.

Verdict: This fun, fact-filled scientific adventure introduces children (and any adults lucky enough to find the book) to the newly described olinguito.  It’s a great description of the kinds of work scientists do in studying animals.  The cute factor is high in this one.  Recommended for purchase for elementary through middle school libraries as well as public library collections.

September 2017 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: Ocean Puzzles, by Gareth Moore

Moore, Gareth.  Ocean Puzzles. (Brain Game Treasure Hunts). Hungry Tomato, 2017.  $7.99. ISBN 978-1-5124-1177-5. 32 p. Ages 8-12. P7Q8.

These varied puzzles game my brain a workout. The challenge of each puzzle will depend on each reader’s strengths and weaknesses. Some puzzles took me less than 2 minutes while others were closer to 15 minutes. Youngsters will learn perseverance and stamina.  There are hints and solutions to keep you headed in the right direction. The biggest lesson is to read each question through carefully before attempting to solve.  Many readers will enjoy working out the information to find their position and route to navigate through the ocean waters.

Verdict: I intend to add this and other books from this series to my classroom collection. It is a creative and clever book idea.

May 2017 review by Penny McDermott.