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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: mg nonfiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 48
1. Borden Murders

Borden Murders. Sarah Miller. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It happened every spring in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Premise/plot: Sarah Miller's newest book is a middle grade nonfiction book about Lizzie Borden and the 'trial of the century.' On August 4, 1892, Mr. and Mrs. Borden were murdered. Miller chronicles the events stage by stage. Her book is divided into sections: Lizzie Borden Took An Axe, Murder!, The Bordens, Investigation, Inquest, Arrest, Preliminary Hearing, The Waiting Time, The Trial of the Century, Aftermath, Epilogue.

My thoughts: This one was incredibly compelling and very well researched. (Over twenty pages of notes documenting among other things all the dialogue in the book.) Miller presents a balanced perspective of the case allowing readers to make up their own minds. Miller gives all concerned or connected the human touch. The press does not come out looking innocent.

Whether your interest is true crime, biography, or nonfiction set during the Victorian period, this one is worth your time.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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2. The World of Little House

The World of Little House. Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. 1996. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: We know Laura Ingalls Wilder best through her nine Little House books, which tell the story of her life as a pioneer girl.

Premise/plot: This biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder would be perfect for upper elementary or middle schoolers. In some ways it's "just" a biography, but, in other ways it's so much more than that. One thing that I loved about it, for example, is the inclusion of HOUSE PLANS for all the houses Laura Ingalls Wilder lived! That plus the inclusion of crafts and recipes and extension activities really just made me happy.

For any reader who loves the book series or even the television series, this one is a fun and easy-going read.

My thoughts: While I didn't learn anything "new" about Laura Ingalls Wilder, I found it a fun, delightful presentation of what I already knew. The only book that truly was packed with I-didn't-know that information was the recently released PIONEER GIRL. This biography shares an intended audience range of the actual books. So one could go from the series to this biography smoothly. (I can't imagine a fourth or fifth grader picking up PIONEER GIRL and finishing it. Pioneer Girl just has SO MANY footnotes.)

Easy to recommend this one!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Fashion Rebels

Fashion Rebels. Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia. 2016. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Today, we take for granted that Lady Gaga can wear slabs of meat or Kermit the Frogs affixed to her skin and call it a dress.

Premise/plot: Love fashion? Love history? Love pop culture? Young readers (8+) should find plenty to love in Carlyn Cerniglia Beccia's newest book, Fashion Rebels. After a short premise ("Why Fashion Matters," and a short quiz ("Who is Your Style Icon?"), the journey through history with fashion icons as our guide begins. From history, readers learn about Cleopatra VII, Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, Dolley Madison, Coco Chanel, Anna May Wong, Josephine Baker, Katherine Hepburn, Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. From today, readers learn about Ellen DeGeneres, Madonna, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga, Michelle Phan, Tavi Gevinson, and more. In addition, there are special articles and activities. For example, readers can read about "The Story of the Little Black Dress" and learn how to "Try a Classic Audrey Hepburn French Twist."

Each chapter is a few pages in length. Each chapter concludes with a style reference page and some general tips. For example, Anna May Style = blunt bangs, exotic eyes, red lipstick and nail polish, and high collars. And Anna May's Style Tips = comb your hair instead of brushing it. Don't wash your hair every day. Massage vegetable oil into scalp and hair (coconut oil is the best) as a conditioner. The book has plenty of information and some inspiration as well.

My thoughts: I really like this one. I do. I think the layout is great. It's a good reference. Readers may not be WOWed by each and every fashion icon. Chances are they'll be drawn to some, and, feel 'meh' about a few. But overall, it's a fun and appropriate fashion guide for young readers. I really love the illustrations.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. Why'd They Wear That?

Why'd They Wear That? Sarah Albee. 2015. National Geographic. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

Sarah Albee's Why'd They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History is a (relatively) quick and entertaining read. Why 'relatively' quick? I read it in one sitting and found it fascinating. Other readers might not find it so.

This book seeks to do so very much: to expose readers (young readers--upper elementary through young adult) to dozens of cultures over the last ten thousand years and ultimately answer WHY DID THEY WEAR THAT? Think HORRIBLE HISTORIES only with a slightly refined focus on fashion.

Is the focus on fashion? Yes and no. Yes, in that fashion is basically discussed on every page. No, in that it is HISTORY that takes center stage. This book is all about building context. Answering the 'WHY' of the title. (It is not focused on WHAT they wore as to possible reasons WHY.) I also saw connection opportunities for linking to art appreciation or even archaeology. 80% of the book is illustrated by artwork not photographs.

I definitely liked that this leaned more towards focusing on history and culture than strictly on fashion. I definitely liked the sidebars. But unfortunately disagreed with the designer who thought it was a good idea to have black text on dark blue. Couldn't read a word of those sidebars.

What I liked best about this one was the amount of detail and research that went into the book.
Perhaps because so much skin was exposed to the drying sun, Egyptians used liberal amounts of oil on their bodies, made from animal fat, olive oil, and other plants. Hair could be conditioned with a paste made from gazelle dung and hippopotamus fat. At dinner parties slaves placed cones of perfumed animal fat on guests' heads. Over the course of the evening, the fragrant grease melted and ran down the hair and neck, scenting and conditioning the hair and bathing the wearer in fragrant grease. Scent cones were not just for the wealthy. Musicians, dancers, servants, and children all wore them as well. (17)
Being a fan of Horrible Histories, I looked for connections. I found plenty!


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. The Plot to Kill Hitler

The Plot to Kill Hitler. Patricia McCormick. 2016. 192 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The Gestapo would arrive any minute.

Premise/plot: Patricia McCormick tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for elementary-aged readers. It is subtitled pastor, spy, and unlikely hero. Young people likely haven't heard of him at all. So this is a great introduction. The prologue starts at the climax. The first chapter takes us back to his childhood days where we learn that he is a thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent dreamer. This one is very family-focused for the conspiracy to kill Hitler involved many of his family. Year by year, readers learn the how and the why. Notably, readers learn of many opportunities that would have kept him safe and out of the war and the dangers and risks of being in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer rejected the easy way out believing that no action was still an action. In other words, failure to rebel and speak out against Hitler was to support him. Silence and escape were unthinkable.

My thoughts: I knew of him as a Christian writer and thinker. I have read The Cost of Discipleship. I knew he died during the war at a concentration camp, I did not know that he was there not just for preaching and proclaiming against the regime, but was in fact an actual spy and co-conspirator. So I learned something!

This one was a quick read.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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6. Walk This World At Christmastime

Walk This World At Christmastime. Illustrated by Debbie Powell. 2016. Candlewick. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Walk this world at Christmastime. Let's take a stroll around the world, to all four corners of the globe. Peek through windows, open doors, watch as Christmastime unfolds.

Premise/plot: Readers "visit" many different countries at Christmastime. Each two-page spread takes readers to a new destination. The stops include Canada and the United States; Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil; Nigeria, South Africa, and Ethiopia; Spain, France, Italy, and Greece; Holland, Austria, and Germany; U.K., Sweden, Norway, and Finland; Poland, Ukraine, and Russia; Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan, and India; China, Japan, and the Philippines; Australia, New Zealand, and Samoa. Each two-page spread features a riddle, of sorts, asking readers to guess where they are. Each two spread also features a LOT of flaps to open. Behind each flap is a fact.

Some of the things we learn on this journey:
  • During Las Posadas, children dress as Mary and Joseph and go from house to house asking to be let in.
  • Leave out your shoes to get presents from the Three Wise Men.
  • Calabar Carnival, in Nigeria, is Africa's biggest street party. Get ready for parades, masquerades, and dancing.
  • An old Greek custom, recently revived, is to decorate real and model ships with lights at Christmastime.
  • In Holland, leave out your clogs for Saint Nicholas. Don't forget a carrot for his horse!
  • A Nutcracker doll is a traditional German gift.
  • The first Christmas card was sent in the U.K. in 1843.
  • In Russia, Father Frost brings children presents, accompanied by the Snow Maiden.
  • In Iraq, Christian families light a bonfire and recite passages from the Bible.
  • In India, banana trees are decorated for Christmas.
  • The Chinese give gifts of apples on Christmas Eve.
  • In Samoa, people feast on December 24, then go to church, dressed in white, on Christmas Day.
My thoughts: This one is packed with information. I definitely found it interesting. I'm not the biggest fan of lift-the-flap books. But I think this one works.
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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7. Breakthrough

Breakthrough: How Three People Saved "Blue Babies" and Changed Medicine Forever. Jim Murphy. 2015. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

If I had to describe Breakthrough in just a few words, I'd choose these: fascinating, compelling, a must-read. If I had to pack it all into one sentence? Something like, Breakthrough by Jim Murphy is a fine narrative example of nonfiction for young readers at its best. Of course, I don't have to limit my review to just a few words or a few sentences. But the best books so overwhelm you with their greatness that though you want to gush about them at great length, you're sometimes at a loss of words for you know that you can never do the book you just read and loved justice.

Breakthrough is the story of three people: Dr. Alfred Blalock, Dr. Helen Taussig, and Vivien Thomas. Dr. Blalock was a doctor who spent most of his time doing research, his specialty was studying shock: what it was, what caused it, how to fix it and save lives. He was a doctor who needed a research assistant, a more-than-capable research assistant, an assistant that would be able to do his own research, experiments, and surgeries. That assistant was a black man, Vivien Thomas. He was not technically a doctor or a surgeon. So his story of how he became part of this historic team is quite fascinating. (It would have been easy for most who worked at the hospital to assume that Thomas was a janitor, a "mere" janitor, if you will. But that was so far from the case!!!)  

Readers learn about all three people--their stories and backgrounds and how they came together to help save 'blue babies.' Readers also learn a bit about the field of medicine at the time--the 1930s and 1940s. Heart surgery was not done at the time; it was almost unthinkable for doctors and surgeons to contemplate operating on the heart. "Blue babies" were babies born with heart defects. They might live for a few days, a few weeks, or a few years. But all babies born with heart defects were almost surely fated to die early. Dr. Helen Taussig was a pediatrician who was broken-hearted enough about it to want to do something. Even if other doctors were hesitant or even hostile to help her in her research. She ended up working with Dr. Blalock, and his involvement meant Vivien Thomas doing much of the work: the tests, the experiments, the surgeries, all on animal test subjects of course. The author does address how some found this controversial--doing surgeries and experiments on animals, in this case on dogs--but he stresses how valuable the research was to doctors, and, how their discoveries led to life-changing techniques and practices that would never have been possible without that initial animal research. Thomas, the man doing the test surgeries, also needed to invent the surgical tools to operate.

And without a doubt this first case of heart surgery on a baby, Eileen Saxon, was life-changing. (I believe it was one of the first (successful) heart surgeries ever performed.) This surgery changed the lives of the doctors, changed the field of medicine, and changed people's perceptions of what was possible.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Hana's Suitcase

Hana's Suitcase. Karen Levine. 2002/2016. Crown Books. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Would I recommend Hana's Suitcase by Karen Levine? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This would be a great introduction to the subject of the Holocaust for elementary students. (My first "Holocaust book" was The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. Do you remember your first Holocaust book?) One reason why I think it would be a good fit for young readers is the way the subject is approached. It is unusual and unique. It is a story about children learning about the Holocaust for the first time. It is about the learning process--the research process as well.

Chapters alternate between the present and the past. The "present" story begins with an empty suitcase, "Hana's" suitcase. This is an object found in a Japanese Holocaust museum. The children--and the director--are eager to know WHO IS HANA? They know her birth date, that she was Jewish, that she ended up in a Nazi concentration camp. But who was she? what did she look like? what was her family like? what was her childhood like? What happened to her? Did she survive? Did she die?

The present chapters narrate this learning-process, this investigation. I love that it illustrates history-coming-to-life, how fun and exciting history can be, even how relevant and important it can be to ask questions, to be persistent, to follow leads, etc.

There are also chapters set in the past that tell Hana's story, and tell it almost from her point of view. Readers ultimately learn that much of this information came from her brother who did survive the war. Because the chapters alternate, readers will get the answers to some questions before the people in the book.

I liked how these two stories come together. This one is worth reading.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. Voice of Freedom

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer. Carole Boston Weatherford. Illustrated by Ekua Holmes. 2015. Candlewick. 56 pages. [Source: Library]

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is a book both easy to categorize and difficult. It is nonfiction. It is a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer--a picture book biography. A biography written in verse. So it's poetry too. And it's about the civil rights movement. Yes, the focus is on Fannie Lou Hamer's role in the civil rights movement, but, it isn't as if it's her story alone. It is so much more than that. The fact that it is a picture book biography written in verse about the civil rights movement makes it a great example of a picture book for older readers. (And the fact that it's about the civil rights movement, and, a heroine of the movement, makes it a great example of a diverse title and one highlighting a remarkable woman.) So there are at least half a dozen reasons why one would want to pick this one up and read it.

But could I be forgetting the most important reason to seek this one out to read?! It is a GREAT read. It was fascinating, absorbing, compelling. I've read a dozen or so books--mainly for young readers, I admit--about the civil rights movement, yet I still found myself learning things I hadn't known before. I love to learn as a I read. And it is so beautifully written, the narrative voice is just outstanding. A typical spread includes one poem and an illustration by Ekua Holmes.

Would I recommend it??? YES!
© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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10. The Journey That Saved Curious George

The Journey That Saved Curious George. Louise Borden. 2016. HMH. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: For many years, I was intrigued by the story of Margret and H.A. Rey's flight from Paris on bicycles in June 1940.

Premise/plot: This children's nonfiction book is just right for elementary readers. It begins by providing background and context for young readers. Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein grew up in Germany. Both were Jewish. At some point in the 1920s, he moves to Rio de Janeiro. She follows a little while after. They meet again there, and fall in love. Paris is one of the stops on their honeymoon--they are Brazilian citizens now--and Paris is where they decide to remain. They work many happy years together in Paris. But their work--and their lives--are threatened when World War II goes from being something you read about in the papers--to something happening a few miles outside the city limits.

As Jews, they are at great risk if they remain in Paris and Paris is captured by the Nazis. But. For better or worse. They waited a little too long to leave the city...in an easy way. The last rush sees them desperate to find two bicycles. I believe the book says he had to build the bicycles himself from parts. But it isn't just a story about saving the authors' lives, it's a book celebrating the manuscript that would become Curious George. That was one of the possessions that they took with them--on their bikes. Of course what you may not know is that "George" wasn't George just yet. The monkey was originally called Fifi. And publishers had already agreed to publish the book before they made their flight...

The book focuses on H.A. and Margret Rey, their work as writers, and how the war effected their lives.

My thoughts: This is a very enjoyable read. I loved how the author was able to reconstruct their lives and give readers a behind-the-scenes look into the writing and illustrating of books. The book felt personal, but, always appropriate.

I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let Your Voice Be Heard: The Life and Times of Pete Seeger. Anita Silvey. 2016. HMH. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Pete Seeger became the most important folk singer of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But he might have chosen a very different path. Although his grandfather made a fortune from sugar refining in Mexico, Pete became an advocate for underpaid workers. Though he came from financial privilege, he identified with those who had to make a living. He fought for the oppressed and poor all his life.

Premise/plot: Let Your Voice Be Heard is a biography of Pete Seeger written for children. (I'd say eight to twelve, if I had to put a label on it.) The biography is great at putting Pete Seeger's life into context for better understanding. Perhaps the author wanting to keep this one short and accessible for her audience, did not fully cover his life and music. It is not an exhaustive book on the subject. But a good, basic introduction.

My thoughts: I definitely found this one to be fascinating. I knew next to nothing about Pete Seeger before picking this one up. (I'm certainly no expert in folk music. My only familiarity at all coming from the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary.) I thought it was very well-written.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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12. What Are The Summer Olympics

What Are The Summer Olympics?  Gail Herman. Illustrated by Stephen Marchesi. 2016. 112 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Gail Herman's What Are the Summer Olympics? This short little nonfiction book for young(er) readers (think elementary school) covers all the basics. It provides a nice, little overview of the Olympics. Readers don't learn all there is to know about any one sport--or event--but readers learn a little bit about many of the most popular events. The chapters are actually arranged decade by decade. Each chapter typically covers two or three sports.

For example, the ninth chapter focuses on the 1980s. That chapter covers the U.S.A's boycott of the 1980 games, introduces readers to Mary Lou Retton (gymnastics), Carl Lewis (track), and Greg Louganis (diving).

Because over a hundred years worth of sports history is covered in this little volume, there isn't a lot of depth and substance. The book is a little over a hundred pages in length. BUT the book has a lot of illustrations.

Is it as FUN as Horrible Histories' Flame?!?! Sadly, no. But the book and song go VERY well together. The book, of course, covers A LOT more than any song parody could ever do it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. LEGO Planets

Lego Planets: A Lego Adventure in the Real World. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Planets is one of the first books in a Lego-themed nonfiction series published by Scholastic. The series is being marketed as "a Lego adventure in the real world."

What I liked about this one:

I enjoyed the nonfiction narrative text. The main narrative text keeps things moving. Just a few sentences per page. Each two-page spread features more text: side bars, charts, captions for photographs, etc.

I enjoyed the layout. Big, bright, bold, colorful photographs.

I enjoyed two out of the three Lego features. Some spreads include a "build it" feature. Other spreads include a "play it" feature.
p. 37 Build it! Your astronauts need a space base. Design a space station. Here are some of the important partss. Solar panels. Living quarters. Docking station. Viewing window. Laboratory. Radiator.
p. 19 Play it! Take your astronauts to the Moon and help them explore. What will they find?
p. 26 Play it! Take your rover and astronauts to Mars! It's a whole new world of adventure. What will they find on the Red Planet? Will they be safe?
What I didn't really like:

I mentioned liking two out of the three lego features of this one. The third feature, the one that predominates the book, is the dialogue between Lego minifigures. These conversations are found in speech bubbles and are heavy on bad jokes. They add no intelligence to the book, in other words.

They are illustrated minifigures, by the way.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. LEGO Knights & Castles

LEGO Knights & Castles. 2016. Scholastic. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Knights and Castles is one of the first books in a Lego-themed nonfiction series published by Scholastic. The series is being marketed as "a Lego adventure in the real world."

What I liked about this one:

I enjoyed the nonfiction narrative. Both the main, flowing narrative that is simple and quick paced. And the overflow of facts found in the text of the side bars, asides, captions, etc. There is plenty of information packed into this one. And it's all appropriate for the elementary audience.

I enjoyed the layout. I liked the use of photographs, illustrations, and bright, bold colors. The book is designed to be appealing to readers. I think it works. It certainly looks nothing like the nonfiction from thirty or forty years ago.

I enjoyed two out of the three Lego features. I enjoyed the "Build it!" and Build it Bigger!" feature. I enjoyed the "Play it!" feature.
p. 15 Build it! Build a tournament area for your jousting knights!
p. 16-7 Play it! Find out about the stories of King Arthur's knights. What amazing adventures will your knights have? Do your knights argue, or are they friends? Is there a wizard in your knight world? Who is your most evil knight?
p. 29 Build it! Build a hospital for the Order of St. John to work in.
While I enjoyed the build it and play it features in Lego Planets, I really LOVED these two features in this one. I also found the narrative to be more compelling. (But that could be my love of history talking!!!)

What I didn't quite enjoy:

The illustrated Lego minifigures. I think there comes a point in your life where you grow up and grow beyond the kind of dialogue that these minifigures engage in. The speech bubbles are heavy on bad jokes and jests. It's just squirmy to read the text as as an adult. Kids, the intended audience, might have a complete different reaction.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. First Flight Around the World (2015)

First Flight Around The World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won The Race. Tim Grove. 2015. Abrams. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Around 8:30 A.M., on April 6, 1924, three airplanes floating on the calm water of Lake Washington in Seattle taxied away from their moorings, revved their engines, and climbed steadily into the cold, gray sky. 

Do you enjoy reading nonfiction? I do. Especially nonfiction written for young people. At 96 pages, this one is quite accessible, and yet it is packed with information, photographs, and illustrations such as maps and newspaper clippings. This is the first book I've read on the subject--I'd never really thought about who was first to fly around the world-- and it served as a great introduction to the subject.

The year is 1924. Several countries including the United States are trying to be the first to fly around the world. (Other countries making an attempt that year, or planning to make an attempt that year, include Great Britain, France, Portugal, Italy, and Argentina.) Which country will be the FIRST and get all the glory? Instead of sending one plane to make an attempt, there will be FOUR planes carrying eight men. Each plane is named after an American city: Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, and Seattle. The flight is chronicled step by step. Readers learn about the men making the trip, the troubles they encountered along the way, the places they stopped, etc. The book does a good job in providing context: what was the world like in 1924? flying was certainly still a novelty, for example, and it wasn't always easy to find places to land and all the supplies one would need. So planning was essential, and unexpected challenges were problematic!

I would recommend this one.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book

Miss Patch's Learn-to-Sew Book. Carolyn Meyer. 1969/2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 96 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed reading Miss Patch's Learn to Sew Book. I had no idea that Carolyn Meyer wrote a book on sewing. I love her best for her historical fiction. In particular, White Lilacs, but also her series of young royals: Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary Anne, etc.

Did you grow up sewing? I did. I didn't learn from a book, or at least this book. But it felt very familiar all the same. I think I've done similar projects myself. What kinds of sewing projects are included? pillows, pillowcases, drawstring bags, scarves and aprons, quilt squares, skirts and slips, toys, and doll clothes. Some of the projects have you making your own pattern out of newspaper, and other projects have you copying patterns from this book. The instructions, for the most part, are simple and straightforward.
This is how to thread a needle:
Cut a piece of thread as long as your arm.
Then poke the end of the thread through the "eye" of the needle.
It will go through more easily if you wet it on the tip of your tongue and then squeeze it. Now try to hit the eye.
Pull the thread through until the ends are even and make a knot.
This is how to make a knot:
Wet your finger a little on the tip of your tongue.
Wrap the thread around your finger once.
Roll it off with your thumb.
Pull it tight.
The knot should be small and neat.
If it isn't, don't worry.
You can hide it so no one will see it, and the next time you do it, it will look much better. 
The book is step-by-step, which is an absolute necessity in my opinion.


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust

Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust. Ruth Thomson. 2011. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Terezin is a small fortress town in the Czech Republic. It was built in 1780 by the Austrian emperor Joseph II and named after his mother Maria Theresa. The town might forever have remained largely unknown to the rest of the world. Instead it attained notoriety. During the Second World War, the Nazis turned Terezin into a ghetto and renamed it Theresienstadt. Here, they imprisoned thousands of Jewish people--first Czechs, then Germans, and, later Danish and Dutch. Many were then sent to their deaths at Auschwitz.

Ruth Thomson provides readers with a short and concise history of Terezin (Theresienstadt) during World War II. Her narration does an excellent job piecing things together. The book is RICH in primary sources. You might be thinking that means diaries, journals, memoirs, interviews, and the like. And you'd be partly right. But it is also rich in artwork. There were talented--very, very talented--artists at work in the ghetto or camp. They drew--or painted--what the Nazis wanted or demanded. But they also worked secretly on their own pieces--pieces that document what life was really like there, the atrocities they faced daily. Through words and art--readers truly do get "voices from the Holocaust." The book provides a summary of what was going on in Europe starting with when Hitler first came to power in the early 1930s. The focus is on this one particular camp/ghetto, but, Thomson provides enough context to give readers a fuller picture of what was happening.

I have read many books about the Holocaust, about World War II. I haven't read as many about Theresienstadt, so this was a great introduction for me. I would definitely recommend this one.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Betty Crocker Kids Cook

Betty Crocker Kids Cook. 1999/2015 (spiral-bound) Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I enjoyed skimming through Betty Crocker Kids Cook. I don't "review" cook books often, but, I do enjoy looking at ones specifically designed to appeal to children and teens. This one is written with kids of all ages in mind. It features recipes that kids can cook on their own with just a little guidance, and some more difficult recipes that may take more cooperation with an adult.

The recipes fall into five categories: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, and desserts. The book includes simple instructions and guidelines for general cooking and baking. (The end papers illustrate the tools of the trade.) The "Just the Basics" section even includes the current nutritional guidelines, MyPlate.

The recipes themselves seem straightforward and reader-friendly. As an adult, I appreciate them listing the nutritional information for each recipe. (Serving size, number of calories, number of carbohydrates, amount of fat, amount of fiber, etc. It also includes the number of carbohydrate exchanges (choices) a serving is. Most of the recipes, though certainly not all, are carbohydrate heavy I noticed. Some recipes look delicious, very delicious, but are certainly not healthy enough to be eaten all that often, in my opinion.

The recipes that looked most appealing to me include:

  • Super-Tasty Sweet Potato Bacon Biscuits (p. 23)
  • Surprise! Confetti Pasta Salad (p. 60)
  • Impossibly Easy Mini Chicken Pot Pies (p. 98)
  • Cheese-Stuffed Meatballs and Spaghetti (p. 112)
  • Bottom of the Cereal Box Cookies (p. 140)
Do you have a favorite cookbook for children or teens?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Jump Back, Paul

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poetry of Laurence Dunbar. Sally Derby. Illustrated by Sean Qualls. Candlewick Press. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] 

It had me at hello.
You never heard of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar? Child, where've you been? I got to have a word with you. Why, back in the day, you'd have whole families sitting around listening while one of them performed "When Malindy Sings" or "Little Brown Baby" or "A Negro Love Song" (which folks most always call "Jump Back, Honey").
Within a page or two, I was just fascinated with the book, with the story, with the narrator, and just HAD to keep reading. I wasn't expecting to find a book about a poet compelling, honestly. But this is a well-crafted narrative.
Readers learn about Paul Laurence Dunbar. Readers get the opportunity to read many of his poems. And that opportunity comes within the context of learning about his life. And I think, in part, that is why it is so compelling. It isn't just "here kid, read some poems." Far from it, readers have all they need--in my opinion--to understand and appreciate the poems. Readers are given a taste only, just enough to make you want more.

I really enjoyed this one. I'm not sure what I enjoyed most: learning about the poet, OR, reading the poems. I think both elements work well together. I think if readers had the biography without the poems, it would fall short. And I think the reverse is also true. Without knowing his life story, the times in which he lived, what mattered and why, the poems lose something--especially with so young an audience.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. Somewhere There Is Still A Sun

Somewhere There Is Still A Sun. Michael Gruenbaum and Todd Hasak-Lowy. 2015. 384 pages. [Source: Library]

Looking to read a memoir of the holocaust? Michael Gruenbaum has teamed up with Todd Hasak-Lowry to write Somewhere There Is Still A Sun. This memoir is not reflective. In fact, it is actually written in present tense, first person present. I must admit that took a bit of getting used to on my part. In a way, it almost seems unnatural. But. It wasn't a distraction either. I did not stay focused on the mechanics of how it was written for long. I did get swept up in the narrative. And with good reason, it is compelling and intense.

There is an innocence to the narrator, to Misha, for he is as sheltered as he possibly can be as a Jew living in a Nazi-occupied country. That is, Misha hasn't really grasped how life-and-death the situation is. Misha is still focused on life, on things like playing soccer and going to the movies. His mother and older sister seem to be keeping some things from him, for better or worse. And these things don't come to the reader's attention until the author's note. (Do all readers read authors' notes? I do. But I'm not sure everyone does.) Because of Misha's innocence, many readers may know more than he does. (Though maybe not all readers. I don't want to presume that every single reader will have read five or six holocaust books by the time they come across Somewhere There Is Still A Sun.) It is an interesting position to be put in as a reader, to know more than a character.

Misha's memoir focuses on his time in a Jewish ghetto in Prague, and, in Terezin. Terezin is still relatively new to me to read about, so I found this one fascinating. For example, Misha takes part in one or two of the plays held in Terezin.

What I appreciated the most about Somewhere There Is Still A Sun is the focus on relationships--the bonds between characters. Misha is separated from his mother and sister for many years. He is one of many assigned to a room. (I want to say that forty young boys shared a room?) Relationships matter in books, and it really gives one a complete story.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. Book, My Autobiography

Book, My Autobiography. John Agard. Illustrated by Neil Packer. 2015. Candlewick. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: My name is Book and I'll tell you the story of my life. In good time you'll be hearing about clay tablets, the invention of the alphabet, parchment, manuscripts that light up, libraries, and all that kind of stuff. But my story goes even further back. Before Book, there was Breath.

Book has written an autobiography. He wants you--his readers--to know his life story: from his earliest beginnings to the present day. (Yes, book will let you know his thoughts on e-books.) It is written in a casual, conversational style. It includes some detail, but, it's not heavy on detail either, perhaps aiming for enough information to be entertaining but not so much that readers are tempted to skip or skim.

At times, I really liked the style of this one. For example:
It must have been fun being a little letter in those days, with different people taking you and shaping you to their own language--straightening you here, curving you there, as they saw fit. Even writing you in all directions, right to left, left to right, not to mention downward and upward. A page must have felt like a trampoline. (25)
But I wouldn't say that the reading experience cover-to-cover was all that magical. The book was good, but, not GREAT for me.

Readers learn some facts about the history of the book, the written word. Quotes and poems about books and reading are shared throughout.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. Guest post (and Giveaway) from Suzette Valle, 101 MOVIES TO SEE BEFORE YOU GROW UP

I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for an adorable new book about movies! 


101 Movies to See Before You Grow Up by Suzette Valle (Oct 13, 2015, Walter Foster Jr/Quarto Publishing, for ages 8 and up, 144 pages)

All of my favorites are in here! I'll bet yours are too. This is fun for the entire family. It's a bright, colorful book, plus it's interactive (you can rate the movies yourself). This book would be a perfect gift for the middle grader in your life.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR





Suzette Valle is an award-winning mother of two and freelance writer focusing on family entertainment. She graduated with a B.A. from the University of San Diego, and has a Master's Degree from Oxford University, England. She also has her own blog, Mamarazzi Knows Best.com, where she writes about parenting in a celebrity-driven society and all aspects of entertainment. She is a featured Hollyblogger at the award-winning Hollywood publication The Wrap.com where she contributes film reviews, interviews with celebrities, and has covered and written about pop-culture events like Comic-Con International where she's interviewed actors, directors, producers and writers about current and upcoming projects. She wrote over 30 articles for the monthly column Parent Talk for AOL's Patch.com, and headed this publication's Parents Council in her community. Suzette lives in the seaside town of Coronado, California. This enchanted island is also known as the Emerald City because L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, penned several of the Oz books here. Suzette enjoys watching movies, and walks on the beach with her husband of 25 years and Bella, her adorable dog.

Follow Suzette on Twitter

And now for an exclusive guest post from Suzette. I asked her what her favorite movie was when she was growing up. Take it away, Suzette!

One of my favorite movies growing up was “The Parent Trap.” The original 1961 film starring Hayley Mills as the twins just captured my imagination. This film had to be in the book, especially since there was a popular remake with Lindsay Lohan that introduced this plot to a new generation. Though this is still one my personal favorite films, I think I would rather tell you about my favorite movie experience with my family, one that made a long-lasting impact on all of us: “Harry Potter.” This movie franchise had to be in the book. It was so significant that the American Film Institute gave Harry Potter a special award and recognition, “Eight films that earned the trust of a generation who wished for the beloved books of J.K. Rowling to come to life on the silver screen. The collective wizardry of an epic ensemble gave us the gift of growing older with Harry, Ron and Hermione as the magic of Hogwarts sprung from the films and into the hearts and minds of Muggles around the world.”

Before we watched any of the Harry Potter films, my husband and I would take turns reading the books aloud to our kids. We had a special routine for this. We'd sit by the fireplace with our favorite blankets, a cup of hot chocolate, and we would try to read each character in a different voice and (terrible) British accents. It usually ended up being just the voices of a boy or girl without accents since the kids would ask us to simply stop the torture. Ha!

Going to the theater to watch the books come to life on the silver screen was the first experience our children had with the book-to-movie process! We also encouraged our kids to wear their favorite Harry Potter costume to watch the films, which most kids and families tended to do at the time. I'll never forget the wide-eyed looks on their faces when they'd recognize a scene from the book, or getting elbowed when the kids noticed something was a little different from the original storyline. As adults now, 20 and 23, our kids now know that sometimes the film version has to be a little different from the book to add an element of surprise for the audience members who might think they already know the story.

After watching each of the Potter movies, it was fascinating to hear our children compare the book to the film, and listening to their observations about the differences they noticed as little film critics made all the effort we made to make this a special experience for them worth it.

One aspect that we really enjoyed about reading the books before watching the movies, was how this filled us with anticipation and excitement to see Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hogwarts materialize on screen as we had seen them in our mind's eye -- it was unlike any other movie had done before or has since then. This series had a gripping effect on us all, didn't it? I'll never forget these precious movie-moments with my family -- they were magical!

If children are not quite ready for the action and adventure of the Harry Potter films, another series that's becoming a family-movie-watching tradition is "How To Train your Dragon." There are 12 books in this series, and they've started to roll out in theaters, too.


This type of family bonding opportunity that movies provide, are the main reason I wrote "101 Movies To See Before You Grow Up." Watching movies at home is the most common activity we share as a family, and I think most families in America do as well. Taking these cinematic journeys together, from the safety and comfort of your home, is a fantastic way to spend time with your children not only before they grow up, but as they grow up. Just like mine grew up along with Harry, Ron, and Hermione!


Thanks so much, Suzette. The original Parent Trap has always been one of my favorites, too. And of course, I watched all the Harry Potter movies with my own kids!

Readers, be sure to check out the next stop on the tour: 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fandom Monthly Magazine

http://fandommonthlymagazine.blogspot.com/



Now for the giveaway details: One lucky reader will win a copy of 101 MOVIES TO SEE BEFORE YOU GROW UP. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention this giveaway on Twitter or other social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to US/Canadian addresses only and will end at 10 pm EST on Sunday November 8, 2015. The winner will be announced on Monday November 9th. Good luck!


 

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23. Enchanted Air

Enchanted Air. Margarita Engle. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez. 2015. Simon & Schuster. 208 pages. [Source: Library]

Did I enjoy Margarita Engle's Enchanted Air? A thousand times yes! I don't remember when I first discovered Engle's verse novels, I just remember it was love at first sight from the first book on. Every novel of hers which I've read, I've ended up absolutely loving. I really should treat myself to rereading all of her novels.

Enchanted Air is the author's memoir of her first fourteen years. It is all in verse; wonderful, glorious verse as only she can write. She writes of her travels back and forth from the United States and Cuba. (In addition to writing about other family travels, vacations, if you will.) She writes of various moves within the U.S, all in California, I believe. She writes of summer days and school days. Of belonging, wanting to belong, needing to belong. Of uncertainty, confusion, and on the opposite extreme: JOY. Joy of knowing, of discovering, of loving, of living, of just being. The focus is on herself and on her family. She grew up during the "Cold War." And she shares with readers her experiences; how upsetting and confusing it could be to grow up Cuban American at a time when Cuba was very much THE ENEMY. She also writes about her love of reading, writing, and storytelling.

From "Learning" (p. 134)
At home, I scribble tiny poems
all over the walls of my room.
Inside those miniature verses,
I feel safe, as if I am a turtle,
and the words
are my shell.
"More and More Stories" (p. 82
I find it hard to believe
that I am surviving
a whole summer
without a library
for finding
the familiar
old magic
of books.
But storytelling seems
like magic too--a new form
that is also
ancient
at the same time.
Will I ever be brave enough
to tell old-new tales
in my own way?
From "Refuge" (p. 54)
When I climb a tree, I take a book with me.
When I walk from school, I carry
my own poems, inside my mind,
where no one else
can reach the words
that are entirely
completely
forever
mine.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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24. The Wise Girl's Guide to Life

The Wise Girl's Guide to Life. Robin Brande. 2015. Ryer Publishing. 109 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Did I enjoy reading Robin Brande's The Wise Girl's Guide to Life: 100 Tips for Increasing Your Confidence and Happiness? Yes. For the most part. Though perhaps written with tween or teen girls in mind, I think some of the advice is so good, so wise, that it will last you your whole life long. In other words, even if you don't "need" all 100 tips, there is a good chance that a handful of them will be just-right for you, no matter your age.

The Wise Girl's Guide to Life reads like a devotional. Most people probably tend to associate devotional books with faith or spirituality or Christianity to be exact. And that is not the impression I want to give you. It's not. The Wise Girl's Guide to Life isn't exactly about passing along spiritual wisdom to readers. (I would never classify the advice as "Christian advice.")

No, when I say devotional, I mean that it's a short passage with an inspirational, invitational, uplifting feel. Each of the 100 readings has a concise, often practical, nugget of wisdom that you can take with you and process throughout the day.

For example:
  • You decide who you are.
  • The only way to change is to change.
  • Accept where you are, then go from there.
  • Being who you are inspires others to do the same.
  • Ask yourself questions.
  • Tell yourself what you most need to hear.
I definitely liked this one. It's a good book.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Eat Your U.S. History Homework

Eat Your U.S. History Homework. Ann McCallum. 2015. Charlesbridge. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love the premise behind Ann McCallum's Eat Your U.S. History Homework. I think it is a clever idea to write a cookbook with American History in mind.

The book only covers early American history. The first recipe--around the times of the Pilgrims settling America--is "Thanksgiving Succotash." The last recipe--around the time of the American Revolution--is for "Independence Ice Cream." There are six recipes in all.

The topics or subjects these recipes are supposed to supplement: Pilgrims at Plymoth, 1620; The Thirteen Original Colonies, 1607-1776; The French and Indian War, 1754-1763; Slaves and the Southern Planation, 1619-1863; The American Revolution, 1775-1783; The Declaration of Independence, 1776.

Some recipes you might recognize under another name. For example: "Revolutionary Honey-Jumble Cookies" and "Lost Bread" are snickerdoodles and french toast.

I like the focus on food. I like the historical tidbits. I like everything but the illustrations.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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