Book reviews: Alexander Hamilton, by Teri Kanefield

Kanefield, Teri. Alexander Hamilton. (The Making of America Series). Abrams, 2018. $7.99. 203p. ISBN 978-1-4197-2943-0. Ages 10-13. P6Q8

From Hamilton’s early life as an orphaned illegitimate child to his untimely end in a duel, he demonstrated great drive and principles that led him to a prominent place in the Revolutionary War and the ensuing formation of a government. Kanefield uses a comparison with Aaron Burr, the man who killed him, to show Hamilton’s belief in a strong central government and a federal bank to stabilize the new country’s economy. Her narration brings such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson to life, complete with many of his flaws. Liberally sprinkled throughout are quotes from Hamilton and the black and white illustrations are copies of those from the 18th and 19th centuries. Parts of his writing are included at the end of the book. Verdict: The popular Broadway hit Hamilton may create interest in the first of this series, and Kane has written a personal view of the subject. She has also done an excellent job presenting the battle between lawmakers’ difference of opinion between an agrarian society with local governments and an urban structure that could be strengthened.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America, by Gail Jarrow

Jarrow, Gail. Spooked! How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America. Calkins Creek, 2018. $18.95. 139p. ISBN 978-1-62979-776-2. Ages 12+. P7Q8

No other radio program may have had more impact on the people of the United States than Orson Welles’ Halloween-eve production of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel on Mercury Theater. Within minutes of its beginning, hundreds of thousands of people accepted the fictionalized program as fact, and the media reported their mass hysteria. Jarrow combines the lead-up to the program and its aftermath, including consideration of government censorship, with chapters detailing a description of the production with bold red-tinged sepia SF drawings. Black and white photographs highlight people involved in Welles’ life and events surrounding the program.

Verdict: Inviting language and layout provide an excellent view of a major hoax in U.S. history, one that is continued today with conspiracy theories on the internet.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.


Book review: Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create like an Inventor, by Temple Grandin with Betsy Lerner

Grandin, Temple with Betsy Lerner. Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create like an Inventor. Philomel, 2018. $18.99. 230p. ISBN 978-1-5247-3820-4. Ages 11+. P6Q8

Despite her autism, Grandin has become a famous author, scientist, and inventor. Her book for youth incorporates history, diagrams, and useful learning tips for a diversity of inventions from levers to optical illusions with practical activities such as making paper, stilts, kites, and a solar system diorama. The epilogue explains her “squeeze machine” that helped her cope with autism.

Verdict: Diagrams are sometimes complex but clear, and the directions for the projects can easily be followed. Grandin’s approach to her subjects makes the book useful for understanding autism, understanding how other people think, and understanding all the topics that she tackles. It is a book to be poured over, not something that it read and returned to the library.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Cyrus Field’s Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, by Mary Morton Cowan

Cowan, Mary Morton. Cyrus Field’s Big Dream: The Daring Effort to Lay the First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable. Calkins Creek, 2018. $19.95. 223p. ISBN 978-1-62979-556-0. Ages 12+. P7Q9

Almost one and a half centuries before the world-wide popularity of the internet, messages from one continent to another had to be relayed by ship, a time-consuming process. In the middle of the 19th century, a wealthy New Yorker met a visionary Englishman who convinced the businessman to invest in his dream of a telegraph cable laid on the ocean floor. Part of the book describes Field’s childhood and incessant drive during his adulthood; the remainder details continuing failures of the project as workers and leaders of the attempt made one mistake after another until success after ten years. Blue-tinged sepia diagrams, paintings, and vintage photographs add to the information presenting in an inviting layout.

Verdict: As Cowan relates the steps—both forward and backward—of this monumental attempt, she also points out the waste of money from the men’s stubbornness when they refused to follow directions or think through the process. At times, the narrative becomes almost comical in their lack of common sense. The illustrations and accessible writing make the book an inviting read.

Fall 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles, edited by Jessica Burkhart

Burkhart, Jessica, editor. Life Inside My Mind: 31 Authors Share Their Personal Struggles. Simon Pulse, 2018. $17.99. ISBN 9781481494649. 309 pages. Ages 14+. P7 Q8

We know what goes on inside our minds, but what goes on inside others minds? What challenges do they go through and how can that help us? Life Inside My Mind contains 31 authors’ essays on their struggles with mental health and how it effects their lives. Since each chapter is written by a different author, the book contains a wide variety of writing styles. Some stories are well written, other stories are simple and don’t have as much substance. Each chapter is 4-10 pages long. This book is helpful for youth who struggle with mental health issues or have family or friends who struggle. The authors simply tell their story and provide encouragement to others who suffer for similar issues. I think youth who struggle with mental health issues will find comfort from this book, realizing they are not alone and others deal with the same things. The essays can start the discussion on how to help loved ones with mental health issues, takes the shame away and brings hope. The essays are relatable, making mental illness not seem as scary.

Verdict: I highly recommend this book for high school libraries and public libraries. The essays cover a wide variety of mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety, addiction and more.

May 2018 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Understanding Suicide: a National Epidemic, by Connie Goldsmith

Goldsmith, Connie. Understanding Suicide: a National Epidemic. Twenty-First Century Books, 2017.  $35.99  ISBN: 1467785709. 112p.  Gr. 8+. P5 Q8

At first glance, this book looks like just another dull reference; the cover is understated and a flip-through the pages shows text riddled with sidebars, tables, maps, and photos.  However, Goldsmith’s treatment of this topic, while rooted in research and fact, is hardly dull.  She has presented facets of this complicated topic with real-life accounts, which makes it infinitely more readable and relatable to even young and reluctant readers. Also contains source notes, bibliography, a list of resources, and an index.

VERDICT: this is an important, much-needed book for any library collection that serves adolescents.

June 2018 review by Liz Fox.

Book review: Chasing King’s Killer: the Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin, by James L. Swanson

Swanson, James L. Chasing King’s Killer: the hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin. Scholastic Press, 2018.   $19.99. ISBN: 0545723337. 373p. Gr. 7-up. P5 Q7

This was the first time I have read one of Swanson’s “assassin” series books, so I was intrigued by the concept that a whole book might center on capturing a killer.  Swanson beefs the story line up so much that the actual manhunt is only a small part of the book.  He brings in so much background for the reader, educating them in the civil rights struggles of that era and how that set the stage for the assassination that the profile of killer James Earl Ray is actually secondary.  While I don’t know if Swanson meant the title to be a hook to engage reluctant readers, I could imagine it might have that effect.  There’s just enough scintillating storyline to keep them reading, and the photos, maps, and other figures make this “big book” less daunting for younger readers.

VERDICT: Swanson’s meticulous research and engaging presentation paid off; this is a book that readers of all ages would enjoy and learn from.

June 2018 review by Liz Fox.