Children's Fashion of the Russian Empire by Alexander Vasiliev, 223 pp, RL 4

Children's Fashion of the Russian Empire by Alexander Vasiliev is a fascinating pictorial look that spans fifty years, beginning in 1860 and ending in the 1910s. In the Author's Note, Vasiliev explains that, in the 1850s, photographic cartes de visites - photographs glued onto small pieces of card - became popular and prolific among the "gentry, the urban bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie." These photographs illuminate a time when clothing, which was always handmade and specific to children (basically, not adult clothes in kid sizes) was the norm and the styles changed every few years. And, not only do these photographs show the clothing of the time, in many photographs the toys and pets of the children can be seen.

Each decade is prefaced with a page of historical information that is fascinating. Who knew that in the 1860s, boys' and girls' clothing had only minor differences? Vasiliev refers to the influences from other countries, mostly France, as well as the influences from the monarchy and military and details fashions like bathing costumes and small purses. The historical information definitely enhances the pictures, but it is the photographs themselves that are compelling. It's easy to lose track of time thumbing through the pages and looking at the clothes - and hairstyles and expressions - of these children over the course of fifty years.

Source: Review Copy


Blue on Blue by Dianne White and Beth Krommes

Blue on Blue is a poetic meditation on nature and the weather written by Dianne White and illustrated by Caldecott winner Beth Krommes that is an absolute joy to read. Having read picture books out for more than twenty years professionally and parentally, I have come to have very high standards for rhyming picture books. My year as an assistant to a literary agent cemented my belief that most people think that writing a picture book is easy, and that writing a rhyming picture book is even easier. Based on the hundreds of queries I read, along with all the published picture books, writing a GOOD picture book, especially a GOOD rhyming picture book is anything but easy. However, it is writers like White who fool every other wannabe-kid's-book author into thinking this is an easy endeavor. Blue on Blue is effortlessly fluid and simply beautiful. Blue on Blue also feels a bit like a nursery rhyme, which makes sense after reading White's about page on her website where she points to a week spent in bed with her siblings as they suffered through mumps and listened to Mother Goose poems "incessantly." Be sure to visit this page and click on "Mother Goose" for a real treat - a twenty-five minute long video of the actual record playing! Not only will (most) kids be amazed by the almost-antiqueness of the record player, but they will be treated to Sterling Holloway, character actor and voice of Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh, among others!

White takes readers through a rainy day that starts and ends on a small farm with mostly clear skies. Krommes's illustrations start off crisp and clean, perfectly matched with the text that reads, "Cotton clouds. Morning light. Blue on blue. White on white." Author and illustrator take readers through the building storm, "Clouds swell. Winds blow bolder. Weather changes. Air grows colder," then into the center of the storm. The storm is "Streaming, gushing. Racing, rushing. Rain on rain on rain. Pounding, hounding, noisy-sounding. Dripping, dropping, never stopping. Never stopping. Dripping dropping." White repeats lines, sometimes changing the order of words, to great effect, echoing the sound of the raindrops on the roof. 

"Slowly . . . slowly . . ." the storm fades out and life returns, inside and out. Rain boots and umbrellas come out and it's time to explore - especially the mud puddles! The gleeful romping of the little girl and her dogs ends with baths for all as the moon rises and the final pages end magnificently with these words, "Golden glow. Glitter stars, twinkling light. Black on gold . . . on silver night."

Also illustrated by Beth Krommes:

The House at Night by Susan Marie Swanson

Swirl by Swirl by the equally poetic Joyce Sidman

Other great picture books about rain and thunderstorms:

Don't miss Arthur Geisert's equally meditative, wordless picture book, Thunderstorm. Also wordless, is Rainstorm by the magnificent Barbara Lehman. And, one last superb rainy-day-picture book is The Rain Came Down by David Shannon.

Source: Review Copy


Human Body: Information Graphics by Peter Grundy

Infographics: Human Body by data journalist Simon Rogers and graphic artist Peter Grundy is the second book in a great new series from the fantastic folks at Big Picture Press. Infographics: Animal Kingdom came out earlier this year and is seeing a lot of action in my school library. Rogers has a way with collecting information that is out of the ordinary while covering familiar ground at the same time and Grundy's graphics are as eye-catching as they are easy to read.

The senses, reproduction, the heart, the brain, digestion, the skeleton, and the "human factory," are the focus of the seven chapters in the book, each of which begin with an overview of the subject. Once inside the chapters, facts detailing the functions and form of featured body parts are presented alongside interesting tidbits like the average number of babies born in America on each day of the week and a two-page spread called "the human hotel" in which various parasites are shown on or in the places on the body where they  live.

The chapter on reproduction does not specifically explain how babies are made, mentioning only that, "when male sperm enter the female womb, an egg, or ovum, can be fertilized and begin to grow," in the introduction. However, the male and female reproductive parts are presented, infographic style, and their functions detailed. A two page spread on conception shows how long sperm can live once inside the female in various animals, the average number of sperm per ejaculation for pigs, humans and rats, and the average speed of ejaculated sperm for humans and how it compares with other travel speeds. The chapter also covers what the different cries babies make mean, how much sleep babies need by age and how long to parts of the body take to finish growing. All very interesting information to be shared at the right time.

Other books in the series:

Infographics: Animal Kingdom  and, coming soon, Space!

Source: Review Copy


Saturn Could Sail and Other Fun Facts by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hannah Eliot, illustrated by Pete Oswald and Aaron Spurgeon

Saturn Could Sail and Other Fun Facts by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hannah Eliot, illustrated by Pete Oswald and Aaron Spurgeon, is part of a fantastic, fact filled series of non-fiction picture books published by Simon & Schuster called "Did You Know?" Oswald and Spurgeon, who worked on the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, are the perfect illustrators for this kind of non-fiction book filled with facts you will want to share.

Saturn Could Sail and Other Fun Facts  imparts important facts like the make-up of a comet, the fact that Pluto is no longer considered a planet and the fact that Voyager 1 has traveled all the way to the edge of our solar system. At the same time, the authors also share interesting tidbits like the length of seasons on other planets (one season can last for 7 years on Saturn!) and that most planets have rings but they cannot be seen from Earth and that Saturn could float if it was set adrift in an enormous body of water.

I couldn't find any illustrations from Saturn Could Sail and Other Fun Facts but I did find some great pieces from Trains Can Float and Other Fun Facts that are very representative. Be sure not to miss the other books in this great series, below.

More books in the Did You Know? series:

Source: Review Copy


Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny, 355 pp, RL 4

Full disclosure here:  I have been a fan of Jason Segel's since watching the television show Freaks & Geeks ages ago. Having grown up with the Muppets, I was further impressed by Segel when I heard an interview in which he spoke passionately and thoughtfully about co-writing and acting in the Muppets revival movie. This, along with the fact that Segel had the good sense to team up with established kid's and YA book author Kirsten Miller left me opened minded (but with reservations) about reading his new middle grade novel, the first in a trilogy, Nightmares!, with illustrations by Karl Kwasny. And, while I had my reservations, even when I had a review copy in my hands, it was Renee Dale's review of the audio book (which she leads off with a fantastic description of the amiable kind of multi-talent Segel possesses), read by Segel, that prompted me to purchase the audio and give it a go. 

Charlie Laird's waking life is almost, but not quite, as horrible as the nightmare world that plagues his sleep - and keeps him awake and exhausted with huge black sleep deprivation circles under his eyes. Now twelve, Charlie's mom died three years earlier and his grief remains present and profound, especially since his father has remarried. Not only has he remarried, but he has moved his family - Charlie and his little brother, Jack, into the ancestral home of his new wife, Charlotte De Chant. Charlotte, an herbalist who grows her own plants and runs a shop in town, is also a vegetarian and a bit of a health nut (she puts kale into pancakes) who has returned to Cypress Creek to live in the purple mansion on De Chant Hill. It's bad enough that Charlie is convinced Charlotte is a witch, what's worse, Charlie's little brother, Jack, seems to adore Charlotte, her strange cooking and the creepy book she is writing and illustrating in her lair at the top of the mansion's tower.

At night, Charlie's nightmares take him to a real witch's lair where she hangs him in a giant cage that swings from a hook in a tall, exposed tower before eating him. She also taunts him with insults that hurt even more because, in his waking life, he is sure they are true, especially because is increasingly, angrily, pushing everyone away. In  Nightmares!Segel and Miller have created dual worlds that are not too far apart. The Netherworld, the dreamscape that Charlie and, as the story unfolds, all of the children of Cypress Creek, are transported to at night, is populated with people, places and things from the waking world. Worst, and poignantly, emotions from the waking world follow the children to the Netherworld, growing and promising to engulf them - after toying with them first. When Charlie believes that Jack has been stolen by his nightmare witch, he finds a portal to the Land of Nightmares in Charlotte's lair and rushes in to rescue him.

Segel and Miller give Charlie a group of loyal, if somewhat standard, friends. Rocco Marquez is tall, handsome and much better at sports than academics. Alfie Bluenthal is the class genius and Paige Bretter, despite being "dainty as a music box ballerina," is an effortlessly gifted student who fits right in with the dudes, somehow. Layers are added to the three friends when they enter the Netherworld and confront their deepest fears in the form of nightmares. The characters in the Netherworld are more interesting than the humans, especially the sad rebel clown, Dabney, who I hope we see more of in the next book, and his buddy, Meduso, a male gorgon. Then there is President Fear, the leader of the Netherworld who is upsetting the delicate balance of good and bad fear that the inhabitants have worked to uphold. Segel and Miller also do a fantastic job with the landscape of the Netherworld, which is crawling with a variety of familiar things gone wrong, like the fluffy white bunnies who, instead of sparkly eyes, twitch noses and whiskers, are all gaping maws with razor sharp teeth and bloodstained fur that tells you they just feasted on something very big. That said, the creepiness of the Netherworld (and the sadness) is often mitigated with humor. Comic relief comes from the hordes of goblin minions, Meduso's mirror-loving mother ("she may be a gorgon, but she's also a diva. One is a terrifying creature that can turn men to stone, and the other is a gorgon.") and President Fear's insistence that the name "Paige" is pronounced "Podge," as well as his five-point plan for taking over the world and ensuring immortality, number 4 being, "Try a Krispy Kreme doughnut."

Like the Land of Nightmares that relies on facets of the waking world, Segel and Miller have created a new literary world that is both unsettling and amusing by taking familiar elements from middle grade fantasy to make something that is imaginative, thoughtful and a little bit creepy. And, Segel does a brilliant job reading Nightmares!. He captures the wide range of character voices and narrates with a touch of sadness in his voice that adds to Charlie's story.

Source: Review Copy and purchased Audio Book


Galápagos George by Jean Craighead George, paintings by Wendell Minor

Happily for us, Jean Craighead George, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, worked right up to the end of her long, well travelled life. George, a naturalist who was known for imbuing her books with science and nature and illustrated many of her own books, worked often with artist Wendell Minor, who wrote this wonderful tribute to her. Galápagos George is their final collaboration. 

Galápagos George is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species and lived to be 100 year old. George goes all the way back to the beginning to tell his story, about one million years ago in South America with Giantess George. Her life changes when a storm sweeps all kinds of living things into the sea, including George, who survives precisely because she is a turtle and can change her body fat into food and water. Giantess George, along with several relatives and many other kinds of animals, wash up on a new island (now names San Cristóbal - a map in the end papers illustrates her journey perfectly) six hundred miles from where she began. 

Galápagos George goes on to show how Giantess George adapts to her new environment by using her long neck  to reach up and eat the leaves off trees when the plants on the ground run out, leaving offspring with long necks who continue to adapt and survive. There is a sad turn of events when people arrive on the island, however, George's inclusion of Darwin in Giantess George's story is wonderful. Galápagos George ends with the last descendant of Giantess George spending the final years of her life at the Charles Darwin Research Station while the search for a mate proves fruitless. Lonesome George died on June 23, 2012 at four o'clock - just weeks after Jean Craighead George herself, who ends her book with these hopeful words, "as long as there is life, there will always be 'new and unimaginable things that can happen.' And they do. All the time."

Jean's Newbery Award winning books:

Posthumously published books:

Source: Review Copy


Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page,

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page have a talent for presenting the animal world in endlessly interesting ways for readers young and old, as they prove once again with Creature Features: 25 Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do. Jenkins's colorful collage-style illustrations get up close and personal with the sometimes strange faces of animals from all over the world in this new book, which has a great premise that makes this non-fiction book read like a picture book.

Each page features an animal, the text always starting with something like, "Dear mandrill, Why is your nose so colorful?" The animals's replies are short and to the point and written in the animals's own voices. The mandrill answers his question with, "My bright read and blue nose tells other mandrills that I'm a full-grown male monkey, so they'd better not mess with me. My rear end is pretty colorful, too, but I'd rather not talk about it."

Jenkins and Page include a wide range of animals, from furry to freaky. A hamster is asked about his fat cheeks and an axolotl is asked about the feathers growing out of his head. A caterpillar, squirrel, pufferfish and blobfish also get the third degree, along with the sun bear, the hyrax and many other animals. And, while the book itself is very entertaining, my favorite part is the 2-page infographic at the end of the book that shows the animals in silhouette, giving readers a better idea of their size, and corresponding globes that show where each creature lives. 

Thorough and engrossing as always, I can't wait to see what this team turns their focus on next!

Source: Review Copy


Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton,

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes is the newest book from zoologist and children's book author extraordinaire, Nicola Davies. As always, Davies is paired with a wonderful illustrator, this time Emily Sutton, who brings wonderful detail and engaging colors to this look at the smallest of living things. Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes is sure to start conversations the minute you turn the last page.

Davies begins her book by presenting wonderful examples of just how small microbes are by using things both large and small that will be familiar to young readers and listeners whales and ants. From there, she goes on to make comparisons that will further help readers understand that which they cannot see with their own eyes.

Davies tells readers that a single teaspoon of soil can have "as many as a billion microbes. That's about the same as the number of people in the whole of India." Once their massive numbers are established, Davies goes onto to share where microbes are and what microbes can do. From the good ones to the bad ones, the ones inside us and out and all their various forms, Davies makes this vast topic graspable.

This is especially so when she is talking about what microbes do, like turning soil into compost and milk into yogurt. I loved Sutton's giant illustration of a paramecium microbe, but my favorite part of the book came when author and illustrator showed readers how microbes expand by using the E. coli microbe as an example over the course of four pages.


Davies ends on a reassuring note, telling readers that only a few microbes can make humans sick while "most microbes are busy doing other things," like enriching the soil so new things can grow and making the air good to breathe. 

A completely enthralling book, the only thing I might have added to Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes would be photographs of some actual microbes to round out the experience.

Source: Review Copy


Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan / Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan, by Jeanette Winter

Becoming an elementary school librarian has changed the way that I read and think about children's books. Instead of reading to or imagining my own children reading the books I review, I now also think about my students and how they will receive and understand a book. Also, as a librarian, I can encourage (or insist) students read a book that they probably would never pick up on their own. With all these things in mind, I think that Jeanette Winter's newest work of narrative non-fiction, Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan / Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan is a superlative book, both for the lives that are illuminated and the way in which Winter presents them, in text and illustration. The book itself flips to tell the stories of these two remarkable childrenwhich are presented back-to-back as two separate tales. The center page is a moving illustration showing Malala and Iqbal on opposite pages, standing atop mountain peaks and reaching out to each other. Iqbal, who died from a gunshot wound in 1995 at the age of twelve, is a ghostly grey, his kite (a beloved pastime of his) floating away from him and to Malala. 

Winter precedes the stories of Malala and Iqbal with an author's note and biographical information that gives depth and context to their life stories. Following this, each story begins with a quote from Rabindranath Tagore, "Let us not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless when facing them." A poignant quote, it also helps young listeners/readers to understand the dangers faced by Malala and Iqbal every day, as they did things we take for granted here, like going to school.

Winter's text is sparse in Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan. She presents the dangers faced by each child, keeping the (gun) violence experienced by each child out of the illustration or off the page entirely. When Malala and Iqbal speak in their stories, the text changes color and their words are direct quotes. The information conveyed in Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan is difficult, but Winter presents it in a clear, concise way that makes  the life experiences of these amazing children immediately understandable to children who might have no idea what or where Pakistan, the Taliban or Peshgi, the loans that hold children like Iqbal in bondage, are. 

I have no doubt that, as Common Core Standards are fully implemented, books like those written by Winter and other fantastic authors of narrative non-fiction  will get more, deserved, attention. Published in November 2014, the author's note for Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan Iqbal: A Brave Boy from Pakistan mentions Malala's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, which she had not yet won. Hopefully future printings of the book will be able to include the joyous honor and celebrations of her work that followed.

 More books by Jeanette Winter featuring amazing subjects:

Source: Review Copy