Monday, November 27, 2017

Non-Fiction for youth review: An Egg is Quiet

My little reluctant reader (age 8) LOVES science. She makes a beeline to the dinosaur exhibit at the Children's museum and especially loves the area with the fossils and eggs. I thought she and I would read this book together and learn some things. An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston with illustrations by Sylvia Long
  • Age Range: 5 - 6 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 3
  • Paperback: 36 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books; Reprint edition (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1452131481
  • ISBN-13: 978-1452131481

My daughter is at the top of the grade level range for this book, but as I said, she is a reluctant reader. She has a vision impairment as well that hindered her learning to read as quickly as her smart little brain would have otherwise allowed. We read the Kindle version of this book, so I would like to talk for a minute about accessibility. It was really disappointing how small the print was on this e-book. Most of the time I can access e-books quite well, often much better than paper books. For this book, however, the print was so tiny that my daughter and I were both really struggling to make out the text even when we opened the book on my 13 inch MacBook to enlarge the print. I haven't seen the physical book, so I'm not entirely sure if it would have been better or worse trying to read it off the paper. In addition, much of the book is written in a fancy script font, which looks very nice but is harder for children, reluctant readers, or those with visual impairment to read. I would have liked to see slightly less attention paid to the aesthetics of this book and more attention paid to the content being accessible to all. Even my ten year old daughter with near perfect vision who is an excellent reader had a bit of a hard time making out some of the text. I would like to check out a physical book in this series to see if the print is any more legible. Another option could be an audiobook version, but I wasn't able to easily find one.

When I asked my 8 year old what she liked most about this book, she said, "I liked the pictures and that there was so much information." She said what she didn't like was, "HOW SMALL THE WORDS WERE!" This book does have lots of appealing elements. The illustrations are whimsical while also presenting some scientific authenticity. The eggs aren't shown exactly to scale, but the varying sizes are represented. There are lots of fun facts about varying types of eggs and the creatures that come out of the eggs. Some of the pages were nice for reading aloud, while others are more of a catalogue style page that is not as well suited for reading aloud.

These books are part of a series. The other titles are 

A Nest is Noisy

A Seed is Sleepy

A Rock is Lively 

A Butterfly is Patient

A Beetle is Shy 

These books would be nice for winding down before a nap or bedtime or for quiet reading time for a child who can individually read the print and the script. 


Non-fiction for youth review: Grandfather's Journey

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say is a poignant, lovely book about the internal conflict within an immigrant who feels belonging to two places at once. A person can never be in two places at once physically, but many immigrants feel that their hearts are torn. 

  • Age Range: 4 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Paperback: 32 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (October 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547076800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547076805

While the text itself is simple, the story is tender and nuanced. Say describes how his grandfather emigrated to the United States and then later returned to his home country of Japan. Whenever the grandfather was in one country, he missed the other country, feeing a sense of belonging to both. Young children may not fully understand the situation described in the book, and the overall emotional feel is a bit sad. That isn't to say that picture books need always to be jolly, and this particular story would resonate with children and grandchildren of migrants, as well as educating children whose families have lived in the United States for many generations on the experience of immigrants and their descendants.
The illustrations in the book are beautiful. They remind me of French Impressionism, such as Claude Monet. This particular illustration in the boat I thought was especially pretty. Grandfather's Journey won the Caldecott Medal in 1994. 

My ten year old daughter read this and commented that she liked the flow between the characters and that the book wasn't disjointed in identifying what was happening to whom. She also liked that it didn't feel like an "average children's book". She said the picture book almost felt like a novel and enjoyed that it was more mature. She said she would have enjoyed more detail about the characters and the story. I loved the beautiful illustrations and the lyrical honesty of the text.I would have liked it to have a more uplifting feel. The last page is at once heartwarming and heartwrenching. 

What do you think? Have you read Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say? If you did and you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy

Tea with Milk by Allen Say 
Watch the Stars Come Out by Riki Levinson

Non-fiction for youth review: Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

For this post, I decided to read Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen. I was kind of blown away by it. Here are the quick stats.

  • Age Range: 12 and up 
  • Grade Level: 7 - 9
  • Lexile Measure: 730L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (April 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525426817
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525426813

I love a good coming-of-age fiction novel, and Popular reads in a similar way. The premise of Popular is that Maya Van Wagener picks up a guide to popularity published in the 1950's and decides to implement the wisdom within at her modern day junior high. Maya really does desire that popularity. She feels like an outcast, and is frequently teased. In some ways, the author is your average teenage girl, but her maturity, self-awareness, empathy, and intelligence made this a great read for this 37 year old. I wish I had been able to read this book in my awkward teenage years, to be honest, and I will definitely pass it along to my daughters when they are a little older, as there are some sensitive situations in the book that I don'f feel they are quite ready for. Teen Vogue did a good article on Maya which you can read here. You can also follow her on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. Though she's busy with college at the moment, she has been signed for a two book deal, so we have another book to look forward to in the future, and apparently, Dreamworks has bought the rights to the movie, so that stands to be delightful as well!  

Popular has an over 4 star average on both Amazon and GoodReads, and was recognized as a YALSA book of excellence for 2015. All of the acclaim is well-deserved. This book will stick with you. It's simple and light, the way a book inspired by 1950's vintage insights should be, but it also is tender and touching. I enjoyed the author's eccentric family as well as the descriptions of the town they were living at the time. Some subjects that were not handled as well as I might have hoped are obesity and Autism, but Maya is never hateful in her writing, just very true to her teenage voice in those instances. 

Adult Readers of Popular might enjoy 
Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman's Inspirational Story by Jodee Blanco 


Queen Bees and Wannabees (3rd edition): Helping your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of the Girl World by Rosalind Wiseman

Young Readers might enjoy 

Smile by Raina Telgemeier
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley 

and of course I would be remiss not to mention the book that inspired Maya, leading to a close friendship with its author, Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide by Betty Cornell.

Check out this book. It's a quick read, mostly light, and I'd love to hear what you think!  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Non-Fiction for Youth Review: Smile by Raina Telgemeie

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: GN410L (What's this?)
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Graphix; 1 edition (February 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545132061
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545132060

I came across this title when I was looking for biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs geared toward youth. I love a good coming of age story so I thought I would check this one out. To be completely and totally honest, I didn't like it at all. I felt it was boring. I didn't really feel like the author had a story worth telling. I didn't find the characters interesting and they didn't seem to have any depth whatsoever. Not even the main character was very well-formed or interesting. This book did nothing for me, BIG BUT... it wasn't written for me. As a future librarian it's not ever going to be my job to like all the books, but it is absolutely my job to understand why everyone else likes the books. 

So, here we are. Interestingly, when my 8 and 10 year old daughters, who are right in the target audience for this title saw I was reading it, I gained about ten cool points. My 8 year old told me she had been wanting to read it but hadn't checked it out yet, and my older daughter told me she had already read it and put it on her list of favorites. "Hmm..." I thought to myself, "a book that appeals both to my reluctant reader 8 year old and my voracious reading 10 year old... that really is something special." 

Not only that, but check out the reviews on Amazon! I mean Holy Cow! With 1,134 reviews, the book has a score of 4.8/5 stars. The rating is only slightly lower on GoodReads, with a 4.20/5 stars, but 107,754 ratings so far. The book has loads of appeal. I'm going to try to pinpoint some of the reasons why. 

First of all, I think graphic novels have an appeal to both enthusiastic and struggling readers. They can be more friendly to some disabilities than titles with lots of dense text.

There is also the appeal of the coming-of-age story. Like I said before, I felt that this particular coming-of-age story was quite shallow, but clearly I am in the minority.

I do think that Raina's injury and subsequent surgeries and treatments have the ability to draw the reader in due to pity, a smidge of voyeurism, and relief in not being alone in a) feeling weird, b) having medical concerns, or c) being bullied. This plot device was not particularly effective for me considering my own personal life story, but I can see where it might be for people who haven't experienced some of the things that I have. 

It is frustrating to watch Raina continue to hang with her "mean girl" friends. That was one of my least favorite aspects of the book. I wanted her to tell those girls to kiss off much sooner, but at least it was satisfying when she finally did. 

Smile isn't a deep read, in my opinion, but it's quick, light and easy to follow. Most readers love it, and it definitely deserves a place on any library's shelves that is frequented by the targeted age group! 

I'll share two of my favorite moments below. In the first excerpt, Raina is talking to her mother about how she wishes more kids would be open about the stuff that makes them feel like outcasts. In the second excerpt, Raina describes how once she started doing things she cared about and that made her feel good, she found better friends and liked herself more. These are really the best takeaways from this book. 

Did you read Smile? What did you think? 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Non-fiction for youth review: Hark! A Shark!

Hark! A Shark! All About Sharks from the Cat in the Hat's Learning Library
by Bonnie Worth
Illustrated by Aristedes Ruiz and Joe Mathieu

  • Age Range: 5 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Kindergarten - 3
  • Lexile Measure: NC760L 
  • Series: Cat in the Hat's Learning Library
  • Hardcover: 48 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (January 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375870733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375870736

I love a good non-fiction picture book! This title has a lot going for it. It is well researched by professionals. This photo of the front matter shows that experts in both marine life and literacy were consulted in the writing of this book. Children can absolutely have informative AND entertaining books at their disposal. 

I love that the both the science and the reader are shown respect by presenting the subject matter with the most possible accuracy.

Another thing I feel is essential to good children's non-fiction is a glossary and resources for learning more about the topic at hand. This book contains both of those elements, as well as an index. 
Regardless of how "good" a title is according to adults, however, the true test is in whether children will read it or accept it as a read-a-loud. This book, with over 4 stars on amazon, fulfills both of those requirements! Hark a Shark! is written in the rhyming style of Dr. Seuss, using the characters from the popular Cat in the Hat reboot that is aired on PBS. The illustrations are whimsical and aid in the presentation of the information. The language used is fun but accurate. In this example, you can see the characters learning about skin grafts using shark skin.
The book holds my kids' attention pretty well. I do think that dividing the book into some sort of section would have been beneficial to the presentation of the information. The cool thing about this book is that it's a great read-a-loud title because it follows the fun structure of Dr. Seuss, but it's also a fantastic choice for independent reading. I'm a big fan of this book, and I will also be looking for more of the Learning Library's titles. We own Would you Rather be a Pollywog? at our house and that has also been popular with my kids. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Non-fiction for youth review: Everything you Need to Know about NIGHTMARES and how to Defeat them: The Nightmares! Handbook

A couple weeks ago, I ordered my daughter's beginning band book from Amazon. When the package came I opened it, and instead of the band book, I received this. 

Hmm... not at all what I was expecting or needed, but somewhat serendipitous. I thought it would be a good book to examine in regards to non-fiction for youth. Though the "characters" In this book are mythical, it fits the non-fiction criteria because it operates as a field guide. 

At a glance:

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 0850
  • Series: Nightmares!
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers (September 12, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385744315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385744317

When I started reading this I didn't realize it was part of a series. Jason Segal and Kristen Miller have written three prior fiction books in this series. I had hoped for more of an informational text on how kids can manage their nightmares with some information from doctors and child psychologists presented in an engaging way for kids. That's not what was in this book. Each chapter talks about a specific kind of monster that could be in a bad dream and how to defeat them. The book could be entertaining, I suppose, but there's not much real takeaway here. I didn't enjoy it at all and couldn't get through it because I was too bored.
That being said, the book wasn't written for me, it was written for 8-12 year olds, specifically those who have read the fiction series. My 10 year old daughter started the book and ended up taking it to her room because she wanted to read the rest. She loved the illustrations and thought the text was interesting. It's a nice book for this time of year, with a little bit of spookiness form the nightmare monsters, but nothing too horrifying. I would definitely recommend that before reading this guide, you pick up the fiction novels first. My daughter was definitely right about the illustrations, they are charming and whimsical. The text, though not interesting to me, was presented well.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Non-Fiction for youth review: She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

The phrase "Nevertheless, she persisted" took the culture of American feminism by storm after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D. Massachusetts) attempted to read a letter by activist and widow of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, on the Senate floor in protest of the proposed appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. After Senator Warren was not allowed to continue with her prepared speech, among controversy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.) was quoted as saying, "Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." The phrase has since come to represent the perseverance of women who continued on their intended paths despite strong and sometimes dangerous resistance. 

At a glance: 

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Philomel Books; First Edition, First Print edition (May 30, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1524741728
  • ISBN-13: 978-1524741723
  • Lexile Score: NC1170L 

Activist and author Chelsea Clinton presents a carefully chosen, inspiring list of American women who triumphed over adversity to live their dreams. Though the white, female, liberal feminist movement has been accused of a lack of intersectionality. this book addresses that issue with a commitment to diversity. Five of the women included are Caucasian, Five are African-American, one is Latina, and one is Native American. I was glad to see this representation. The premise of the book is a young girl (African-American) walking through a museum learning about important American women in history  Each short vignette gives a description of the heroine's life and accomplishments, including a quote from the woman herself. Alexandra Boiger's lovely illustrations are the perfect complement to the text. Many of the woman are shown as both a young girl and an adult. 

I was utterly charmed by this book. I read it aloud to my 10 and 8 year old daughters, who were enthralled. My 8 year old's favorite page was the Florence Joyner (Flo Jo) page. She said, "WOW! That little girl grew up to be HER! That's amazing!" 

My ten year old daughter said that the most important message in the book was that women can do anything that men can do and that girls shouldn't let anyone talk them out of their dreams. 

I thought this was a fantastic book and I enjoyed reading it to my daughters. I would recommend it as a read aloud and discuss book to other families with daughters. She Persisted should be a fixture in any school library as it promotes the ideals of gender equality, racial equality, and achievement despite adversity. Thank you to Chelsea Clinton for this lovely book, and thank you most of all to all the brave women who inspired it.