2.28.2017

Life on Mars by Jon Agee


Life on Mars by Jon Agee is a delight to read out loud and a marvelous conversation starter on so many levels. With Life on Mars, Agee does two of my all-time favorite thing in picture books. For most of the book, the words and illustrations tell two different stories and there is a twist at the end. Agee's illustrations are immediately evocative of the surface of Mars. Swaths of black sky are paired with light grays and browns of the surface of Mars, adding to the cold atmosphere of the planet.

An astronaut travels to Mars, sure he will find life despite the fact that everybody thinks he's crazy. He wanders the planet, a somewhat mysterious white box tied with red string in one hand. Mars is a bit desolate and more gloomy than the astronaut expected. Passing a crater, a creature emerges, eyes and ears peeking out. The creature follows behind the astronaut, sometimes mimicking the movements of the astronaut. The astronaut begins to fear he won't find anybody to share the contents of his bakery box (chocolate cupcakes) with and decides to return to his spaceship. But he can't find it. A mysterious mountain appears and from the peak he finds his way back, losing then finding his bakery box. And a flower! He was right - there is life on Mars! As the astronaut heads back to earth, the final page reveals a very funny surprise.

I have been reading this book out loud to kindergartners, first, second and third graders for a couple of weeks now and there are so many things to talk about. We talk about Mars, the solar system, space travel, what is "fake, phony fiction" and what is fact. Then, if there is time, we talk about the Mars Rover. Then we read Life on Mars all over again.

Source: Review Copy


2.27.2017

The Time Museum by Matthrew Loux, 256 pp, RL 4


In 2012 I reviewed Salt Water Taffy, a five book graphic novel series by Matthew Loux. My son was just taking off as a reader at the time and while he was able to tackle them on his own, we also enjoyed reading these graphic together. The story of two brothers spending the summer in a village on the coast of Maine in the company of a crusty old sea captain and the town's supernatural forces like a giant lobster, the ghost of a huckster and a haunted whaling ship had us enthralled. Five years later and my son and I are both SO excited to be reading the first book in Loux's new series, The Time Museum!


I love historical fiction, especially when time travel is involved. The Time Museum brings both full force. Delia Bean is a science-obsessed teen with a long, dull summer spread out in front of her. That is, until she finds a very out of place kiwi running through the woods and follows it and stumbles upon the Earth Time Museum. 

The Earth Time Museum holds artifacts from all of Earth's eras: past, present and future. Delia is doubly surprised to find that it is curated by her uncle Lyndon. After a quick introduction, she learns that she is one of six gathered at the museum to compete for an internship by proving her skill over the course of three time trials. These are literal time trials. Delia and her peers will travel to three different periods of time and complete tasks. A scavenger hunt is how the team see it, although their guide from the museum, an armor bedecked knight named Sir Walter, prefers to call it a scientific expedition.





The concept alone for The Time Museum is enough for a whole story in my book, but Loux layers in a mystery in the character of the Grey Earl that adds to the adventure and danger. The six competitors are also all well formed individuals with character traits that conflict and work together at times. Sometimes, the six are their own worst challenges. But, they do travel to prehistoric times then to the ancient library at Alexandria (I wish they had spent more time there, but Loux gets in some good jokes) and finally 1,000 years into the future where anachronistic "time discrepancies" are popping up all over London.

Closing the cover on The Time Museum, all I can think about is wishing I had a time travel device of my own so that I could go to the future and see how this story plays out!

Matthew Loux's SALT WATER TAFFY series!






Source: Review Copy

2.24.2017

Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison


Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born, written by Gene Barretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison has a fantastic narrative structure that helps young readers begin to understand the historic importance of Ali by focusing on the childhood incident that lead him to the boxing ring and a future as the People's Champion. Morrison's oil illustrations are painterly and full of energy and action.



Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born begins powerfully with a lone punching bag in an empty gym (and an explanation for young readers regarding Ali's name change) and ends with an empty boxing ring. Three two-page spreads begin the narrative, giving details of Ali's famous matches with Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Leon Spinks and including his most famous quotes. Then the narrative jumps back to 1954 where twelve-year-old Cassius Clay has his brand-new bicycle stolen while visiting the Louisville Home Show for black merchants. This life experience makes up the bulk of Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born and once you know the story and amazing coincidence it's easy to understand why. Seeing his distress at having his bike stolen, a woman on the street tells Clay to go back into the building to the basement and ask for Officer Joe Martin. After hearing Clay's story, Martin tells him he'd better learn to fight before he tries to whup the bike thief. Columbia Gym becomes Clay's second home, Officer Martin his trainer. Baretta captures Clay's bravado, confidence and determination as a young man, showing him running alongside his school bus and practicing his reflexes by having his brother Rudy throw rocks at him.

The penultimate page features Ali's quote (all of his quotes are in bold caps), "DON'T QUIT. SUFFER NOW AND LIVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE AS A CHAMPION," along with his gold medal win at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. The final page shows Ali's in a suit, pen and paper in his hand, the People's Champion. Barretta tells readers that Ali fought against religious and racial discrimination, striving to be a positive role model for them. Ali believed, "I HAD TO PROVE YOU COULD BE A NEW KIND OF BLACK MAN. I HAD TO SHOW THE WORLD." I think it's important for young readers to read this quote and think (and talk) about it. Many don't realize that, even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended public segregation and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, there were still deeply inaccurate, prejudicial, beliefs  about African Americans held by many. And there still are. Barretta includes two pages of biographical backmatter and a page with a bibliography, suggested reading and websites. Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born is a great introduction to a great man that should inspire readers to want to learn more.

Source: Review Copy





2.22.2017

egg by Kevin Henkes


egg marks Kevin Henkes' 50th book, and it echoes, in palette and deceptively simple tone, one of my all-time favorite books by him, A Good Day.

Repetition of words and images in egg, some pages divided into four or even sixteen panels, creates anticipation and, best of all, makes it a book that, like A Good Day, is a treat for beginning readers. egg begins, "egg, egg, egg, egg / crack, crack, crack, egg." Three eggs hatch, the fourth doesn't.



There is, "waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting," then, when the hatchlings return, listening and "peck, peck, peck." A crack leads to a hatch which leads to a SURPRISE! Henkes ends his book with camaraderie between the hatchlings and a little sunshiny twist on the final page.


I have read egg over and over, to kindergarteners and with first and second graders struggling to learn to read. For these children especially, Henkes' books are a treasure trove when compared to the ancient primers we have on the shelves of my library. I feel like I end up saying this every time I review a new book from this author I have been following for 20+ years now, but Henkes' enormous talent centers on his ability to capture the joyful essence of childhood, the excitement, the emotions, the quiet moments, and put them on the page with words and illustrations. I am so grateful that my children and subsequent generations of children are growing up with his picture and chapter books.

Source: Review Copy






2.20.2017

Hidden Figures: Young Readers' Edition by Margot Lee Shetterly, 232pp, RL 4


Hidden Figures: Young Readers' Edition byMargot Lee Shetterly is the "untold, true story of four African-American women who helped launch our nation into space." While I am very unlikely to read a non-fiction (even a young readers' edition) book about science and/or the space race and almost equally unlikely read a biography about mathematician, I found Hidden Figures: Young Readers' Edition highly readable and hard to put down.

What kept me reading were the continual challenges faced by Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden during their time working at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, VA at what was NACA and became NASA. Shetterly provides excellent back matter in her book, starting with a timeline of important historical events, and including a glossary, index, source notes and further reading section, as well as an index. The loss of manpower on the home front during WWII spurred President Roosevelt to desegregate the defense industry, opening the doors of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics to African-Americans. The four subjects of Hidden Figures joined the segregated computing pool, the first female computing pool having been established in 1935. 

In 1943, Dorothy Vaughn left her job as a teacher (schools were still segregated at this time) to become a "human computer," doubling her salary. She spent the next 28 years at Langley and saw the end of segregated computing pools, as well as the end of computing pools. Vaughn took computer programming classes and secured a professional job as well as the respect of her coworkers. Shetterly does a masterful job balancing the scientific advances of the time with the burgeoning civil rights movement, noting moments of subtle and not-so-subtle discrimination the African-American women faced at work and outside of work, where segregated housing, transportation, schools and shops were the norm. From segregated restrooms (or the lack thereof, forcing the women to walk the distance of the Langley campus when working special jobs) to segregated lunch tables, graduate programs and more. Vaughn and the rest of the African-American women at NACA presented themselves with a professional demeanor and dress, like they were on their "way to a meeting with the president," knowing that they had to prove themselves, both as women and African-Americans. 

In 1939, Katherine Johnson became one of three African-Americans and the only female chosen to desegregate the graduate program at West Virginia University. She went on to calculate the trajectory for the 1961 space flight of Alan Shepherd, the first American man in space. When John Glenn was preparing to orbit earth, he asked for Johnson by name to verify the calculations. Mary Jackson worked at NASA for 34 years, and, encouraged by a supervisor, she took classes to become and engineer. She had to petition to take night classes offered by the University of Virginia at the all-white high school in Hampton. She was promoted to aerospace engineer in 1958 and went on to earn the most senior engineering title possible. Christine Darden, the youngest of the four, was part of the second generation of African-American women working at NASA as "human computers," working first as a data analyst and moving on to the position of aerospace engineer, her early research resulting in a revolution of aerodynamics design.

One of my favorite stories in the book is of Mary Jackson working with her son to build a racer to compete Virginia Peninsula's 1960 soap box derby. Levi Jackson became the first African-American boy in history to win the Hampton Roads area's soap box derby, going on to Akron, Ohio to compete in the All-American Soap Box Derby. The four women of Hidden Figures made huge advances for women and African-Americans in the world of science and they also worked tirelessly outside of work, promoting, leading, inspiring, fighting for recognition and supporting each other's work.

Source: Review Copy

2.17.2017

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina, 96pp, RL 3



During my decades as a bookseller and my time as assistant to a literary agent who represents children's book authors and illustrators, I  told anyone who would listen (and even a few publishers I had contact with) that the world needs a Latina Junie B. Jones - a second grade reading level book series with a main character with a cultural heritage other than white, middle class American. Now, as the librarian at a school with a student population that is 83% Hispanic, most of which are the children of immigrants and travel to Mexico to see family often, I tell my students that they need to grow up and write these books. With Juana & Lucas, Columbian native Juana Medina takes a step down that path.


Juana definitely gives Junie B. a run for her money when it comes to precocity. She has a big creative streak and strong opinions about many things. She loves her dog, Lucas (who, interestingly is not a big part of this first book - probably a marketing decision add an American sounding name to the title), her best friend Juli, Brussels sprouts (or repollitas, Medina peppers her text with Spanish words) and Astroman. Juana does NOT like her school uniform, the school bully and the fact that she has to learn English. But, her grandfather spurs her on with the promise of a trip to the home of Astroman, Spaceland in Florida! Juana thinks, "Now I must learn all the English I can so I can hablar with Astroman in Spaceland."



Medina's illustrations and the design of Juana & Lucas is dynamic, colorful and full of movement, much like Juana herself. Her illustration style and the old world setting of Bogotá reminds me very much of the classic French children's book series, Le Petit Nicolas by René Goscinny and Jean-Jaques Sempé. Juana & Lucas is completely charming and I am so grateful that there is a book I can add to the shelves of my library that provides my students with a new point of view as well as a representation of South America that is far from that of poverty and strife. But, I find I am still waiting for the Latina Junie B. Jones


While Juana & Lucas is great for presenting a character who lives outside of the USA and is learning English, there was very little about her life that felt different from life in middle-class (white) America. If nothing else, I with that Medina had written more about food, which is such an immediate point of reference when experiencing new cultures, in Juana & Lucas. I have and continue to think A LOT about diversity in children's literature, whether it be a balanced representation of boys and girls on the page or one that genuinely presents the varied cultures and experiences that the Real America (and the rest of the world) is living. A book with a diverse character shouldn't have to carry the weight of representing and educating. Part of experiencing diversity on the page is also seeing how people who are different are also the same. As Betsy Bird wrote in her review of Juana & Lucas, "We want [children] to see themselves in their books (mirrors), see other unlike themselves (windows), and have a way to get from one place to another (sliding doors)." Juana & Lucas feels like a mirror and a window at the same time. And, while I am still yearning for a chapter book series that has the mirror qualities of a Junie B. Jones while also giving readers a window into another culture or diverse life experience, Juana & Lucas is a joy to read and a book that I know my students will embrace.

Source: Review Copy



Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeanne Atkins, 208 pp, RL 4



Verse novels have proven to be a great way to get my students, mostly girls, reading longer, more complex books. My students are predominantly English Language Learners and reading at grade level, especially a book that is 200+ pages long, is a challenge to their comprehension skills and perseverance. The distilled style of writing found in verse novels allows them to persevere and comprehend what they are reading, while also tackling a more challenging text. Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science by Jeannine Atkins is a perfect example of this. A non-fiction book about any of these subjects might be overwhelming for my students, as would a traditional novel. But, writing a verse novel allows the author an immediacy and intimacy that other genres might not. Jeanne Atkins brings this quality to Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science, doing a marvelous job setting the stage for times and places where superstitions and religious beliefs, along with discrimination against women, stifled independent inquiry and scientific thought. 

Atkins looks back to Germany in the 1600s for her first subject, Maria Sybilla Merian, then on to England in the 1800s to Mary Anning, ending with Maria (pronounced ma-RYA-ah) Mitchell in the United States in the late 1800s. With few words, Atkins makes the time and place, as well as the attitudes, vivid and real. She also makes clear the challenges that her subjects faced due to poverty and womanhood. All three women in Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science overcame the challenges of womanhood, poverty, superstition and religion to pursue their passions, starting as children with inspiration and support from their fathers.

Maria Sybilla Merian's story begins in Frankfurt, Germany when she is thirteen. Trained to mix colors and paint nature by her step-father, a guild member, Maria keeps her fascination - and paintings - of caterpillars and butterflies secret due to superstitions of the time. When her step-father abandons the family, she is not allowed to sell her paintings because she is a woman. As an adult, Merian makes a move, and makes and documents her discoveries about how caterpillars become butterflies, eventually sailing to South America where she continued to study bugs, gaining a reputation as one of the foremost entomologists of her day. Possibly the best known of these three scientists and the inspiration for the tongue-twister "She Sells Seashells," Mary Anning also suffered most in her pursuits for being a woman. Atkins's verse is so powerful that I almost felt the cold sea spray and winds and felt the weight of the hammer that Mary and her father carried onto the beach as they scoured the cliffs for fossils. Mary's father dies, leaving the family even deeper in poverty, but she continues hunting. Atkins focuses on the discovery of the ichthyosaurus skeleton made by Mary and her brother Joseph, with growing tension between the two over who actually found it and who would decide what to do with it. While not included in the story told in Finding Wonders, I did learn that Mary Anning was continually discriminated against, despite her string of discoveries and research. Banned from joining the newly formed Geological Society of London - women were not even allowed to attend meetings, Anning was also slighted by fellow geologists who neglected to mention her name when writing about fossils she discovered. Atkins makes a nod to this in her text when, as the ichthyosaurus is being carried into town, a journalist asks young Mary who found it and, knowing that she did the lion's share of the work, nods to her brother, who then gets the notoriety.

Finally, Maria Mitchell, born into a Quaker family on Nantucket Island in 1818, grew up to become the first female astronomy professor in America. Taught by her father, who worked as a map maker and chronometer repairer, and fostered by the Quaker belief of intellectual equality between men and women, Maria thrived and excelled. In 1847 she discovered Miss Mitchell's comet and was awarded a gold medal prize by the King of Denmark. After this, American women took up funds to buy Maria a more powerful telescope and she even traveled the country and Europe, viewing the sky from various longitudes. Besides being a professor at Vassar, where she encouraged students that they were not too delicate to be educated, she worked as the first librarian at the Nantucket Atheneum for twenty years.

Atkins ends Finding Wonders: Three Girls Who Changed Science with two marvelous, brief chapters: A Note From the Author and Reading Past These Pages. Here, she provides more context for the works and lives of her subjects while also discussing the craft of writing a biography, especially when personal information and artifacts are limited. The selected bibliography is especially welcome in that Atkins includes books in Merian, Anning and Mitchell for adults and young readers. These fascinating, accomplished women are sure to interest readers well into adulthood.



Source: Purchased

2.15.2017

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie SIma


Not Quite Narwhal is the debut picture book from Jessie Sima. With a title and pictures that are equally charming, it is easy to overlook the slim story that reminds me of an under-the-sea-ugly-duckling tale, sort of. 



Kelp was born, quite adorably, in the ocean and is doted on by his family. One day, a strong current sweeps Kelp away from home where he spots a, "mysterious, sparkling creature" that looks like him.




Although he is nervous about walking for the first time, Kelp comes ashore and his life changes forever when he discovers LAND NARWHALS! The unicorns set Kelp straight and show him a good time. He returns home to the welcoming embrace of his family, telling him he is not an narwhal, which, of course, they knew. Torn between two worlds, Kelp and his pod of narwhals find a way to enjoy the best of both worlds.

There is probably a message about having two families or being different and fitting in to be teased from Not Quite a Narwhal, but it's just so magically illustrated and fun to look at that I prefer to enjoy reading it for what it is.


Source: Review Copy

2.14.2017

Dormouse Dreams by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Renata Liwska


In Dormouse Dreams, Karma Wilson's superbly rhyming story is perfectly paired with Renata Liwska's richly detailed, gently magical illustrations. The story of Dormouse Dreams begins before the text when, on the dedication page, we see a dormouse in pink pearls and a pink pillbox hat getting help closing a suitcase. The narrative begins with a dormouse curled up in his "dry leaf bed," dreaming about the return of spring and his friend, then alternates between the winter world outside, the dormouse sleeping inside and the imagined arrival of a new season and an old friend. Liwska's illustrations follow this pattern, with the added treat that readers get to see the dormouse's friend as she makes her way to her friend's house.


From his cozy corner, the dormouse dreams of seeing his friend again, of the day when they can "play hide-and-seek in the tall green grass by the whispering creek." He doesn't, "hear the creaking as the ice breaks free. He doesn't hear the chirping of the birds in the trees." Outside, so much is going on. A fox is part of a cross-country-skiing biathlon, shooting an arrow then racing to cross the finish line. The dormouse in pearls clings to a biplane as friends help her get closer to her destination.



Their happy reunion is followed by a walk through the newly thawed world where they see the animals who helped the dormouse in pearls reach her destination. The final words and image of Dormouse Dreams are as sweet and cozy as the first - now both mice are curled in the dry leaf bed, their tails making a heart. Wilson's words are a joy to read out loud and Liwska's illustrations are a treat to pore over again and again.

Source: Review Copy

2.13.2017

A Crack in the Sea by H. M. Bouwman, illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, 368pp, RL 4



A Crack in the Sea is a stunning, unforgettable novel by H.M. Bouwman with superlative, generous illustrations by Yuko Shimizu. I delightedly read and listened (narrated by the excellent Bahni Turpin) to this novel of which storytelling is a central theme in January, when the ALA Awards (Newbery, Caldecott, etc) are announced and it was hard not to imagine this book as a strong contender for the Newbery medal out of the gate.

At first, the world of A Crack in the Sea feels as huge as the ocean that it is set in. But Bouwman draws her story in quickly, shifting between sets of siblings living at various times and in various worlds. We first meet Kinchen, sister and protector of her brother Pip, who has face blindness - all faces are new to him and they all look the same, in their home, known as the second world, where no one goes intentionally. The people of the second world, the (mostly) lighter skinned inhabitants of the islands and the (mostly) darker skinned inhabitants of Raftworld, were all lost at sea in the first world (our world) and thrust through a secret portal, if not born in the second world. The Raft King has his own, secret reason for wanting to return to the first world, which is one of the marvelous Easter eggs scattered throughout A Crack in the Sea, and, in what is supposed to be part of an annual trade between islanders and Raftworlders, the Raft King instead kidnaps Pip, who can talk to the fish, and leaves a young, disobedient Raftworlder in his place. Together with Caesar, the boisterous, braided girl who is traded for Pip, Kinchen sets out, on the back of a Kraken, no less, to rescue her brother.


Part of Kinchen and Pip's story, part of the history of the second world, revolves around the story of Venus and Swimmer, twins who arrived there hundreds of years ago with their guardian, Uncle Caesar. Mysterious in both worlds, Uncle Caesar found the twins off the coast of Africa, walking out of the water at a young age. He named them Water-Drinker and Swimmer and, while he was able to teach them to speak his language and some English, he never taught them how to swim and they never spoke of the magic they possessed that led them to Caesar in the first place. Years later, the trio was kidnapped and headed to Jamaica on a slave ship, a life of bondage and unspeakable cruelty already unfolding. With spare, fascinating magical abilities, the twins manage to save themselves and many other captives on board the Zong, passing through the portal into the second world. The third set of siblings, in a story that is as harrowing and heart stopping as that of the captive Africans aboard the Zong, Thahn and his older sister Sang, orphans just like Venus and Swimmer, Kinchen and Pip and young Ceasar, board a questionable vessel with their uncles, a strange boy with stranger powers and a baby to escape war-torn Vietnam in 1978.

To this already rich, layered, mix of echoing stories, Bouwman adds the theme of storytelling itself, the backbone of A Crack in the Sea. Ren, the pale skinned adoptive grandfather of Kinchen and Pip who seems impossibly old, tells stories of Venus and Swimmer. Jupiter, the storyteller of Raftworld (a position that Thahn, a storyteller himself, is amazed to learn is a profession) tells the children stories of the Raft King, named Putnam by his adoptive mother who left the second world amid a flock of birds when he was five years old, breaking his heart. Then there is Venus herself, resistant to storytelling and even memories of her past until she takes on the job of tending a very curious statue.

Bouwman has layered A Crack in the Sea with so many marvelous "a-ha" moments and unforgettable characters that, after finishing the story then reading all the backmatter, I started the book from the beginning again. And it was in the backmatter that I learned that the Zong was a real slave ship that inspired Bouwman's story. When the enslaved Africans became sick, the captain and crew decided to throw them overboard to their deaths in order to claim the insurance money. The insurance company refused to pay and the case went to court, gaining much notoriety and causing the people of Great Britain to consider the profound evils of slavery and fight against it. Of the agonizing stories of Venus and Swimmer on board a slave ship in 1781 and Thahn and Sang escaping Vietnam in 1978, Bouwman has beautiful words that remind me why we read and why some of us are called to write: 

In light of all this pain, what can a fantasy novel offer? It can ask us to consider alternative and possibilities. What if we lived in a world where people didn't die in chains, where people didn't drown trying to escape from war and persecution, where somehow love, like magical water, surrounded us whenever most needed and held us all up? What if we lived in a world where kraken weren't terrifying monsters - but simply people we do not yet know? A world where we could be bigger than we are, and where we could always offer a home to the stranger and the dispossessed? Where every new unrecognizable face could one day become the face of a friend?

The truth is, we do live in a world where these things are possible. We simple have to choose to make them happen. And sometimes, I think - I hope -a book can help us see that, and have courage, and take action.



Artwork by Yuko Shimizu, not part of A Crack in the Sea, but well suited to Bouwman's words:



Source: Review Copy





Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, 128 pp, RL 4


The introduction to Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World, written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky, begins with a story about Barbara McClintock, a cytogeneticist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983, some 20 years after she discovered jumping genes, or "transposons." Intelligent, self-confident and willing to break the rules, McClintock persevered, despite the discrimination she experienced at every turn. Of her, Ignotofsky writes, 

Barbara McClintock's story is not unique. As long as humanity has asked questions about our world, men and women have looked to the stars, under rocks and through microscopes to find the answers. Although both men and women have the same thirst for knowledge, women have not always been given the same opportunity to explore the answers.

As adult readers in 2017, stories of discrimination against women are not new. But, as an adult reader I do find myself continually surprised that these stories are not that far in our past. Less than one hundred years ago women were barred from universities and other scientific institutions that would have helped tremendously in pursuing their passions. In the early 1960s, astronomer Vera Rubin was the first women to apply for and be awarded telescope time at the Palomar Observatory. There are so many other firsts for women in our recent past that discrimination,  past and present, as well as the achievements of women in sciences, and the gender gap that exists, is worth talking about, for ourselves and all the girls who might make the next great scientific discovery, especially if they see the dedicated, brave women who came before them.


Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World includes four pages that cover lab tools, a timeline, more women in science and statistics in STEM, a glossary, sources and a conclusion that reminds us that the "progress of humankind depends on our continual search for knowledge," and urges readers to "go out and tackle new problems, find your answers, and learn everything you can to make your own discoveries!" 


The scientists covered begin in 350 CE with Hypatia, an expert in math and astronomy who was also a teacher of philosophy, and end in 1977, the year that mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani was born. In 2014, Mirzakhani became the first woman to win the Fields Medal, one of the highest honors a mathematician can receive. It is fascinating and educational just paging through Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World and seeing the various fields of science there are, from astronomer, mathematician, physicist and chemist to electrical engineer, biochemist, inventor, volcanologist, molecular biologist, astronaut, rocket scientist, computer programmer and x-ray crystallographer, to name a few.





Ignotofsky's illustrations and palette are fantastic and thoughtful, making Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World serious and playful at once, as well as a very pretty book (is that ok to say?). She provides chunks of information in the borders and a tight biography that hits the important, understandable aspects of each woman's accomplishments and struggles. I do wish that Ignotofsky and publisher 10 Speed Press had chosen a larger trim size for the book, one worthy of the women inside, and a font size that's easier on my eyes, but they did keep the cost very reasonable and hopefully this is a book that will end up in many, many girl's hands!













Source: Purchased

2.10.2017

The Day No One Was Angry by Toon Tellegen, illustrated by Marc Boutavant, 80 pp, RL 3


Toon Tellegen is a Dutch poet, writer, physician and widely read author of children's books, most of which feature anthropomorphized squirrels and ants. In 2010 I discovered two of his books on the shelves while working as a bookseller and fell in love. I was instantly taken back to my childhood favorites - Winnie-the-Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, and anything by Beatrix Potter or Tasha Tudor. These authors and illustrators created lush, sometimes dangerous, pastoral worlds where animals spent time thinking about things. And packing and having magnificent picnics. The Squirrel's Birthday Party and Other Parties & Letters to Everyone and Anyone, with their small trim size and superb production values (embossing on the bookcase, ribbon bookmarks, illustrations by the marvelous Jessica Ahlberg on every thick, creamy page) impressed me greatly and reading them to my youngest, who was five at the time, was a joy. I was SO excited to find The Day No One Was Angry, with superlative illustrations by Marc Boutavant, on the shelves of my favorite bookstore while traveling last month. Boutavant's illustrations remind me of very early Richard Scarry and Roger Duvoisin,  but with more depth and detail and a palette that recalls the 1960s. His characters are expressive, serious and silly, and his settings are expansive with many hidden details to search for. While I thought that Jessica Ahlberg was the perfect partner for Tellegen, Marc Boutavant seems spot on as well.

While not a sequel to The Squirrel's Birthday and Other Parties or Letters to Anyone and Everyone, The Day No One Was Angry is definitely set in the same world. Eleven chapters feature forest creatures experiencing and coping with anger in myriad ways. The final chapter, The Day No One Was Angry, is as surprising as those that come before it, for what seems to be promised and what is actually delivered. The thing I love most about Tellegen, and my childhood favorites, is that his stories are thoughtful, even philosophical at times, without being moralistic, preachy or dogmatic. The lack of firm answers to questions posed or the curious nature of the characters are prefect springboards for conversations with kids, which is a reason to read this out loud.






























It is fascinating to see anger presented in so many different ways, and while they may seem ridiculous to adults, young readers will understand the logic. In the first story, The Hyrax, the creature makes his way to a mountain top as the day ends, every day, and rants at the sun for setting, challenging him to not set, just this once! The Hyrax wears a had so he doesn't have to see the sun during the day. The story ends with the Hyrax convinced that no one every listens to him. In The Lobster, the Lobster, a traveling salesman, knocks at the door of a Mouse painting a still life and tries to sell him different kinds of anger from his suitcase. The Mouse has all the kinds of anger on offer, but is intrigued by a slip of "light-blue, transparent melancholy" at the bottom of the suitcase. He slips it around his shoulders and, after the Lobster leaves, sits by the window, sighing deeply.


A Hedgehog sits under a rosebush thinking of all the things he's been. He has been joyful and sad and content. But had he ever been angry? He, "badly wanted to be everything, even if it was only once." He tries to be angry, but struggles. Finally, he writes, "I am angry," on a piece of bark which immediately swept away by the wind. Hedgehog worries about someone finding his letter, then wonders if he has ever been careless, or reckless even, as he falls asleep, content again. The wind rips the bark to pieces.

A Rhino and a Hippopotamus meet on a path, blocking each other's way. They try to resolve the situation, each one refusing to move. They consider getting angry as a way of getting things moving, but neither beast is interested in that. They share a meal and have a dance, making sure that they don't pass each other on the narrow forest path, and enjoy each other's company, parting ways peacefully in the end. In the final, titular story, all the animals gather on a day when anger seems to have disappeared. They do things that should be making them anger, but anger is not there and they are unsure what they should feel. In the midst of this, Ant turns to Squirrel, who has meandered through many of the stories, and says, "I fear the worst." By the end of the story, Squirrel checks in on his friend. Ant is, "still afraid of things," but no longer fears the worst.

Tellegen ends The Day That No One Was Angry perfectly with these words:

The squirrel nodded, trying to come up with something to get angry about, and asked no more questions.

Source: Purchased