Book review: The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Adam Rex

Messner, Kate. The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents. Il. Adam Rex. Chronicle, 2020. $18.99 41p. ISBN 978-1-4521-7488-4. Ages 8-11. P10 Q10

So much has been written for young people about the presidents of the United States that a new perspective is hard to find. Yet Messner and Rex succeeded. They not only feature presidents’ lives before their elections—many with brief highlights of these men as children—but also select four dates throughout the history of the United States—1789, 1841, 1897, and 1961—to discuss the president at the time along with future presidents already alive. For example, when George Washington took the office, another nine presidents were waiting in the wings; the year that John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, all ten of his successors had been born. Humorous drawings, for example Bill Clinton puffing on a saxophone and George W. Bush dressed in his cheerleader outfit, illustrate each president in either verbal “snapshots” or boxed notes which pack a great deal of information into a few words. One startling change in style is the full-page gray drawing of a grim Andrew Jackson walking away from the duel where he killed the man accusing him of cheating on a horse bet. Another breakout from tradition biographies of presidents comes in the final pages asking the reader to consider who the next president might be and what they are doing right now in two pages of young boys and girls of different races involved in diverse activities.

Verdict: Mixed among the portraits and drawings of the men in the White House are multiracial and multiethnic tourists of diverse ages viewing the gallery. The lightness of both narration and digital illustrations make this a fast, enjoyable read that can also be useful in history and art instruction. This is one book about presidents that should be in all libraries.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Bones: An Inside Look at the Animal Kingdom, by Jules Howard, illustrated by Chervell Fryer

Howard, Jules. Bones: An Inside Look at the Animal Kingdom. Il. Chervell Fryer. Big Picture Press/Candlewick, 2020. $19.99. 79p. ISBN 978-1-5362-1041-5. Ages 7-12. P9 Q9

The revelation of skeletons for over two dozen vertebrates are divided into functions such as biting, digging, jumping, gliding/flight, grasping/claws, running, and swimming. Two-page spreads in this oversize book show both an illustration of the animal in its habitat and the diagram of its skeleton. Narration explains how the skeleton is adapted to the environment and the animal’s size and activities.

Verdict: Fascinating details about the skeletons show how each creature’s bone structure functions for survival in killing and hiding from predators and finding food resources. Bright illustrations draw the eye with a few more unusual animals such as the flying dragon and the pink fairy armadillo. The fun facts will keep the reader interested.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists, by Martha Freeman, illustrated by Katy Wu

Freeman, Martha. Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists. Il. Katy Wu. Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster, 2020. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-2153-0. Ages 8-12. P7 Q9

Five- and six-page spreads about female scientists from around the world, many of them not well known although they have won Nobel awards, each includes colorful, digital full-page illustrations showing close-ups of the subject. A quote, “fascinating fact,” and achievement summary complete each chapter.

Verdict: Vibrant close-up visuals depict the women when they were young and include representations of their interests, for example, the galaxy, herbs, fish, geological tools. Each biography subtly describes the perseverance necessary during childhood development that led to amazing discoveries of the parts of the world such as that of cooperative evolution by Lynn Margulis in difference to the previous belief that evolution came from competition. An inspiration for girls in the fields of science or anywhere else that requires drive and belief in oneself.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Truth about Hawks, by Maxwell Eaton III

Eaton, Maxwell III. The Truth about Hawks. (The Truth about series). Roaring Brook, 2019. $16.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-250-19845-7. Ages 5-9. P9Q9

Facts about this feathered family—migration, threats, hunting, family life, and other general characteristics—come in a comic-book style complete with dialog bubbles and panels. Eaton’s earlier books about bears, crocodiles, dolphins, elephants, and hippos follow the same style.

Verdict: Bright background colors and anthropomorphic visuals from digitally-colored pen and ink illustration combine with hilarious commentary and brief matter-of-fact information to invite readers to dive into the pursuits of hawks with a few asides about other raptors such as bald eagles, vultures, falcons, and owls. The inserts of a young girl watching through binoculars and rodent sidekicks trying to avoid being caught make this book a delight to read—many times to catch the nuances. This book will definitely cause young people to search out Eaton’s other books covering “seriously funny facts about your favorite animals.”

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Darwin’s Rival: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Search for Evolution, by Christiane Dorion, illustrated by Harry Tennant

Dorion, Christiane. Darwin’s Rival: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Search for Evolution. Il. Harry Tennant. Candlewick, 2020. $24.99. 61p. ISBN 978-1-5362-0932-7. Ages 10-14. P7 Q7

While Charles Darwin was evaluating his theory of evolution gained from a five-year voyage on the SS Beagle, another Englishman, Alfred Wallace, was visiting other parts of the world to search for different species. Born in a family with financial difficulties, Wallace managed to raise enough money for a lengthy trip to the Amazon region in the late 1840s when he sent specimens back home. Their sale allowed him to pursue this career for almost another decade in the rain forests of southern Asian islands when he independently came to the same conclusions about evolution as Darwin did. Illustrations with the feel of multi-colored linocut prints present a variety of maps, insect displays, portraits, and panoramas of Wallace’s travels.

Verdict: Dorion opens the door to another perspective of the 19th century, but some of the awkward organization and writing would have benefited from editing. Dorion also provides only a glowing image of Wallace, and Tennant’s digital illustrations sometimes appear muddy. Yet the book depicts the courage of a 25-year-old with little money and formal education who set off to follow his desires. Nevertheless, the book is a valuable addition to science for youth. The two-page illustrated spread at the end of the wide-format book clarifies definitions in the glossary, and a map of both Darwin’s and Wallace’s journeys provides a useful comparison.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson, by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

Berne, Jennifer. On Wings of Words: The Extraordinary Life of Emily Dickinson. Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Chronicle, 2020. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4521-4297-5. Ages 6-9. P8 Q8

Using butterflies as a motif for Dickinson’s thoughts and dreams, Stadtlander uses gouache and watercolor to complement her narrative of Emily’s inner experiences from her birth on a snowy day in western Massachusetts to her death in the same home. Some of Dickinson’s almost 800 poems are blended with the impressions of events in her life and her drive to find the answers to her questions about life that use nature as a background for her musings. Her search for truth combined with her hope, despite her religious school principal putting into the “No-Hopers,” … the group with hope. Later in life, Dickinson wrote the first stanza of a poem, “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers -/That perches in the soul -/And sings the tune without the words -/And never stops – at all -…” Dickinson jotted down her writings on scraps of paper throughout her life, a treasure trove that her sister, Vinnie, discovered after Dickinson’s early death at the age of 35. Endnotes discuss the poetry and ways to discover “the world of poetry.”

Verdict: Stadtlander’s illustrations blend fantasy and realism—Dickinson perched in a rose and watched by a bird, eyes that portray the turbulent sea in one pupil and the sun rising over mountains in the other, and a silhouette of the side of head filled with images which inspired Dickinson’s poetry. In the back notes, Berne discusses poetry and ways to read, write, and share it. As she wrote, “I dwell in possibility,” the reader can have the same experiences. [For a book about Dickinson’s early life, see Jane Yolen’s Emily Writes.]

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Ray of Life: A Book of Science and Wonder, by Walter Wick

Wick, Walter. A Ray of Life: A Book of Science and Wonder. Scholastic, 2019. $17.99. 40p. ISBN 978-0-439-16587-7. Ages 8-12. P7Q9

Over 20 years after A Drop of Water, Walter Wick, the photographer of I Spy search-and-find picture books, returns to science in this exploration of the energy that people perceive as light. Through both narration and photographs he explains what people see in incandescence, luminescence, light waves, the color spectrum, and the light surrounding the world. End notes cover light science and experiments. The discussion of color explains the primary colors of the digital world—red, blue, and green—different from the red, blue, and yellow of pigments.

Verdict: Wick’s glorious full-color photography goes from an iridescent beetle to a copy of the world in space and from the simple flame of a match to the burning sun. Some of the content might be too sophisticated for some students, but much of it clearly delineates the lesson.

May 2020 review by Nel Ward.