Book review: How Sweet the Sound: The Story of ‘Amazing Grace’

Weatherford, Carole Boston. How Sweet the Sound: The Story of ‘Amazing Grace.’ Illus. by Frank Morrison. Atheneum, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-7206-7. Ages 7-10. P5Q7

Rhyming couplets follow the story of the famous hymn from John Newton’s youth when he thanks God for his life after a violent storm at sea. After Newton’s mother died when he is seven years old, he went to sea with his father at the age of 11, and later served on slaving ships. Although the book claims that he “is reborn” after the near sinking of the Greyhound in 1748, Newton continued working on slavers for another seven years and didn’t renounce slavery for another 40 years. Weatherford addresses President Obama’s singing of “Amazing Grace” with the congregation at the funeral of a church-shooting victim, and endnotes give other times when the hymn was sung, including by the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears when they are forced from their land in the South.

Verdict: The oil paintings are magnificent, but the close-ups of Newton’s face don’t ring true, starting from the first one which makes him look much older than his 23 years. The narrative also attempts to make his conversion against slavery much quicker than reality.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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Book review: Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail, by Jennifer Thermes

Thermes, Jennifer. Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail. Abrams. 2018. 48p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2839-6. Ages 6-9. P8Q9

In 1955, 67-year-old Emma Gatewood told her children she was going for a walk and hiked the Appalachian Trail developed during the 1920s and 1930s so that people could walk the 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine. Having learned about the “walk” from a National Geographic magazine she read in a doctor’s office, she carried a blanket, rain coat, and plastic shower curtain, otherwise taking only what she wore. On the way she wore out four pairs of Converse sneakers. The author treats her life of domestic abuse lightly as she raised 11 children, instead emphasizing her grit and joy in her accomplishments during her later life. The friendliness of strangers helped the amazing woman as she demonstrated that success comes from putting one foot ahead of the other. Narrative and watercolor/colored pencil illustrations show the beautiful skies of day and night, the hurricane, and the rivers she forded on her journey, and intermittent double-spread hand-drawn maps show her progress.

Verdict: The cartoon-style illustrations give a feeling of movement and adventure, and the story of Grandma’s walk seems almost surreal. Reading about her is a true delight, especially the back material that tells about her taking the trip again—when she was 76 years old. She also walked the 2,000 miles of the Oregon trail, starting at Independence, Missouri. This would be a great book to share with classes.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel, by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace

Pliscou, Lisa. Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel. Illus. by Jen Corace. Christy Ottaviano/Holt, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-62779-643-9. Ages 7-9. P5Q5

The 200th anniversary of a noted author has produced a number of biographies for children, and this one covers the usual ground about her life and her hardships in becoming a published author in a time when women were overlooked.

Verdict: Illustrations of acrylic, gouache, ink, and pencil fit the historical period with the high-waisted Empire dresses, but the flat images of characters have round faces with round pink circles on their cheeks, much like ragdolls. The lack of excitement in Austen’s life does not lend itself to wide readership among children. Libraries can keep their copies of Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen (Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng).

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs, by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

Messner, Kate. The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs. Illus. by Matthew Forsythe. Chronicle, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4521-3350-8. Ages 5-8. P9Q9

“It starts with one.” Those are the first and last words in this biography of Ken Nedimyer and the story of how he brought back coral reefs by transplanting staghorn corals grown in his personal live rock farm. Messner explains how one coral gamete can begin a colony in a time that humans are rapidly destroying the coral reefs around the world. Forsythe’s bold grainy block illustrations highlight Nedimyer’s accomplishments in an underwater community in reviving part of a disappearing environment.

Verdict: The details of the narrative, such as comparing the glue used to attach the corals to “the size of a Hershey Kiss,” create a vivid feel for his work. The message, “it starts with one,” can encourage all young readers that they are not helpless.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights, by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alison Jay

Hannigan, Kate. A Lady Has the Floor: Belva Lockwood Speaks Out for Women’s Rights. Illus. by Alison Jay. Calkins Creek, 2018. $17.95. unp. ISBN 978-1-62979-453-2. Ages 9-12. P5Q7

As one of the first female lawyers in the U.S. and the first to present to the Supreme Court, Lockwood ran for president in 1884 and 1888 when women weren’t even allowed to vote. Her life was filled with fighting against the status quo for women, for example protesting her teacher’s salary that was half that of a man’s wages and her struggle to take “men’s courses” of math, science, and politics” in college. She even had to demand her graduation diploma from the U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant after her law school refused to give diplomas to women. Endnotes include a timeline not only of Lockwood’s life but also important events in women’s rights up to 2016.

Verdict: The artwork, oil paint with crackle varnish, makes the individuals look like antique dolls, and the narrative may not be exciting to younger readers. For larger collections.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar, by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Engle, Margarita. The Flying Girl: How Aida de Acosta Learned to Soar. Illus. by Sara Palacios. Atheneum, 2018. $17.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-4814-4502-3. Ages 4-8. P7Q9

The sight of a balloon with a man in an airboat inspired a white Hispanic teenager from New Jersey traveling to Paris inspired Aida to be the first woman to pilot a dirigible. Her 1903 journey caused criticism from people who believed that girls should not learn to fly and instead keep to the stereotypes of cleaning and sewing. The author’s note at the end tells how she promised her father conceal her audacious journey and her coming the director of the first eye bank in the United States after she developed glaucoma.

Verdict: The National Young People’s Poet Laureate’s joyful free verse joins Palacios’ exhuberant digital mixed media using gouache, markers, colored pencil, and pencil in bold, strong colors with an emphasis of lime on red birds following Aida on her flight. The whimsical story will delight young readers who will also benefit from Aida’s courage.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Marie Curie, by Demi

Demi. Marie Curie. Holt, 2018. $19.99. unp. ISBN 978-1-62779-389-6. Ages 6-8. P7Q9

A noted author tackles a well-known figure in children’s biographies, several of them written for the anniversary of Marie Curie 150 years ago. Demi uses her typical two-dimensional watercolors and mixed media, this time without the gold trims, in this book about Maria Salomea Sklodowska. Born in Poland when it was ruled by Czarist Russia, Marie moved to Paris where she graduated with honors in mathematics and physics, an amazing accomplishment in the late 19th century. Her education and marriage to Pierre Curie led her to discover the elements of polonium and radium, a mixed blessing that both cured and killed before people discovered its side-effects. As in other books about Curie, Demi tells about her dual work load as scientist winning two Nobel prizes and wife/mother before her husband died in a freak traffic accident. Other events are generally well-known, such as the radium poisoning after people “painted their teeth and fingernails” with the dangerous chemical that also caused Curie’s death.

Verdict: The artwork and lyrical narrative make this a valuable addition to libraries.

April/May 2018 review by Nel Ward.