Book review: Dinosaurs by the Numbers, by Steve Jenkins

Jenkins, Steve. Dinosaurs by the Numbers. Houghton Mifflin, 2019. 40 pages. $5.99 paperback. ISBN 9781328850959. Ages 6 and up. P9Q8

This great addition to the dinosaur section has a nice, narrow focus using graphics, timelines, and size comparisons to show how big, how fast, and other interesting comparative facts about dinosaurs. It also gives a guide in the back on how to correctly pronounce the scientific names of each dinosaur. This book stays in its lane on these areas, with clear graphics, which makes it a useful book.

VERDICT: Although there are many larger and comprehensive dinosaur books, this small paperback gives concise and clear graphics and information in the form of  infographics concerning dinosaurs, which was very interesting.

February 2020 review by Lynne Wright.

Book review: Boris and the Worrisome Wakies, by Helen Lester, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger

Lester, Helen. Boris and the Worrisome Wakies. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Houghton Mifflin, 2017. Unpaged. $16.99. ISBN 978-0544640948. Ages 4 and up. P9 Q8

Boris the badger just can’t get to sleep at night. Every night he gets the wakies, and then, when he gets to school, he always falls asleep and misses all the fun things the class does. Boris figures out how to solve his sleep schedule because he really wants to do things with his friends at school. This is a good book about getting to bed and sleeping with a schedule. The illustrations by Munsinger, who does most of Lester’s books, are full of fun.

VERDICT: Children who can’t get to sleep, and parents who want that more than anything, will find a fun story and a good lesson for this challenge. Very enjoyable.

December 2019 review by Lynne Wright.

Book review: Ghost Town, by Richard W. Jennings

Richard W. Jennings. Ghost Town. Houghton Mifflin, 2009. $16.00. ISBN 978-0-547-19471-4. 165 p. Gr. 6 – 10. P6Q7

jennings-ghost-townSpencer, one of the last residents of Paisley, Kansas, and his imaginary friend Chief Leopard Frog achieve a level of notoriety when Spence’s photos of the boarded up town yield surprising images.  As Spencer deals with the death of his father, he and his pretend companion explore and photograph the old neighborhood.

Review by student: M. K.


Book review: Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science under Glass, by Mary Kay Carson, photographs by Tom Uhlman

Carson, Mary Kay. Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science under Glass. Photo. by Tom Uhlman. [Scientists in the Field Series]. Houghton Mifflin. 2015. $18.99. 80p. 978-0-544-41664-2. Ages 11-14. P6Q6

Carson Inside Biosphere 2In 1987, a private company started building a 3.14 acre artificial ecological system north of Tucson (AZ) and named it Biosphere 2 as the second fully self-sufficient biosphere on Earth. The company dissolved in the mid 1990s, and the University of Arizona saved Biosphere 2 from being demolished in 2007. Biosphere is now used for research, public education, and tours as shown through these color photographs and diagrams combined with descriptions of the work from a biogeochemist, a marine ecologist, an earth scientist and water expert, and a sustainability expert. With weak writing, the book’s best feature is the illustrations although they might have shown more. For example, one photo fails to show the heating and cooling grates that are described in the cutline. One large photo of cholla is actually a “cane cholla,” different from the more typical chollas. Budding scientists will enjoy browsing the book, however, as an important look into sustainability research.

April 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, by Don Brown

Brown, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans. Houghton. 2015. $18.99. 96p. 978-0-544-15777-4. Ages 8-12. P8Q10

Brown Drowned CityTen years ago, Hurricane Katrina killed almost 1,500 people in New Orleans through ignorance and stupidity and almost 80 percent of the city flooded. In chronicling the devastation through this graphic narrative, Brown uses present tense to give a feeling that the reader is experiencing the event—the incompetence, police looting businesses, the failure to care for people in a race disaster with pieces of heroism. The clear, precise narration, chronologically following the storm almost hourly from its inception in West Africa, uses data, statistics, and quotes from people who were there—residents trapped in their homes, journalists, news reports, and rescue crews. The images of hundreds of thousands of people wealthy enough to flee the city is accompanied by the misery of those too poor to find a way out, some of them dying while waiting for promised buses that never arrived. Illustrations show people appearing to melt in the humid heat and fear. Brown doesn’t pull any punches as he reveals the myriad of missteps and negligence from political neglect that caused the unnecessary loss. The graphic narrative, spare but vivid, finishes with the critique of the failure: the image of an oil slick from a refinery tank wrecked in the storm with the statement, “The Army Corps of Engineers, the levees’ builders, had promised their walls would protect New Orleans from a hurricane of Katrina’s strength.” Other visual critiques show then-President George W. Bush flying over the devastated city two days after he ends his four-week vacation and an empty Amtrak platform and train with the engineer reporting, “We offered … to take evacuees out of harm’s way. The city declined. Five trains leave New Orleans empty.” In factual statements, Brown shows the twin horrors of a weather disaster and the human failure that lead to the nightmare. The final message of Brown’s book is that disasters can continue if the United States doesn’t take precautions. Everyone ages 12 and over should read this book.

Summer 2015 reviews by Nel Ward.

Book review: Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat, by Kay Frydenborg

Frydenborg, Kay. Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat. Houghton. 2015. $18.99. 252p. 978-0-544-17566-2. Ages 12+.  P5Q9

Frydenborg ChocolateFrom stories about one of the world’s favorite foods 15,000 years ago to current businesses, including replenishment of the cacao trees and replacement of rainforests, Frydenborg covers history, art, culture, economics, science, environmentalism, and social issues that swirl around chocolate’s discovery, ascendance in Europe, decline, and rebound. Slavery and exploitation were a big part of developing hot chocolate and later chocolate candy as Spanish conquistadores took over the ancient Mesoamerican culture. Current issues are the attempt to find more sustainable cultivation practices, labor laws surrounding the agriculture, the chemistry of chocolate, and endeavors to map the cacao genome. “Chocolate is the glue that binds people, cultures, history, and the health of the planet. It’s a bridge to understanding.” The author obviously loved her subject and did extensive research, writing a book as rich in information as her subject. She also presents the ecological and human cost of chocolate, giving food for thought. Black and white photos throughout the book are supplemented by 15 pages of colored photos in an insert. Recipes—Aztec foaming chocolate, Toll House cookies, etc.—conclude several of the 13 chapters. Supplements are a timeline, bibliography, extensive list of websites, and index.

Summer 2015 reviews by Nel Ward.

Book review: Terrible Typhoid Mary, by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America. Houghton. 2015. $17.99. 229p. 978-0-544-31367-5. Ages 10-13. P8Q8

Bartoletti Terrible Typhoid MaryThe story of a woman who stayed healthy but killed others with the typhoid fever bacteria carried within her body has long fascinated people. Mary Mallon was not the only person who passed along diseases, but she has become the most famous—still known after a century. Thoroughly researched to go beyond the tabloid scandal, the book begins in 1906 when a sanitation engineer was hired to find the reason for an epidemic of the disease in a family vacationing on Long Island. Thought to be a carrier, Mary Mallon, the family’s cook, was arrested and then imprisoned and/or quarantined for part of her life to keep her from following the only job she could find to adequately support herself. The biography reads much like a novel with some humor and great compassion for the subject. It also talks about the problems of women supporting themselves during the early part of the 20th century, the ignorance of health issues at that time, information about society and culture during Mallon’s lifetime, and background about the danger of typhoid fever which could easily kill thousands of people. A 15-page “Photo Album” provides posters and the reproduction of a letter in addition to photographs, and a detailed timeline is also interesting and useful. The book can lead to discussions about whether the health department had the right to lock up Mallon, why it didn’t do the same to others, how people may have been prejudiced against the Irish at that time, how “yellow journalism” influenced Mallon’s treatment, and why people don’t trust science and medicine.

Summer 2015 reviews by Nel Ward.