Book review: Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing, by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley

Robbins, Dean. Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing. Illus. by Lucy Knisley. Knopf, 2017. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-399-55185-7. Ages 6-9. P7Q8

Millions of people know the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man who walked on the moon in 1969, but far fewer know the name of the women who made his walk possible. Without her software, the Apollo mission could not have landed. Robbins begins the picture book biography with her love of solving problems and follows her career in science after her father’s encouragement. In the 1950s and 1960s, she experimented with writing code to predict weather and track airplanes before she worked for NASA, developing the steps on flying to the moon. Cartoonish ink illustrations colored in Adobe Photoshop accompany the minimal text that explains a complicated process in a simple fashion. Particularly delightful are the signature huge glasses that Hamilton wears. End papers include black and white photographs of the subject, including the almost six-foot tall stack of her documents of code for the project.

Verdict: The illustrations are inviting, but the text is set in all caps in a font simulating hand printing, making it harder to read. Yet the humor and information in the book make it a must read for young people that fills in missing information about the space program a half century ago, especially in its encouragement for girls to pursue careers in science.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a Changing Sea, by Bryn Barnard

Barnard, Bryn. The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a Changing Sea. Knopf, 2017. $18.99. unp. ISBN 978-0-375-87049-1. Ages 9-12. P6 Q9

Pollution, global warming, overfishing—these are all problems that are creating a “new ocean,” more similar to the simplicity of the past with the loss of many of its 230,000 species. Four pages about each of six different species—jellyfish, orcas, sea turtles, tuna, coral, and blue-green algae—detail their history, characteristics, and problems they face from the carelessness of humans. The two-page conclusion briefly describes five extinctions of the past with ways that young people can help reverse the tragedy.

Verdict: Although heavy in text, the narration sometimes uses generalities, for example with no specific information about the extinctions, that make the book more accessible to younger people. The full-page oil illustrations cross the fold for a more magnificent image, and the two double-page maps in the end papers show the areas of garbage and the ocean acidification during the past two decades. A thought-provoking wake-up call to the world of the future.

May/June 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals, by Jordan Stratford, art by Kelly Murphy

Stratford, Jordan. The Case of the Counterfeit Criminals. (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, No. 3) Ill. Kelly Murphy. Knopf, 2017. $16.99. 193p. ISBN 978-0-385-75448-4. Ages 9-12. P8Q8  

stratford-counterfeit-criminalsLord Byron’s daughter Ada Lovelace and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s future wife, Mary, reappear in the third installment of this series, joined by another historical figure, dinosaur fossil hunter Mary Anning. Although the people are real, their ages have been changed and their activities purely fictional as the two self-appointed detectives set out to solve the mystery of Anning’s missing dog. They discover that Anning is being blackmailed, but their task is made more difficult by the unexpected appearance of Ada’s grandmother who demands that Ada stay in bed to get well. Very nice pieces from the early 19th-century setting such as Ada’s being subjected to bleeding by leeches and the restrictions on women’s activities at that time. The plot is fun with abounding wit, and the protagonists clever in their critical analysis of situations. The relationship between Ada and Mary grows as they develop even more trust in each other. A great mystery addition to juvenile literature.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents, by Ken Burns, illustrated by Gerald Kelley

Burns, Ken. Grover Cleveland, Again! A Treasury of American Presidents. Ill. By Gerald Kelley. Knopf, 2016. $25. 94p. ISBN 978-0-385-39209-9. Ages 7-11. P8Q7

burns-grover-cleveland-againJust in time for the 45th president, the brilliant creator of award-winning historical documentaries has written this book with two-page spreads on every U.S. president, inspired by the tales he told his daughters about the people who led the nation. Included for each of the 43 men is a column of factual information with the official portrait, digital action illustrations reminiscent of watercolors featuring each in a variety of backgrounds, snippets about presidential information set against red or blue backgrounds, and a few paragraphs about their presidencies.

Verdict: Burns maintains a balance for his information, for example, addressing both Andrew Jackson’s racism against Indians and his adoption of a Creek orphan. The book would be useful as a reference source and teaching tool.

January 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy, by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez

Michelson, Richard. Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. Il. Edel Rodriguez. Knopf, 2016. $17.99. 40p. ISBN 978-1101933305. Ages 4-8. P9Q9 

michelson-fascinatingBest known as Dr. Spock in the classic Star Trek series, Leonard Nimoy had a background in stage acting and photography. Thanks to the author, Nimoy’s friend and professional colleague, readers can learn that the famous Vulcan greeting actually comes from the Jewish tradition Nimoy learned in his Jewish upbringing in Boston during the 1930s and 1940s as well as other insights into the actor’s life and career. Rich blues and browns join with a warm text about Nimoy’s path from his early life with Russian immigrant parents to one of the most famous television characters in the world. More than a biography, the book illustrates the value of hard work and experience of being a member of an immigrant family in the U.S. Nimoy himself approved the text of the book before his death in 2015.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Bryant, Jen. Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille. Ill. by Boris Kulikov. Knopf. 2016. $17.99. 40p. ISBN 9780449813379. Ages 6-9. P7Q9

bryant-six-dotsYoung readers can learn about both the Braille alphabet and the courageous French man who created a way for the blind to read after he himself was blinded by an awl when he was young. The letters made from raised dots came from a French military code that also used patterns of dogs. Spreads also emphasize Braille’s focus on his hearing with line drawings on a black background characterizing the sounds. Particular delights come from Braille’s refusal to be discouraged by his handicap and his energy in working through problems. Using his perspective in telling the story, the book provides an intimate look into his life and work.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience during World War II, by Albert Marrin

Marrin, Albert. Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience during World War II. Knopf, 2016. $17.99. 246p. ISBN 9780553509366. Ages 14+. P5Q10

marrin-uprootedOne of the three biggest travesties in the United States—the others being the Vietnam War and the oppression of minorities—occurred during World War II when the U.S. government “relocated” over 100,000 people of Japanese descent, 62 percent of them U.S. citizens, from the western states to concentration camps. Marrin’s detailed account begins with a brief history of culture and politics in Japan and then moves to the country’s violent relationship with China. Photos and text show the racist treatment of people who were of no danger to the U.S. as they were stripped of their belongings and forced to live in the most uninhabitable regions of the country. Later chapters describe the bravery of Japanese citizens who helped the U.S. war effort, first as linguists to translate important Japanese documents and later in a regiment sent to fight in Italy. The author pulls no punches in his explanations of the bigotry leading to these shameful actions by a government that claimed it was fighting for democracy. A masterful coverage of U.S. hypocrisy in the nation’s political philosophy. Notes, bibliographies, and index.

Fall 2016 review by Nel Ward.