Elem. NF – Dangerous Jane; Our Story Begins; American Gothic; The Girl Who Ran

Slade, Suzanne. Dangerous Jane. Peachtree, 2017. 9781561459131. Unpaged. $17.95. Gr. 2-5.
Slade’s work is a simple introduction to the life of Jane Addams, American social worker and peace activist, who founded Hull House, a settlement house for immigrants in Chicago.  Beginning with her early life, the author tells us that Jane became aware of poverty when visiting a poor part of town and vowed to help people in need when she grew up.  On a trip in Europe as a college graduate, she saw poverty in London and visited a settlement house that helped poor people acquire job and literacy skills.  This inspired Jane to return to Chicago and found Hull House.   Later we read that Jane Addams was involved in the peace movement to bring an end to World War l.   Initially, she was scorned for these efforts and was called “Dangerous Jane” by the FBI.  However, by 1931, public opinion became favorable and she earned the Nobel Peace Prize. This picture book biography does not give a lot of details about her other contributions, such as the founding of the NAACP. More information is contained in the author’s note and timeline, where some of the gaps are filled in. The illustrations by Alice Ratterree are done in soft muted watercolors.  However, Jane stands out in every drawing, because she is always pictured wearing bright green, even as a child.  There are two black and white photographs in the back matter.  THOUGHTS: This text serves as a good introduction to the life of this important figure in American history and will make for a great read aloud.  Students wishing to learn more will need to seek additional resources, which the author provides in the bibliography.  This book is a worthy addition to elementary collections.
Picture Book; Biography     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Weissman, Elissa Brent Ed. OUR STORY BEGINS: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun. Atheneum Children’s Books, 2018. 978-1-4814-7208-1. $17.99. 192 pp. Gr. 3-6.

“Everyone’s story begins somewhere.” Authors are inherently able to reminisce about that moment when they felt the power of story start to change their lives. Sometimes it was through the received recognition or struggle or heartache that the seeds to their future careers began. Join Elissa Brent Weissman as she collects individual memories and samples from 26 authors and illustrators and revel in their variety, inspiration, and child-like gifts of bringing stories to life. Kwame Alexander shares a poem he wrote for his mom; several authors (R.J. Palacio and Kathi Appelt among them) share their love of horses and unicorns; Alex Gino shares a sci-fi short story, and Brian Selznick shares some early drawing tips. The selections show diversity of age, geography, and heritage, which provides both windows and mirrors for young readers. Plus, children will have that inspiring and relatable notion that indeed, authors were once kids too!  THOUGHTS: The insights that budding writers’ will gain from this collection cannot be measured. Seeing the editing process and imperfect samples from famous folks allows for many writing mini-lessons. Showing the variety of writing works and styles also gives classes a chance to compare and discuss. Plus, the artwork will inspire doodlers and illustrators alike to grab a pencil or paintbrush and get creating!

800; Literature     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Wood, Susan and Ross MacDonald. American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2533-3. $18.95. Unpaged. Gr. 1-4.

Even as a young Iowa farm boy, Grant Wood loved to draw. As he aged, his drawings progressed, and he explored the art culture beyond his midwestern landscape, but in the end, Grant came back to create a vision of the region that he loved. Readers will enjoy learning how Grant came to paint the classic American Gothic and represent common people during the Great Depression. The details of his life are sparse in the story, but the author’s note and timeline at the end help anyone looking to know more. Ross MacDonald provides color-coated images of Wood and his work in an inviting and stylized manner. The farm couple at the center of Grant’s masterpiece would be proud to share their story once more.  THOUGHTS: Although brief, the pages where Grant Wood contemplates his artistic style provide a primer through art history and the approaches that artists take. Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract, and Gothic styles are all depicted. It would be beneficial for budding artists to explore more images of Grant Wood’s art and compare them to the book.

Biography       Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

 

Yee, Christina, and Frances Poletti. The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon. Compendium Inc., 2017. 9781943200474. 48 pp. $16.95. Gr. 1-5.

This biography in picture book form is accessible to all ages of readers. Bobbi Gibb could never sit still and loved to run. Even when she was discouraged from all sides–her parents and the admissions people to the Boston Marathon–she did not give up. She trained by running across the country. Ultimately Bobbi ended up sneaking onto the starting line disguised as a boy in a hoodie, her brother’s shorts, and men’s running shoes (they didn’t make women’s at the time, even though it was 1966) and joined the race! THOUGHTS: The watercolor pictures flow perfectly with the poetry verses that express Bobbi’s joy of running. This is a great book to use as a starter for women in sports and discuss which sports still haven’t admitted women yet.

Biography; Picture Book     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School

 

YA Nonfiction – Shadow of Liberty; Rad Women; March Bk 3; This Land is Our Land

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Davis, Kenneth C. In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2016. 978-162779-3117. $17.99 286 pp. Gr. 7-12.

Davis shines light on five lesser-known individuals of American history in In the Shadow of Liberty.  They were five enslaved persons (Davis explains the preference for enslaved person rather than slave) who were owned by four presidents who espoused liberty for all.  Billy Lee served as George Washington’s valet.  Ona Judge worked as Martha Washington’s maid and successfully escaped.  Isaac Granger served at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello all his life.  Paul Jennings worked at both James Madison’s Montpelier and the White House. Finally, Alfred Jackson served Andrew Jackson’s household.  Davis gives a succinct history of slavery and its profitability before detailing each person’s story.  Between chapters, he skillfully places timelines to explain national events and how slavery was affected.  The research is thorough and though Davis could be judgmental, he opts instead for a factual perspective.  “It would be…simple to condemn them…and to call them hypocrites and negate all they did…But history is never a simple tale.  The story…is a complicated one.  At times, some of them agonized…some of their views and behavior changed, though never enough to make a difference.  We must take these hard, cold facts into account” (261-262).  This is a finely written history of interesting people in difficult, at times horrifying, circumstances.  Davis’ writing pulls in the reader and gives life to these five little-mentioned people.  THOUGHTS:  This history gives fuller understanding of the times and (often contradictory) views held by early American leaders.  Social studies courses could include the entire text or portions of it (consider chapter one, with its succinct history of slavery) to better understand the wide impact of slavery on individuals and a nation’s psyche.  This is accessible reading for middle and high school to give another view of colonial life and the abolitionist fight.  It serves as a fantastic example of biography and narrative nonfiction.  This could also be paired with Albert Marrin’s A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery (2014).

973; American History      Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

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Schatz, Kate, and Miriam Klein Stahl (illustrator). Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2016. 978-0-399-57886-1. 104 pp. $15.99. Gr. 6 and up.

Rad Women Worldwide contains forty mini-biographies, representing all seven continents and describing the achievements of truly radical women in lively, conversational profiles. The very helpful map on the book’s front endpapers will orient readers to this journey through time and around the globe. Rad Women Worldwide covers contemporary women such as Malala Yousafzai, Venus and Serena Williams, and primatologist Biruté Mary Galdikas. There are also plentiful entries on historical figures: Enheduanna (the world’s oldest known author), Hypatia (the first known female mathematician and scientist), Queen Lil’uokalani of Hawaii, and many more. Each chapter is accompanied by an iconic papercut portrait, created by illustrator Miriam Klein Stahl using paper, pencil, and an X-Acto knife. “The Stateless,” a poetic ode to the world’s 60 million displaced people (almost 80% of whom are women and children) is a fitting conclusion to this excellent collective biography. One small complaint: if the map and Table of Contents included keywords such as Educator, Environmentalist, or Musician next to each woman’s name, Rad Women Worldwide would be even more accessible to browsers and student researchers. THOUGHTS: It’s a must-have for every teen library and a strong companion read to Schatz and Stahl’s 2015 collection Rad American Women A-Z.

920; Collective Biography       Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School Library

 

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Lewis, John and Andrew Aydin. March Book 3. Art by Nate Powell. San Diego, Top Shelf Productions, 2016. 978-1603094023. 256 p. $19.99. Gr. 9 and up.

March Book 3 is a powerful conclusion to Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir of his experiences during the Civil Rights movement. Books One and Two focused on the lunch counter sit-ins and the March on Washington, respectively. The plot of the third book centers around the events and marches in Selma, Alabama.  Lewis also shares his experiences traveling to Africa and meeting Malcolm X, and the struggles within the different groups pushing for change at that time. The art, drawn in careful detail by Nate Powell, propels the story forward at a fast clip and engages the audience with stark black and white scenes. This series should be required reading in all high schools, not only because it is engaging in a way that textbooks generally are not, but also because the themes and events are, sadly, exceptionally relatable to the events occurring in our world today. THOUGHTS: Students and educators alike will be fascinated by Lewis’s story and experiences. This series should be in all high school libraries.

Graphic Novel; Memoir      Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

I have eagerly awaited the final installment of this series, and it did not at all disappoint. Reading John Lewis’s graphic memoir has opened my eyes to the power of this form of literature, and how it can be used to engage readers and teach about different eras in history. I also had the opportunity to attend an event with Congressman Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. The Congressman gave one of the most powerful speeches I have ever witnessed. Hearing his story in person, and the story behind the graphic novel, made me appreciate the venture even more than before. I hope that more famous and influential individuals will use this genre to tell their stories in order to reach a whole new audience and generation.

 

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Osborne, Linda Barrett. This Land is Our Land: A History of American Immigration. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-1-4197-1660-7. 124p. $24.95. Gr. 7 and up.

Focusing on American immigration from the 19th century to the present, this title presents the experiences of immigrants who came to America to start new lives and examines the way Americans have responded to these immigrants over time.  Surprisingly, attitudes towards immigrants have remained remarkably similar and consistent throughout the history of America.  Osborne offers context and reasons for these attitudes while at the same time highlighting the benefits that immigrants have brought to our country and encouraging fairness and compassion towards all.  Numerous period photographs and quotes from immigrants themselves adds a personal touch to the work.  A timeline of immigration history, source notes, bibliography, and index are also included.  Overall, this is a very thorough and objective account of American immigration throughout history.  THOUGHTS: With the upcoming presidential election, immigration is a very timely topic.  This title provides a wonderful introduction to the topic and could spark excellent discussions about attitudes and responses towards immigration.  Another option would be to pair this title with fictional accounts of the immigrant experience, such as Melanie Crowder’s Audacity or Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Uprising.

304.8; Immigration      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

Series NF for Upper Elem. and MS from Capstone – Presidential Elections; Special OPS; Sports Stats

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Presidential Politics series. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2016. 48 p. $21.54 ea. Gr. 3-8.

Gunderson, Jessica. The Election of 1860: A Nation Divides on the Eve of War. 978-1-4914-8240-7.   

Krasner, Barbara. A Timeline of Presidential Elections. 978-1-4914-8239-1.

Scarbrough, Mary Hertz. Presidential Politics By the Numbers. 978-1-4914-8238-4.  

Students may be caught off guard that George Washington’s second inauguration speech was 135 words long and by other statistics detailed in Presidential Politics by the Numbers. Faster than it seems, another election is just around the corner. While Lincoln is regarded by many students and historians as a standout president, the book The Election of 1860: A Nation Divided on the Eve of War details the struggles Lincoln faced and the turmoil of the nation during that time period. A Timeline of Presidential Elections divides the history into ten chapters with clear date boxes. The series is ideal to display around elections and also to supplement topics related to presidents in the classrooms. The books contain chapters with elements that draw in readers including infographics, primary images, maps, critical thinking questions and sidebars. A detailed glossary, further reading suggestions and an index are also included. THOUGHTS: There is also a fiction book to tie into presidential elections called Tommy McKnight and the Great Election (Capstone, 2016). The fiction book is inspiring. The main character, Tommy, struggles with the effects of Polio. When he sees that the presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt does not let the disease stop him from political goals, Tommy is empowered to reach his goals. There is a great importance is having fiction and nonfiction pairings for students and this series provides this option. Presidential Politics is set highly recommended for upper elementary and middle school library collections.

900s; American History; Presidential Elections   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

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Simons, Lisa M. Bolt. Special OPS Mission Timelines series. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2016.  32 p. $19.54 ea. Gr. 3-9.

U.S. Navy Seal Missions: A Timeline. 978-1-4914-8703-7.   

U.S. Marine Raider Missions: A Timeline. 978-1-4914-8704-4.

U.S. Army Green Beret Missions. 978-1-4914-8702-0.  

U.S. Army Ranger Missions. 978-1-4914-8701-3.  

U.S. Navy Seal Missions and U.S. Marine Raider Missions, along with the other books in this series, are picture rich in their overview of elite military groups and their history. Terms are in bold with the definition on the same page in a caption box.  Events such as the Battle of Baltimore, Operation Detachment, Afghanistan Ambush, Operation Just Cause, and Operation Neptune Spear are presented. The time frame includes an overview of the event and a full page image. The ending material of the book includes a glossary, additional books to read, and information to access at Fact Hound for reviewed websites. The last page has ideas to incorporate Common Core with critical thinking and concludes with an index. THOUGHTS: The books have a balanced blend of images, history, and organized presentation of content. These books will help to provide students with current information along with the history. The books present subjects that matter to students in an engaging fashion.

359.9; Military History   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

 

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Sport Stats and Stories series. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Press, 2016.  48 p. $23.54 ea. Gr. 4-6.

Braun, Eric. Baseball Stats and the Stories Behind Them: What Every Fan Needs to Know. 978-1-4914-8215-5.   

Braun, Eric. Basketball Stats and the Stories Behind Them: What Every Fan Needs to Know. 978-1-4914-8216-2.

Frederick, Shane. Football Stats and the Stories Behind Them: What Every Fan Needs to Know.  978-1-4914-8214-8.  

Frederick, Shane.  Hockey Stats and the Stories Behind Them: What Every Fan Needs to Know. 978-1-4914-8701-3.  

Dramatic images from Sports Illustrated capture the excitement found in the respective sports from the past and current times. Numerous examples of mathematical breakdown of facts are detailed. One example is the 15 steps to determine the quarterback passing rating. The basketball stats includes mathematical directions for records including points per game and field goal attempts. Learn more of the phrases of sports like “Hack-a -Shaq.”  The content is presented in chapter format. Rankings of the top 5 athletes are devised for specific categories or positions. Terms are defined in a stat glossary. The books suggest additional books to read and directions to access Fact Hound for reviewed websites. THOUGHTS: The books provide an engaging read with facts extending the knowledge of history and breakthrough athletes. Also share these books with your physical education and math teachers for all of the cross-curricular topics.

796; Sports   Beth McGuire, Wendover Middle School

Series NF for Grades 6-12 – People of America; Captured History

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Peoples of North America. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 2016. $26.95 ea. 48p. Gr. 7 and up.

Bodden, Valerie. Apache. 978-1-60818-550-4.

Bodden, Valerie. Cherokee. 978-1-60818-551-1.

Bodden, Valerie. Navajo. 978-1-60818-553-5.

Bodden, Valerie. Nez Perce. 978-1-60818-554-2.

Bodden, Valerie. Sioux. 978-1-60818-555-9.

Potts, Steve. Iroquois. 978-1-608181-552-8.

Peoples of North America focuses on the importance of various tribes of North America, a subject not often covered for junior high and high school students.  Each title in this series focuses on a different tribe and includes the history of the tribe, lifestyle, traditions and culture, and the changes the tribe has faced due to westward expansion and the development of the United States (historically and today).  A traditional story from the tribe ends each title, which also includes end notes, a selected bibliography, information for further research, and an index.  The inclusion of photographs, both color and black and white, and illustrations enhance reader understanding of the importance of each tribe to American history and culture.  THOUGHTS:  Not many books are written about Native Americans for high school students, and it seems that these people, who are most important to our history, are often overlooked or quickly taught.  This is series is excellent for research projects and general reading to find out more about Native Americans and their impact in history and today.

American History; Native Americans      Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

 

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Captured History. North Mankato, MN: Compass Point Books, 2015. $25.49 ea. 64p. Gr. 6 and up.

Burgan, Michael. Shadow Catcher: How Edward S. Curtis Documented American Indian Dignity and Beauty. 978-0-7565-4992-3.

Nardo, Don. The Golden Spike: How a Photograph Celebrated the Transcontinental Railroad. 978-0-7565-4991-6.

Captured History is one of the best series for middle and high school students.  Begun in 2011, this year’s additions, Shadow Catcher and The Golden Spike, only reinforce the importance of this series to support curriculum, research, and curiosity.  Each title in this series explores a specific aspect of American history through the photographs (by a specific photographer) from the situation and/or period.  Titles are broken into four chapters focused on the history, the event, and the impact on society today along with a timeline, glossary, additional resources, source notes, a selected bibliography, and index.  The use of border white-space enhances the text and photographs in order to fully grasp the event being explained.  The photography is beautiful and is a great way to help teach primary sources and visual reading.  The two new titles are especially important because they focus on historic events that are often overlooked or quickly taught in U.S. History courses: Native Americans and the Transcontinental Railroad.  THOUGHTS:  Captured History is a MUST-HAVE series for all school libraries.

American History      Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City

Elementary NF – Aaron & Alexander; Gingerbread

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Brown, Don. Aaron and Alexander: The Most Famous Duel in American History. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2015. 978-1-59643-998-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-5.

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton’s lives paralleled each other’s in many ways; they were both orphaned at a young age; they were both very smart and studied at prestigious American universities; they both served bravely in the colonists’ battle against Great Britain; they were even alike in size, having the word “little” as part of their nicknames. Author Don Brown says, “Aaron and Alexander could have been friends. They were alike in many ways. But the ways in which they were different made them the worst of enemies.” The two men ended up on opposite sides of the political line after the American Revolution and influential, but hot-tempered, Hamilton often insulted Burr’s politics and character in vicious ways. The day arrived when Burr could take no more, and he challenged Hamilton to a duel in which Burr fatally shot Hamilton. Brown shares an unbiased view of the notorious duel that left Hamilton dead and Burr an outcast. The book contains an Author’s Note and bibliography. THOUGHTS: Brown’s signature style of concise wording and expressive watercolors succeeds in sharing a parallel of two important American figures and their tragic end.

973.4; Picture Book     Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools

 

 

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Rockliff, Mara. Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-544-13001-2. 32pp. $17.99. Gr 2–5.

Christopher Ludwick was a Philadelphia-based baker known all over the city for his big heart and his delicious gingerbread. Hungry children followed their noses to his shop, admiring the spicy cookies decorated with sweet, white icing. But in the summer of 1776, something other than the smell of gingerbread was in the air. Cries of “Revolution!” echoed up and down the streets. Ludwick, who was born in Germany, was a staunch Patriot. At age 55, he hung up his apron and volunteered his services to General Washington. After learning that Washington’s troops were threatening to leave due to lack of food, Ludwick rolled up his sleeves and fired up his oven. Throughout the Revolutionary War, Ludwick continued baking, and not just for the Continental Army. He volunteered for a secret, midnight mission to a British army camp where he successfully convinced hired Hessian soldiers to abandon the British troops and enlist with General Washington after promising them full bellies. At the war’s end, after the British surrendered, Ludwick baked 6,000 pounds of bread to feed America’s hungry former enemies before returning to Philadelphia and his bakery.  THOUGHTS:  This picture book biography of a little-known Revolutionary War hero is a wonderful addition to elementary collections. An author’s note at the end of the book outlines additional details about Ludwick’s life, and the endpapers include a recipe for baking gingerbread. While the story itself is unique, the illustrations steal the show. Illustrator Vincent Kirsch’s spirited watercolor pictures depict all characters as gingerbread people, and he sticks to a palate of mostly brown with white details. This title provides an accessible introduction to the American Revolution for the youngest readers while also showcasing a forgotten hero’s kind spirit and large heart.

Picture Book Biography   Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary, Southern York County

Fatal Fever

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Jarrow, Gail. Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. Honesdale, PA: Calkins Creek, 2015. 978-1620915974. 192p. $16.95. Gr. 5 & up.

In 1907, an outbreak of typhoid ripped through New York.  In the process, three monumental people in the middle of the outbreak were brought together.  In this narrative, the lives of George Albert Soper, a typhoid expert, and Sarah Josephine Baker, a doctor working for the New York Department of Health, come barreling into Mary Mallon, an immigrant cook from Ireland.  Mary is one tough lady. Not only does she not succumb to the infectious disease living in her body, but she also runs from the New York City Department of Health when they come knocking on her door. The way she adamantly denies having anything to do with the outbreaks is tenacious.  Mary insists she is innocent and being imprisoned on North Brother Island for no reason.  However, she has shown she will not adhere to the recommendations of the public health officials and resign her position as a cook.  In this nonfiction narrative, readers get primary sources from the time period, a glossary, timelines, and references to the way sanitation played a role in the outbreak.  

Readers will enjoy this page turner about turn of the century overhauls on the way consumers use sanitation and water treatment facilities, and even more, the way waterways are polluted with feces and human waste.  The way in which Jarrow suggests many of the infections could have been prevented just by hand washing makes any reader want to invest in hand sanitizer by the case. The transfer of bacteria and the way human waste traveled to the waterways was almost unbelievable partly because society has evolved so much in the past 100 years in regard to immunizations, hygiene, and sanitation.

614; Disease      Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS

 

 

Jarrow, Gail. Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary. Honesdale, PA: Calkins Creek, 2015. 978-162091-5974 175p. $25.00 Grades 5 and up.

In the early 1900s, typhoid was a dreaded, misunderstood disease. Most people did not understand how it was spread, nor how to prevent its spread by proper hand-washing, especially after toileting and before food handling. One person who certainly did not understand it was “Typhoid Mary,” as Mary Mallon, became known. Mallon never exhibited any typhoid symptoms, yet she was tracked down by sanitation engineer and “germ detective” George Roper as being an asymptomatic carrier, having infected dozens, and killed at least one, in her work as a cook. She vociferously, even violently, refused to agree and refused to cooperate. She disappeared, only to reappear on Roper’s radar after another outbreak. Here he found that she had actively disobeyed their agreement that she not work as a cook, instead changing her name and finding work as a cook, which was a better-paying position than housekeeping for any immigrant woman. Roper understood the disease, even if Mallon and others did not; Mallon was quarantined on North Brother Island despite her objections. Though Mallon sued for her freedom, she lost, and the island remained her home until her death.

Jarrow follows up her book Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat (2014) with this account of Typhoid Mary and the (mis)understandings of the era. A third book in this “series” may follow. Easy to read for middle schoolers, fast-paced enough to keep interest, this is middle school nonfiction at its best. Readers will sympathize with both Mallon and Roper, and the families who struggled with the disease. An excellent, eye-opening book. Author’s Note, Further Reading, Timeline, Glossary, Bibliography, Index.

In our school, this book has been read and lauded by adults, but has taken more selling to get into the hands of student readers. The color, photographs, and easy-to-read, wide pages and, above all, the writing, really help to draw in readers. Pair with Jarrow’s Red Madness or Bryn Barnard’s Outbreak: Plagues That Changed History (2005) as well as Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America (2015) by the renowned Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Fabulous reading for science/biology courses, this can also be used as an example of how to weave primary sources into research presentations.

614; Disease     Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Big Top Burning…1944 Circus Disaster

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Woolett, Laura. Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and the Greatest Show on Earth. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015. 167 p. $18.95 Grades 5-8.


“Some say they saw the flickering of a small flame on the side wall of the tent just above the men’s bathroom. At first no one moved; surely the circus staff had it under control. But by the time circus workers reached the fire, their meager buckets of water had little effect. As the crowd watched, the flame grew, spidering up the tent wall. Then someone yelled, “Fire!” and the panic began….” (1)


So begins Woolett’s riveting tale of the July 1944 fire in Hartford, Connecticut, that claimed 167 lives under the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus tent. The circus was a big event, widely anticipated and widely attended by adults and children. The huge tent was “450 feet long and 200 feet wide—one-third longer than an entire football field.” The included black and white photographs help to show the enormity of the tent and the devastation left by the fire. In fact, over 6,000 people attended the circus that hot afternoon. Woolett focuses her early story on the fire itself and memories of survivors. She then turns to medical efforts and family identification, turning to the disappearance of young Eleanor Cook, then 8 years old, attending with her mother and two brothers. Though her older brother jumped from the bleachers to safety, her mother was badly injured, and her younger brother died the next day from his injuries. In the panic under the tent, Eleanor’s hand slipped from her mother’s. Identifying Eleanor’s body proved to be a quest of many years’ work—and it is still unknown if “Little Miss 1565” was Eleanor, or if her body was hastily mistaken by grieving relatives of another girl. And what of the cause of the fire? Officials labeled it accidental until six years later when young circus worker Robert Segee claimed to have set it, only to recant his claim months later. The fire’s cause, too, remains unknown, though the “accidental” label was officially changed to “undetermined.” Woolett does an exceptional job of bringing the fire and the time period to life, showing the care given to victims and families by the people of Hartford. She does not delve into the grief undoubtedly felt by the families of so many victims—but neither does she exploit them here. This is a high-interest and non-gory read that will pull in reluctant readers, for the story of the fire and the forensic science attempts to solve it. At 131 pages of story, it is easy to recommend to upper elementary and middle school readers.
Author’s Note, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography, Image Notes, and Index comprise pages 133-167.

This book, with its eye-catching cover and small size, could well prove a first pick for booktalks and readers of nonfiction. It could be used as an example of literary nonfiction, and Woolett helps by briefly describing her research process, with full documentation. I found this easy to read and hard to put down. Many will be surprised if not dissatisfied to know that the two major questions—involving the cause of the fire and the identity of Eleanor Cook—still remain unanswered.

974.6 American Disaster    Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

 

 

It is hard to imagine America’s home front during World War II.  With very little money and ways to socialize, Americans looked forward to events such as the Ringling Brothers Circus coming to town. Clearly present day circuses are far different than those of the 1940s.  Hiring of locals to be present under the seats of the patrons was a necessity.  Smoking was not banned inside the tents, and if a cigarette butt was dropped or discarded under the seats, it may ignite the hay.  These boys were hired to extinguish the fires before they became overwhelming.  Even more, local government agencies were asked to come out and make sure the circus was up to code.  In the instance of the famous Hartford, Connecticut fire, there was a delay in getting to the venue. Therefore, the inspector was unable to inspect everything, signing off only after being promised 50 tickets to the show. Coupled with the inadequate inspection, the circus was still using tents that were treated with gasoline and turpentine, a highly flammable combination.  The story wraps all these factors together with a story of a little girl who is going to the circus with her mother and ends up burned to death. A CSI-type mystery, the story is engrossing and often unbelievable, knowing what we do now about science.

974.6; American History               Brooke Gerlach, Manheim Central MS

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery

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Marrin, Albert.  A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.  978-0-307-98152-3. 244 p.  $19.99.  Gr. 7 and Up.

John Brown, born in 1800, was a religiously devout white abolitionist.  Brown’s approach to ending slavery was different than many of his contemporaries. Most abolitionists of the time favored a peaceful approach and working through government to end slavery.  John Brown felt that slavery was an affront to the Lord and believed that slavery should be eliminated by any means possible, including violence.  Albert Marrin, author of A Volcano Beneath the Snow, argues that Brown had a major role in inciting the Civil War and was “the Father of American Terrorism.”

John Brown’s anti-slavery actions show that the title may have been earned.  In 1855-1856, the actions of pro-slavery “border ruffians” in the Kansas Territory angered Brown so much that he and his followers killed five pro-slavery settlers who were not actively involved in the Territory conflict.  Brown was even more infamous for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry (now West) Virginia when he and a group of followers raided the US Armory to obtain weapons for a mass slave rebellion.  Many of Brown’s followers deserted him, but Brown would not surrender and was hung for treason.

This book, aside from being a thorough documentation of historic events, gives the reader a real picture of John Brown’s personality and motives.  It is well-written and should be easy for most students to understand.  Albert Marrin puts John Brown’s life into context by including chapters on the history of slavery and Civil War events.  This book also features an abundance of primary source documentation (photographs, maps, drawings and diagrams) and an extended bibliography.  However, the one thing that sets A Volcano Beneath the Snow above other histories of the Civil War is its discussion of John Brown’s legacy.  The idea that violence is an acceptable way to achieve a Holy purpose (or justifiable revenge) is an integral part of modern terrorist thought.  Although Americans were horrified by the events of September 11, 2001, including the deaths of thousands of innocent people, the members of al-Qaeda viewed it as an act of Holy war against a Godless society, similar to Brown’s views.

This story is a thoroughly-researched and engaging study of a man who is significant to American history than it would first appear.  A Volcano Beneath the Snow is certainly a valuable addition to any secondary school collection.

 973.7; Civil War             Susan Fox, Washington Jr. /Sr. High School