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Chris Barton. Shana Corey. Brian Floca. Megan McCarthy.
Me. (I am still in alphabetical order this way.)
On 4/21/13, from 3 to 5:45 p.m. (yes, almost three hours!), at the International Reading Association Convention in San Antonio, we five authors, moderated by Susannah Richards, Associate Professor of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University, will panel-discuss the importance of unconventional nonfiction...the stories that are not yet widely known, the people who are nottextbook names. Please join us. This group has never assembled before, and may never again. Therefore (speaking of nonfiction), history will be witnessed. Unconventional nonfiction will be glorified.
Many reviewers have been kind to cover the book, and many have addressed the for-kids vs. for-all debate. Though every review—but one—I have seen has been complimentary, what I am about to quote are not necessarily the most humbling parts but rather the parts addressing how the book is, in their eyes as mine, for any age.
Great adult biography masked as a children’s book. … Some of the subject matter touched on here and in the [author’s note], where Mr. Nobleman tells of how he researched the book, should be read by adults. It’s a fast read and if you want to know more about your comic book history it is a must read. Bill the Boy Wonder is a wonderful book.
The author’s note is straight prose and contains a lot of information about the legal issues surrounding Finger and his legacy. Not really kids’ stuff, but very interesting and useful for guys like me. Nobleman also includes a bibliography with a number of relatively obscure sources that might be worth tracking down.
It’s a children’s book…only it isn’t. Marc did years of research into Finger’s life, finding more and more previously unknown bits of information about his life and career, and shares it all here.
The body of the book, illustrated by the wonderful comics writer/artist Ty Templeton, tells the basic tale of Bill’s involvement in the creation of Batman as we now know it. A more detailed and adult-oriented set of “notes” at the end reveals even more about the mysterious writer as well as about Marc’s research itself. Marc’s choice of format is interesting as it gets the word out to even the youngest Batman fans who are likely to find this book in libraries for years to come that “Bob Kane” is not the be-all and end-all he wanted everyone to think he was. In later years, even Kane acknowledged that Bill had a much bigger role in the iconic character’s creation than he had previously admitted. For kids, it’s a big colorful picture book with a story both interesting and a little sad. For adult fans, it’s a rare chance to get to know more about someone whose work you’ve admired for years…whether or not you ever heard his name.
Some have asked why I have not done a longer biography of Bill Finger, or if I will. Between the book and this blog, for children and adults, I have shared the biggest previously unknown details my research uncovered, just as I have done with Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman. And I will continue to do so, free of charge, as new info comes my way. Add a Comment
Well, baseball season is winding down, and my beloved Phillies have been all but statistically eliminated from any hope of the playoffs, but it was baseball season, and that's always good enough for me. I'll wrap up the season with a baseball-themed book. Below is my review of the book and CD, Satchel Paige, as it appeared in the September 2012, edition of School Library Journal.
Satchel Paige. By Lesa Cline-Ransome. CD. 21:14 min. Live Oak Media. 2012. CD with hardcover book, ISBN 978-1-4301-1088-0: $29.95; CD with paperback book, ISBN 978-1-4301-1087-3: $18.95
Gr 1-4 -- Leroy Paige was born into a poor family in Mobile, Alabama, around 1906. He earned the nickname "Satchel," while working at Mobile's train depot, carrying satchels for travelers. In his family of 12 children, money was always tight. A talented pitcher, he never considered baseball as a career until he landed in reform school for stealing. A coach suggested he focus on baseball; after that, there was no stopping him. His blend of talent and showmanship propelled him from semi-pro ball to stardom in the Negro Leagues to pitch in the newly integrated Major Leagues, earning a spot in Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame. Baseball's greatest anecdotes usually have an air of tall-tale about them, and Satchel's winning ways and personality make for a biography that is as entertaining as fiction. Imagine facing his famous "bee ball," which would always "be" where he wanted it to be. Lesa Cline-Ransome writes in a folksy manner, and Dion Graham's relaxed Southern voice is a perfect complement, enhanced with sound effects and music. Though long on text, the book's large size and Graham's narration combine to offer children a chance to pore over visual details. Playing in the Negro Leagues was not always a bed of roses, but James Ransome's oil paintings highlight Paige's joi de vivre and joi de baseball. Page-turn signals are optional.
Goldin, David. 2012. Meet Me at the Art Museum: A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes. New York: Abrams.
With a mixture of humor, photography, collage, cut paper, virtual realia, and some expressive and artfully-place eyeballs, David Goldin has created a book that takes children on a comprehensive and behind-the-scenes tour of an art museum.
Employing the friendly docent's helper, Daisy, and the unceremoniously discarded Stub, Goldin guides the reader from the practical,
"Now is a good time for a break," said Daisy. "This is a cafe, where you can sit and rest your feet. ... You need to get your energy back, because there's another whole floor of treasures. You don't want to miss a single one!"
to the protective,
"Other high-tech equipment is also used to keep precious objects safe," said Daisy. "It's the conservator's job to make sure the air is not too humid, not too dry. "They control the temperature. Not too hot, not too cold. They control the lights, too. You can't have it too dark or too bright. Everything has to be just right. The conservator also fixes damaged objects in the museum's workshop."
to the awe-inspiring,
Stub discovered ... ancient writing sculptures of wood, bronze, and stone mobiles paintings costumes. It was thrilling! One day I'm gonna live in a museum, thought Stub.
The adorable Stub and Daisy provide the fun; and a surprise ending offers Stub the chance to live out his dream.
Back matter includes "Who's Who at the Museum" (archivist, conservator, curator, etc.), "What's What at the Museum" (exhibition, gallery, etc.), and "Art Titles" (a list of pieces depicted in the book).
The punctuation is a bit peculiar, with several instances of unclosed parentheses, but no matter, it's a book of art, not grammar.
If I were escorting a child or class to a museum, this book would be on my "must share" list. Well worth the price of admission!
School Library Journal ran an article whose title rivals Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman for number of syllables: “Top Picks from the Editors at Junior Library Guild: Picture Book Biographies for Older Readers.”
I’m honored that Bill made the list, and the distinguished company amplifies that honor.Add a Comment
I've just returned from vacation and have some catching up to do, but I didn't want to let Nonfiction Monday pass by without highlighting Claire A. Nivola's beautiful picture book, Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle.
Nivola, Claire A. 2012. Life in the Ocean: The Story of OceanographerSylvia Earle. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Born in 1935, Sylvia Earle rode in a single passenger airplane at the age of 5, was diving by the age of 16, went on an expedition in the Indian Ocean (the only female member of the expedition!), helped design a submersible diving bubble, once lived for 2 weeks under water, and served as the chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Ostensibly a biographical story of the admirable, Sylvia Earle, Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is this and more.
Life in the Ocean inspires the reader to follow his dreams, wherever they may lead, and for the reader already interested in the natural world, and marine environments in particular, Life in the Ocean calls him to explore,
We have explored only 5 percent of the ocean. We know more about the planets in outer space than we know about the sea on our very own home planet!
Claire Nivola's detailed paintings illustrate her intense interest in the natural world, showing even a lone mussel or skate egg sac on the ocean floor. Most of the illustrations are large and surrounded by white space, offset by manageable blocks of text in a simple font. However, smaller square illustrations are used to highlight the two more biographical pages of the book - each square featuring a milestone in Earle's life. The painting of a humpback whale swimming past Sylvia is stunningly serene, but calls to mind our individual insignificance on the planet. Check out Macmillan's Flickr gallery of artwork from Life in the Ocean to see this (though truncated) and many other illustrations from the book.
A lengthy and illustrated Author's Note contains additional information on Sylvia Earle and the current state of the earth's oceans. A Selected Bibliography rounds out this engaging and informational text.
Beautiful, inspiring and enlightening. Highly recommended.
While Sylvia Earle may have "lost her heart to the water," after leaving her home in New Jersey for Florida, the ocean here in New Jersey is also a source of constant wonder, where my family has enjoyed sighting whales, dolphins, bio luminescent creatures lighting up the evening breakers, wave-surfing manta rays, and all manner of other more mundane, but nonetheless fascinating creatures. Life in the Ocean reminds me that these everyday marvels may not always be so. They need our support as well as our admiration.
Wise, Bill. 2012. Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer Willliam Hoy. Ill. by Adam Gustavson. New York: Lee & Low.
No one today would call a deaf person "dummy," but from 1888-1902, Major League Baseball player, William Ellsworth Hoy, wore that nickname with pride.
Deaf from the age of three, his chances of becoming a major league baseball star were slim to none. At the turn of the century, deafness itself was a great hurdle to overcome. Attitudes were different, and his early years were difficult until his parents sent him to the Ohio School for the Deaf, where,
Nobody stared or pointed him. Nobody felt sorry for him.
Presumably, this is where he learned the confidence and persistence (he already had a love for baseball), that helped propel him to the top of his game as a major league outfielder. Bill Wise chronicles his early life, his rise to stardom, and the unique challenges he faced in the game of baseball. His baseball challenges were not necessarily due to his disability, but rather, just the way the game is played. If the opposing team has a weakness, exploit it.
Because he could not hear the home plate umpire shouting balls and strikes when he was at bat, Hoy had to turn around to look at the ump after each pitch. The umpire would repeat the call, and as Hoy read the ump's lips, opposing pitchers often quick pitched Hoy, throwing the next ball before he was ready to bat.
This didn't stop Hoy for long, though. There's a "workaround" for nearly everything. Some historians argue that Hoy's deafness may have been the impetus for the umpire's use of hand signals. In any case, the fans loved him - knowing that he could not hear their cheers, fans waved their arms and hats and threw confetti to show their approval.
Gustavson's mostly double-spread illustrations depict Hoy as a determined and confident young man.
Much of the text is presented in text boxes which appear as aged scrapbook or autograph pages outlined in faded fountain pen. The subdued tones of the illustrations, along with the many undefined faces, help give Silent Star the appropriate "old time" feel.
The Afterword offers additional information and photos of Hoy's baseball card and a Hoy-autographed baseball. Biographical sources are included on the dedication page. As for baseball sources, they're unnecessary, for that is one of the many beauties of baseball. There are official statistics for everything! (read or watch Moneyball, anyone?)
Scott, Elaine. 2012. Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert. New York: Clarion.
Though it may seem as if it were only yesterday, it's been nearly two years since the San José mine collapse in Chile's Atacama Desert. The first collapse occurred on August 5, 2010. For two days, an escape route remained open, however, the escape ladder was only 690 feet long. The distance to the surface was 2,300 feet. A subsequent and more devastating collapse occurred two days later on August 7, effectively sealing thirty-three miners underground. It was 9:55pm, October 13, 2010, when the last miner, foreman Luis Urzúa, finally emerged.
Buried Alive! offers a chronological story that is contextual and multi-faceted. Using a theme of cooperation (chapters are titled "Surviving Together," "Working Together," "Planning Together," "Living Together," and "Rejoicing Together"), Elaine Scott begins with an introduction of the various factors that draw men into the mine, including poverty, tradition, and national pride. Other chapters recount the extraordinary way that the miners, under the direction of Urzúa, known affectionately as Don Lucho, organized themselves fairly and purposefully to survive the ordeal, never knowing until they surfaced if they would survive.
Not covered much in televised accounts, was the real meaningful work that the men did to help themselves. They dug sanitary trenches, aided the drillers with useful information, and dug drainage and holding pools for the 18,421 gallons of water that were necessary to cool and lubricate the drill bits as they ground down to the mens' refuge, a 14-day project.
Scott also follows the cooperative scene at Camp Hope, the makeshift town including a school and medical facility, that sprung up to house the thousands of people living in tents above the mine - family members, would-be rescuers, Chilean military members, and more - all awaiting news of "los 33." And journalists were there to provide it,
an estimated 1,700 of them, representing thirty-three countries on five continents. The world had its eye, its ear, and most important, its heart on Camp Hope and the thirty-three men who were buried alive.
The cooperative (and, in the case of the drillers, competitive) spirit of the rescuers is chronicled as well. Rescue plans and offers of assistance arrived from around the globe. The logistics of drilling so far down into the ground without mishap is explained in fascinating detail.
Most people will be familiar with the jubilant scenes of rescue, but it does not feel as "old news," rather, Scott's writing rekindles the emotions of the day.
An afterword tells the somewhat saddening stories of what has happened in the miners' lives since the rescue, but the overarching message of Buried Alive! is one of togetherness - for 69 days, the trapped miners, their families and the rest of the world were together in hopefulness.
Buried Alive! How 33 Miners Survived 69 Days Deep Under the Chilean Desert is dedicated "To the thirty-three miners and those who worked, waited, and worried until they were finally free." I count myself among the millions of people who worried about the fate of these amazing men. This is a story that will live on for many, many years to come. Elaine Scott has done a superb job in telling it.
Nobleman, Marc Tyler. 2012. Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman. Ill. By Ty Templeton. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Batman. Who doesn’t know Batman in one format or another? The 1960s TV show, the incredibly popular Dark Knight movie series, cartoons, and of course, the original comic books which first appeared in 1939, bearing the name of Batman creator, Bob Kane.
Every Batman story is marked with the words “Batman created by Bob Kane.” For almost thirty years, fans did not suspect otherwise. But that is not the whole truth. Bob Kane himself said so. A Finger had a hand in it, too.
Bill the Boy Wonder is the story of that Finger, Bill Finger, the co-creator and long-time writer of Batman.
First forced to hide his identity as a Jew (his real name was Milton) to obtain work during the Great Depression, later writing in obscurity while Batman illustrator, Bob Kane, rose to fame, and finally working (if only half-heartedly) to gain his duly deserved recognition, Nobleman chooses to present Bill, The Boy Wonder as a story with three parts, "Secret Identity 1 – Bill," "Secret Identity 2 – Writer of Batman," and "Secret Identity 3 – Co-creator of Batman." This well-sourced and researched biography is as fascinating as it is entertaining,
Bill liked to ride through the city to think. As the bus picked up passengers, Bill picked up plots from street scenes and daydreams.
He recorded stray facts – the boiling point of mercury, the Chinese character for virtue, what happens when a dog’s nose get scold – in what he called his “gimmick book.” He routinely skimmed it for a spark that might ignite a story. In time he had a library of gimmick books at his Fingertips. He even let other writers – his competitors – hunt for story ideas in them.
Though brimming with details and quotes, Templeton moves the story along with the talent of a comic book writer. A six-page Author’s Note adds details and period photographs.
Ty Templeton, a Batman artist himself, was the perfect choice to illustrate this fascinating look at Bob Finger’s work and the work of other talented artists, writers and fans who struggled to garner for him the credit he deserved. The end papers are dramatic and inspired, and the illustrations are done, of course, in comic book style with white text box insets.
Markel, Michelle. 2012. The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau. Ill. by Amanda Hall. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Review copies provided by LibraryThing and publisher.
I can't imagine many tasks more difficult than painting illustrations for a biography of a famous painter. In a book for adults, the artist's actual work speak for itself, but in a picture book for children, the art must not only speak for its creator, but it must help to tell a story. For The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, illustrator Amanda Hall eschewed her usual medium in favor of watercolor and acrylics, seeking to more closely mimic Rousseau's style in order to help tell his story. More than mere imitations, however, she uses Rousseau's style and perspective as the medium to illustrate the time and place in which he lived, his joyous spirit, his famous contemporaries, his wonder at the natural world, and most of all, his complete commitment to his craft - regardless of how it is received by others. Her illustrations are the perfect complement to Michelle Markel's prose, delivered in a present tense fashion that immediately engages the reader. In language that will speak clearly to children, Markel clearly conveys the transformative power of art,
By now Henri is used to the nasty critics. He knows his shapes are simpler and flatter than everyone else's, but he thinks that makes them lovely. He spends all he earns on art supplies, and pays for his bread and coal with landscapes and portraits. In the afternoon he takes off his frayed smock and gives music lessons. His home is a shabby little studio, where one pot of stew must last the whole week. But every morning he wakes up and smiles at his pictures.
Poverty and rejection have never sound so appealing. Henri Rousseau's life story is an inspiration. A toll collector who did not take up painting until his forties, Rousseau was untrained and largely unrecognized while living, but he was unfazed. He later became "the first "naïve" artist to be recognized as a great master," and his works now hang in museums around the world.
Author's and Illustrator's Notes complete this stunning picture book biography for older readers.
Enjoy the book's trailer and "Spring," one of Rousseau's famous jungle paintings.
“Eye-opening and quietly tragic … if you asked me what’s one of my favorite [nonfiction picture books] of the past decade, I’d instantly endorse Boys of Steel, Marc Tyler Nobleman’s insightful and engaging account of Superman’s creation. Well, now the multi-talented author/journalist/cartoonist is back with Bill the Boy Wonder, a more-than-worthy follow-up … this new book boasts even more astounding feats of research and also features gorgeous art by Ty Templeton. Quite simply, Bill the Boy Wonder makes perfect summer reading for kids who are into pop culture. Actually, it’s a great read for anyone who’s ever seen the phrase ‘created by Bob Kane’ even if they’re not huge Batman fans; that’s because it’s not just a compelling biography of comics creator Bill Finger but a highly accessible and informative text about comics and comics history generally.” —Connect the Pop on School Library Journal
“I love nonfiction biographies and this book is one of the best! Nobleman is a skilled writer … It will be the rare reader who closes the book without being wowed. Nobleman's Author's Note allows the reader to glimpse his research process and it reads like a darn good mystery. What a tribute! What a story! What a book! 5 out of 5 stars”
“The story was so interesting that I couldn’t stop without reading the whole book and I would think students would feel the same way. … This book would be great for classroom discussions. Themes would include writing, struggling, comics, superheroes, design, plots, teamwork, standing up for yourself, friendships, and investigation. There were opportunities to learn new vocabulary throughout the story. 5 out of 5 stars”
“I was delighted when I read this book and immediately gave it to one of my 4th grade students to read. The book is a great opening to talking about civil rights and prejudice and even self-esteem. I would recommend the book to guidance counselors, teachers, and that student who sits doodling at his desk while working. … Excellent use of vocabulary—hightailed, scrawled, potential, intimidating… 5 out of 5 stars”
“I really enjoyed this book and look forward to sharing it with my 6th graders. I will use this book to open my biography unit. It will lead to many discussions about giving credit where credit is due … I really liked how the story was illustrated. It is a book worth sharing. This is a 5 in my basket.”
“Absolutely outstanding in all respects! Definitely can be used in the classroom to introduce biographies. Sure bet to get the attention of the most reluctant reader. Definitely a 5++++++!”
“What a beautiful book! I read it in one sitting. The prose is beautifully written, the pictures are lovely, and the underlying themes of justice and redemption are compelling. I am donating this book to our middle school library and plan to recommend it to the New Mexico Battle of the Books committee as a terrific nonfiction choice. This is a must-have book for every elementary and middle school library that will be gobbled up by avid and reluctant readers alike. 5 out of 5 stars”
“This book is simply amazing. To think I'd actually be glued to a book about the creator—sorry, co-creator—of Batman! I found the story to be completely captivating. I think this book would grab the attention of children and really teach them something along the way. It offers endless opportunities for lessons. Nobleman is a very skilled writer and certainly knows how to find obscure stories and make them completely fascinating. This book deserves nothing less than a 5.”
“This falls nothing short of an exemplar model of juvenile literature. The potential for critical discourse around this book are endless. By the end of the author's note a tear of sadness at the unfairness of it all fell from my eye… And then I started at the beginning again, admiring the cover and reading it from top to bottom. The story has so many cool parallels in the illustrations to support comprehension and add appeal … Nobleman demonstrates that writers need to be curious, determined, and willing to chase what they don't know … That you shouldn't just write about what you know, rather it is most important to have a really good question and go after the unknown … uncover a legacy that was so close to slipping away forever. I can only imagine how much Milton would have loved this book. The next day I asked one of my 5th grade students who loves superheroes … to read it. Almost 40 minutes later he came to me and replied, ‘Milton Finger deserves credit.’ His four words were powerful and insightful. Reading this book changed him a little bit, gave him something he didn't have before, the same way I felt. 5 out of 5 stars”
“Great book with many uses for YA readers. Thanks for a great read. (I had this book and had to share. Too good not to pass along.)”
“I felt privileged to share this book with my students and uncover this special secret with them. I read this biography to my second graders in two sessions. They were mesmerized. How could this happen, they wondered. How can I find out more, etc. The activity guide and discussion questions were a great resource, but I easily fit some of the themes of this book into my current curriculum/lessons that very day! … My students were highly motivated when I connected these lessons to Bill the Boy Wonder. 5 out of 5 stars”
“Fascinating … It is also a lesson on character. Using this book, you can investigate with your students the big idea of fairness … If your students do group projects, this would be a great introduction to how you should collaborate and make sure proper credit is given. This book is also an excellent example of why we need to study history. New information is constantly being unearthed … Bill the Boy Wonder would be a terrific source for a biography project for a reluctant reader. You will want to preserve the cover of this book as many hands will be reaching for it.”
“Compelling writing, fantastic art. … In a household where we celebrate the creativity of Jim Henson and Walt Disney and others remembered for their contributions to childhood (and adulthood), this book and Bill Finger will have a special place.” —epinions user
“Very interesting, even to a pretty reluctant comic reader!” —Good Reads user
“Perfect for the reluctant reader, Bill the Boy Wonder is a classic story of the underdog. … The book has the potential to empower readers of all ages to take pride in—and ownership of—their work.” —Young People’s Pavilion on Yahoo! (by Michael Strickland, who writes for The Reading Teacher, the journal of the International Reading Association)
“Whether you're a fan of comics in general or Batman in particular, you owe it to yourself to get this book … fascinating.” —Books YA Love
While many of us are most familiar with Charles Dickens' use of the noun humbug as used by Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, "Bah! Humbug!" where it is used to mean "nonsense," humbug is also a verb.
humbug: (verb) deceive, hoax, to engage in a hoax or deception First known use of humbug 1751 (from Merriam-Webster online)
The Giant is a story of how one man cooked up a scheme to humbug an entire nation.
By his own account, Jim Murphy originally toyed with the idea of telling the tale of the Bernie Madoff investment scandal, but decided that not enough time has passed to interpret the scandal objectively and completely. How then to tell a true and cautionary story of greed, excess, and gullibility? Why via the Cardiff Giant, of course! The Giant hoax began in earnest on a morning in October, 1869, on "Stub" Newell's farm in the small New York hamlet of Cardiff, when workers digging a well uncovered a stone body. Was it a petrified man, an ancient statue, proof of biblical giants? Scientists, reporters, scholars and average citizens flocked to Cardiff in droves to decide for themselves.
Demand was so great to see the statue while it was still in its hastily constructed home in upstate New York,
that the New York Central Railroad had trains stop for ten minutes near the hall so riders could run in for a quick view.
Eventually, the statue was moved in a specially-constructed wagon and toured the country. Accounts of the Cardiff Giant appeared in newspapers throughout America. Learned men debated competing theories about the giant's origin.
An October 1869 photograph showing the Cardiff Giant being exhumed. This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923. See this page for further explanation.
They need not have debated. The truth of the giant's origin was already known, but known only to Stub Newell and his several accomplices. It was a steadily growing hoax of gigantic proportions.
It is difficult today to understand the immensity of the "giant" hoax of 1869, but to place it in perspective, consider these numbers. The US Census of 1870, (one year after the "giant" was first "found"), lists the population of the United States at just over 38 million. According to accounts in the book, an estimated six million people paid to view the famous Cardiff Giant, about one sixth of the entire population of the United States! Add in visitors to the several "fake" giants that appeared later, and the number is likely even higher. It is estimated that the architect of the scheme made the equivalent of nearly a quarter million dollars in today's money; and he owned only an "interest" in the Cardiff Giant.
So shady and complex were the financial machinations and deals involved with this deception, that "The Cast of Characters" which begins the book numbers sixty-six, and is peppered with names that will be familiar to many, including P.T. Barnum and "Boss" Tweed. Most of the cast were unaware that theirs were just bit parts in a monumental drama. In the end, fortunes were made and lost, lives were enriched and ruined, and in one tragic instance, a life was taken. Jim Murphy takes the reader deftly through the biggest swindle of its time.
Interestingly, some of the repercussions from the great hoax were beneficial - the birth of new professional associations including the American Medical Association, peer-reviewed journals, graduate programs to better train experts in various fields, and a reforming spirit in everyday Americans.
Told in twelve chapters from "The Discovery" to "The Final Resting Place," The Giant is a fascinating look at many aspects of history through the lens of one "giant" swindle. Entertaining and impossible to put down, readers will be both impressed and apalled by the complex manuevers of the hoax's mastermind. (No spoilers here, you'll have to read it to find his identity.) A large number of period photos, posters and handbills are included, adding much to the story.
Also included are meticulous Source Notes, a Selected Bibliography, and a summary of other famous hoaxes. The Index and Photo Credits were not included in my Advance Reader Copy, but will be in the final version, due on shelves in October, 2012.
With many schools moving to a national core curriculum with a heavy focus on informational texts, The Giant should be on the "must buy" list of school media specialists. What better way to teach critical thinking than to pore through the anatomy of one of America's most famous hoaxes!
Millard, Anne. 2012. A Street Through Time: A 12,000-Year Walk Through History. New York: DK. Illustrated by Steve Noon.
Though it was first published in 1998, this is the first time that I've seen A Street Through Time: A 12,000-Year Walk Through History, and now that I've seen it, I wonder why DK waited so long to issue a revised edition.
A Street Through Time recounts the entire history of Western Civilization through a cross-section view of a single street along a river. From the "Stone Age" through "The street today," double spread illustrations show a changing street through each major period of Western history. Measuring roughly 12" x 10", this is an over-sized book so packed full of information that it could take days to absorb everything.
The illustrations are replete with detailed figures engaged from every walk of life engaged in every manner of activity. Because there is so much detail, important activities or information are enlarged with explanation in the white space margins, as in this example from "Iron Age (600BCE),"
TOP MAN After the warriors and the priests, the blacksmith is the most important man in the village.
The accompanying illustration may be found in smaller scale within the street's cross-section, offering the reader the opportunity to hunt (Where's Waldo-style) and find the highlighted people within the larger picture. To add fun, a "time traveler" character is included on each spread.
It does not take a keen eye to see that the general landscape and the placement of important town features (places of worship, security and commerce or trade) change little over 12,000 years. Modern buildings are often located in the exact same place as those from hundreds or even thousands of years earlier. Churches are enlarged, amphitheaters decay, buildings are expanded and subdivided, but much remains from earlier days.
This is a fascinating way to look at history, and will make conceptual sense to children who are intensely familiar with their own streets.
I can't say that I know the proper audience for this book, but I loved it. The publisher suggests ages 10 and up, though I suspect some younger children will find it intriguing as well.
Includes prefatory information, contents, timeline, glossary, index, credits. One complaint - the descriptive phrases embedded within the illustrations are, given the small size and great detail of the artwork, extremely difficult to see.
At least once in a lifetime, we should be totally awed by the natural world – not by its destructive power, which so many have seen this year in the form of floods, hurricanes and fires; but by its beauty.
For me, it was a frigid late autumn evening about eight years ago. It was the time of the annual Leonid meteor showers, and excellent visibility was in the forecast. Excellent yes, but also in the wee hours of the morning on a bitterly cold night. My husband agreed to be the advance scout. We would prepare everything in advance – thermoses of hot coffee and cocoa, blankets, sleeping bags, and warm outerwear. My husband would head up to the beach at 2am. If the meteor showers were visible, he would come back to wake the kids and me.
He came back and hurried us all to the beach where we parked our pickup truck facing west and sat in the bed of the truck gazing eastward. The meteor showers were not just visible. They were spectacular! At least one meteor every second – zooming across the sky, long tails following behind. As earth hurtled through the meteor storm for hours, we sat transfixed – unable to keep our eyes from the sky. It was raining stars, and it was unspeakably beautiful! The cold and darkness added to the atmosphere of quiet awe. Only a few hardy souls and families willing to spend the night on a Northeastern beach in November shared it. When the sun began to rise in the east, we turned and faced the darker, western horizon to get a last look at what we knew was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This type of singular experience, this awesome display of nature’s beauty is the topic of Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Leslie Wu. (2011 Peachtree, Atlanta, GA) In Butterfly Tree, Markle recreates, as she explains in the Author’s Note, the day she
happened to be on the beach when a migrating flock of monarchs crossed the lake and settled for the night. Their arrival first seemed spooky – then magical. Being surrounded by these golden-orange butterflies and seeing a tree totally covered with fluttering, shimmering monarchs was unforgettable.
Together, Markle and Wu perfectly capture that magical, dusky twilight on Lake Erie. Wu’s dreamy pastel illustrations in brisk autumnal hues fill out the wide, double-spread pages. The story is told through the voice of a young girl, heading home with her dog and her mother. The text rests lightly on the page, arranged in verses that add depth and measure to the vibrant images,
An explosion of golden orange bits fills the sunlight streaming between branches.
Wow! I exclaim. They’re not leaves. They’re butterflies.
Monarch butterflies, Mom says.
There must be hundreds – thousands. The tree looks like it is in motion. All the butterflies are slowing fanning their wings.
We are in an orange cloud.
Though it contains an "Author’s Note," "Traveling Monarchs," "Books," "Websites," and a migration map, this is not a nonfiction book; however, it deserves to be included in scientific discussion with children because it captures what so many books do not – the sense of wonder about the natural world, the sense of wonder that has driven man to push past the limits of our collective knowledge.
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss. 2011. Random House. 72 pages.
I love Dr. Seuss. I do. And I was oh-so-happy to discover that Random House was publishing a new collection of Dr. Seuss stories. These seven 'lost' stories were originally published in magazines in the early 1950s.
The seven stories are:
The Bippolo Seed The Rabbit, the Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga Gustav, the Goldfish Tadd and Todd Steak for Supper The Strange Shirt Spot The Great Henry McBride
I enjoyed almost all of these stories.
The Bippolo Seed is about greed. A duck finds a magical seed. He's told to make a wish and plant the seed. But before he can make a wish--a practical, simple wish--a cat stops him. He must want more than just a week's worth of food. How unimaginative a wish is that after all? So with a little encouragement, this duck named McKluck gets a little out of control.
The Rabbit, The Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga is about a rabbit NOT wanting to become the bear's dinner. The rabbit has to think quickly to make sure that does not happen! But it's not enough for the rabbit to manage an escape, it has to be done in style!
Gustav, The Goldfish. It didn't take me long to recognize that this was FISH OUT OF WATER. What I didn't know was that this story inspired it. And that the author of A Fish Out of Water was Dr. Seuss's first wife, Helen Palmer. Seuss' story rhymed, Palmer's didn't. But essentially the same story about a boy and a fish and the importance of following directions very very carefully!
Tadd and Todd is a story about twins. One of the twins just loves to look exactly like his brother. The other twin isn't quite so pleased. In fact one of the brothers will do just about anything to be different. But that isn't always easy. I liked this one because it used the phrase: "which one was what one, and what one was who." It is an outlandish tale, of course. And it just gets more and more elaborate...what one brother will do to stand out from his brother. So it's enjoyable.
Steak for Supper introduces some fun animal-like characters--much like Wocket in My Pocket. It introduces the Ikka, the Gritch, the Grickle, the Nupper, and the Wild Wheef. The moral of this one is don't brag too much...you see, the little boy was going around saying that he had steak to eat every Saturday night. Well, one Saturday, these fanciful creatures decide to join him because they want steak too! Of course, the little boy doesn't know how he'll ever explain all this to his parents...
The Strange Shirt Spot is a very interesting story in that it introduces the idea of a spot that just WON'T go away. It is the inspiration, if inspiration is the right word, for the pink cat ring in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. The spot even gets on some of the same things.
The Great Henry McBride celebrates imagination and daydreaming. In this case a little boy dreams about what he wants to be when he grows up...
Wood, Douglas. 2011. Franklin and Winston: A Christmas That Changed the World. Ill. by Barry Moser. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
It was the winter of 1941. The valiant battleship HMS Duke of York struggled against the screaming winds and forty-foot waves of a mighty December gale. On board, Winston S. Churchill, prime minister of Great Britain, calmly chomped his ever-present cigar as he strolled the pitching decks. He was going to meet the president of the United States. He was going to spend Christmas at the White House. He would not be stopped by a mere storm. He would not be stopped by a hurricane.
The focus of Wood's book is this single visit by Churchill to the White House following the early December attack on Pearl Harbor. Although some background and biographical information is included to set the scene for young readers, Franklin and Winston is, in essence, a chronicle of the historic December 1941 visit. Transportation (Churchill was too impatient to travel by land from his arrival point in Chesapeake Bay and was flown to Washington, D.C.), activities (Churchill explored the White House gardens in one-piece overalls), press conferences, dining arrangements and meetings are fully detailed to give the reader a flavor of the era, and an understanding of the relationship between the two men and of their role in world politics.
Most importantly, the reader gains the insight that although these were powerful men deciding a course of action in dire circumstances, they were not larger than life, but full of life. They were friends, and they were very human - with the quirks and frailties one might find in any human being. Roosevelt and Churchill overcame personal obstacles, and with a common cause and a fast friendship, they formed the bonds and the strategy needed to defeat the Axis powers in WWII.
Yet still, while the fate of the world was at stake, the two men took time to celebrate the Christmas holiday, giving heartfelt speeches at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. The included speeches are excerpted and edited by the author with great care to portray both the gravity of the world's situation and the context in which Roosevelt and Churchill were deciding its fate,
"I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home. . . . We may cast aside, for this night at least, the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children and evening of happiness in a world of storm. . . . Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. . . . In God's mercy, a happy Christmas to you all."
Moser's full-page watercolor illustrations face pages of black text on a white background. Moser's paintings are rich in the simpler, more somber colors of the era - dark suits, night skies, a bathroom featuring white tiles, towels and fixtures, simply colored maps, military aircraft. But while the colors and details are evocative of a past time, the faces of Churchill and Roosevelt express life - mirth, joy, and gravity, all within the framework of the timeworn faces of real men, men of a different age who were respected for their actions - discolored teeth, bulbous nose, wrinkles, glasses and all.
Smaller illustrations appear with the text on many pages, and add visual details to the story - a view of the Foundry Methodist Church, the radio on which Roosevelt listene
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Several days ago, a Denver mother (and librarian) kindly messaged me that her son Owen, age 8, had drawn a picture inspired by Thirty Minutes Over Oregon. She told me that they had not discussed the story since the post went up.
In her words: "Just another reminder that this topic is very compelling to a young person!"
I love the drawing; it depicts two key scenes from the book. I should note, however, that the book (nor the true story behind it) does not contain a scene of a plane crashing and burning. That's Owen's creative license!
Thank you, Owen, for the thought, and thank you, Owen's mom, for sharing. Keep them coming!
Moses, Will. 2011. Mary and Her Little Lamb: The True Story of the Famous Nursery Rhyme. New York: Philomel.
Most children in America will grow up learning the rhyme or the song about Mary and her little lamb, but few will give it any serious thought. We may similarly prattle about Old King Cole, Wee Willie Winkie, or Jack Sprat, but we don't expect to know anything more about them than their propensities for pipe smoking and music, late night excursions in inappropriate clothing and a distaste for high-fat diets.
Luckily for children, however, we can know a little more about Mary and her little lamb. Will Moses' detailed folkart paintings (many double-spreads), are a perfect accompaniment to the true story of Mary Sawyer of Sterling, Massachusetts, circa 1810. The pastoral images of 19th century Sterling and the simple features of the one-room schoolhouse are beautifully rendered in colorful oils. The story is somewhat lengthy, but Moses employs artistic license to add story enriching details that create a fast-paced, enjoyable read-aloud story. Delightful in words and pictures!
Note: Earlier this year on the KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month blog, I highlighted Laurie Halse Anderson's book, Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was a fascinating woman. Not only did she almost single-handedly create the national Thanksgiving Holiday, she was also a writer, editor and a poet. I noted that she penned the ditty, "Mary Had a Little Lamb," which I learned from the back matter in Thank You, Sarah. However, there is apparently more to the story. According to the afterword in Mary and Her Little Lamb, John Roulstone wrote the first stanza of the now-famous poem in the 1810s. Sarah Hale published the poem in 1930, apparently adding three more stanzas. Later, musician Lowell Mason, set the rhyme to music, adding the repetitive lines that we all sing today. Regardless of its evolutionary process, it's amazing that a 4-line ditty about a girl and her lamb could so enchant the schoolhouse visitor John Roulstone, the accomplished writer Sarah Hale, and the famous musician, Lowell Mason. How much more simple life must have been in the early 1800s! There is no end to the things one can learn from picture books.
Now that the Cybils judging is completed, I can finally release this review that I wrote last month. Thunder Birds was a finalist in the 2011 Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book category.
Arnosky, Jim. 2011. Thunder Birds. New York: Sterling.
In Thunder Birds, Jim Arnosky profiles “only the largest and most powerful birds” – eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, vultures, herons, egrets, pelicans, loons, cormorants and gannets. No matter where one lives, there is surely something familiar and something to be learned in this attractive nonfiction picture book for older readers.
The chapters are an appealing combination of “book knowledge” and experiential knowledge unique to Arnosky and his wife, Deanna. Regarding owls, Arnosky writes,
Prey animals are taken suddenly and without warning in the midst of whatever they happen to be doing. Only in bright moonlight might an owl’s intended victim sense what is coming, when it sees the hunter’s large shadow moving across the ground. At night in the forest, while I was taking flash photos of owls, one of the big birds swooped down toward me from behind, lightly brushing my head with its wings. I felt it and then I saw it, but I never heard it coming.
How thrilling to imagine such a close encounter with a bird that many have never actually seen in the wild.
Writing, of course, is not Arnosky’s only talent. He is an accomplished naturalist and artist. Each section of the book is illustrated with detailed pencil sketches and notes, similar to ones that might be found in a field notebook. Some, like the eagle foot, are drawn to scale. Illustrations created with acrylic paints and white chalk offer vivid depictions of the birds in their native habitats, many are life-sized. There are four foldout pages, including two, which are double foldouts. Many of the illustrations have textual overlays containing additional information on length, wingspan, etc. Particularly helpful to the aspiring bird-watcher are the silhouette illustrations for identifying birds in flight by their shapes. Also included are an Author’s Note, bibliography, and curiously, a metric equivalent chart.
Whether writing fact or fiction, Jim Arnosky’s love of the natural world is apparent in everything he does. Highly recommended.
Here’s another review of a Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book finalist …
Jenkins, Martin. 2011. Can We Save the Tiger? Ill. By Vicky White. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Martin Jenkins explains extinction and its causes in a manner that, while factual, is also conversational and thought provoking. Consider his opening paragraphs that inspire an immediate sense of wonder combined with an easy familiarity,
The world’s quite a big place, you know. But it’s not that big, when you consider how much there is to squeeze into it. After all, it’s home not just to billions of people, but to the most amazing number of other kinds of living things, too. And we’re all jostling for space.
After a cursory introduction to extinction, he offers the varying reasons for why creatures have become extinct – poaching, invasive non-native species, over-hunting, chemical poisoning. Each time, he hints that problems are not so easily solved. Take the tiger for example,
…they’re big, they need a lot of space. But the countries where they live, like India and Indonesia, have huge numbers of people in them too, all trying to make a living and needing to be fed. … So if you were a poor farmer trying to make a living with a couple of cows and a few goats, you might not be too happy if you found there was a hungry tiger living nearby. And if you knew that someone might pay you more for a tiger skin and some bones than you earn in three whole months working in the fields, then you might find it very tempting to set a trap or two, even if you knew it was against the law.
Jenkins looks at failures (the Dodo, the Great Auk and others), successes (the Buffalo, the White Rhinoceros, the Kakapos, and more) and other works in progress. In each case, he presents the conundrum of competing interests or unintended consequences in a manner easily understood by young readers. Text size, too, is inviting to younger readers – smaller text is punctuated by sections of very large font print.
Similarly to Jim Arnosky’s Thunder Birds, field-style pencil sketches accompany many pages. Vicky White’s larger illustrations are done in pencil and oil paint with lightly sketched backgrounds, or on plain cream-colored pages. The large and realistic illustrations are accompanied by basic facts including habitat, size, diet, life span, and existing population. An index and online resources complete the book.
A small final illustration of the rare Sander’s Slipper Orchid hints that not only creatures are in danger of extinction; or perhaps the illustration hints at a future book. The over sized book has sturdy pages that, although they have a matte finish, have a smooth and creamy texture - like icing on the cake. A beautiful and affecting book.
As the co-organizer of the KidLit Celebrates Women's History Month blog, I've been very busy formatting, posting, and reading all of the great guest posts this month. (If you haven't checked it out, you're missing some great essays and reviews.) As a consequence, I've been neglecting to post often this month, but today I have a quick rundown of three titles that grabbed my attention this past week:
Fogliano, Julie. 2012. And then it's spring. Illustrated by Erin E. Stead. New York: Roaring Brook.
Sutton, Sally. 2012.Demolition. Illustrated by Brian Lovelock. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.
Bright colors, realistic trucks, repeated refrains, rhymes with perfect rhythm - a storytime book doesn't get much better than this. If you know any small children at all, you know one who will like Demolition.
And finally, a curious addition to my bag 'o books,
Bunting, Eve. 2011. Ballywhinney Girl. Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The hauntingly beautiful cover art caught my eye, and with St. Patrick's Day approaching, I was on the lookout for anything Irish to add to a display of Irish-themed books. Ballywhinney Girl, however, was not what I was expecting. It's the story of Maeve, a young Irish girl, and her grandfather, who accidentally uncover a body while digging in the peat bogs near their home. After they report the find to the local authorities, it draws the attention of news reporters, archaeologists, and scientists, who determine that the body is that of a thousand-year-old mummified girl - a girl much like Maeve, herself. Maeve naturally find the whole process unsettling. Elegantly told in verse, this is a fictional story that, according to the Author's Note, happens more often than one might think. It clearly, and rightfully, is unsettling to author, Eve Bunting, as well. Whether your young listener will find it unsettling as well,
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Many historical nonfiction books for kids naturally feature adults - as they are often the makers of history. Authors sometimes choose to highlight the childhood stories of important historical figures to make the topic more interesting to children, e.g., Oprah: The Little Speaker, Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in Brooklyn. Of course, a popular topic (dinosaurs) or person helps too.
Like the sinking of the Titanic (to which the Hindenburg was close in length), the Hindenburg disaster is a continuing source of interest for readers - particularly in my area of New Jersey.
In Surviving the Hindenburg, Larry Verstraete has the gift of a perfect combination – a young protagonist and a history-making event – the horrific fire aboard the Hindenburg.
Fourteen-year-old Werner Franz was a German cabin boy aboard the Hindenburg on May 6, 1937, when it burned and crashed in Lakehurst, NJ. As the title indicates, Werner was one of the 62 survivors. Surviving the Hindenburg is his story.
This is a compelling account using easily-read, bold- font text opposite full-page or double-spread oil paintings. Scenes of the blimp's inner gangways add understanding of the ship’s inner workings, while views from the ground give context to the blimp’s immense size. The fiery scenes are powerfully gripping.
It appears that the quoted dialogue is taken from verifiable sources,
“After a while, it came to me,” he said.“I lost my nerve. I cried and wailed like a baby. I didn’t know what to do.”
Some men approached Werner.They thought he was a visitor, there to watch the landing.
“They shook me to my senses,” Werner said. ‘Get a hold of yourself and try to help someone,’ they told me. But there was no one left to help.”
In German, Wener tried to tell them who he was. “Ich bin der cabin-boy vom Hindenburg!” he said over and over,
however, no source notes are included in this otherwise stellar historical account. (A note in the Acknowledgements does cite Hindenburg authority, Patrick Russell, for ensuring accuracy)
A foreword and afterword offer a broader look at the disaster, including the interesting note that Werner Franz is the “last surviving member of the Hindenburg crew.”
The 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg will be marked this year on May 5th and 6th. Details, photos and more may be found at the Navy L
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I'm on vacation this week, but wanted to point out Loreen Leedy's latest.
Leedy, Loreen. 2012. Seeing Symmetry. New York: Holiday House.
A teacher's dream, Seeing Symmetry is so much more than a book about symmetry. It is the intersection of math, art and nature in a clearly illustrated book that is entertaining, participatory, and educational. It's also correlated to 4th grade core curriculum standards for geometry (see Loreen Leedy's website). Notes, activities, math concepts and vocabulary are included as well.
More kids would like math if it were always presented like this. Worth checking out!
Watch the video below, narrated by author/illustrator, Loreen Leedy, and read a detailed review @ Kirkus Reviews.