Elem – I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871

Tarshis, Lauren. I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871. Scholastic, 2023.  978-1-338-82515-2. 158 p. $10.99. Grades 3-6. 

Eleven-year-old Oscar has only lived in Chicago for a few hours before he finds himself at the center of one of the deadliest fires in American history. Oscar never wanted to move to the big city, leaving his family farm behind, but when his mother remarries, she and Oscar relocate to Chicago to move in with his new stepfather. While still at the train station, Oscar’s luggage is stolen, and as he tries to track down one of the thieves, he’s separated from his family. Fire breaks out while he’s finding his way back, and suddenly showers of sparks are everywhere. With fire crackling at every turn, Oscar’s courage is put to the test as he struggles to find safety, and reconnect with his family, in an unfamiliar city. Backmatter includes a note from Lauren Tarshis as well as historical photographs and drawings of the way Chicago looked before the  Great Fire. 

THOUGHTS: The graphic novel format works well for telling this story, and the full-color panel illustrations effectively capture the chaos, confusion, and fear of Oscar and others as they navigate through the burning city on the evening of October 8, 1871. Hand this to fans of the original I Survived chapter books and to readers looking for plenty of fast-paced action. 

Graphic Novel

YA – The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World

Randall, David K. The Monster’s Bones: The Discovery of T. Rex and How It Shook Our World. Norton Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-324-06453-4. 192 p. $19.95. Grades 7-12.

This captivating read reveals the birth of American paleontology, the dogged determination behind the discovery of the first T. Rex fossil, and the making of a modern American museum. The title is a bit misleading; while T. Rex is included in all its glory, the real focus here is on the young scientist, enthusiast, and adventurer Barnum Brown.  How did a young man born & raised on a Kansas farm and coal mine become an unstoppable world explorer? How did a centuries old fossil, admittedly large, come to capture the imagination of Americans and revolutionize history, science, literature, film and more? Randall succeeds in providing a detailed account of Brown’s life and his surprising skill at locating dinosaur bones. When in 1902 he dug up the first Tyrannosaurus Rex, the world noticed. Put on display in the struggling American Museum of Natural History, led by the wealthy Henry Fairfield Osborn, the colossal one-of-a-kind fossil ignited the public and ushered in support for the fledgling field of paleontology, and a race for who would find the next fossil as well. Brown never stopped and became the undisputed expert on dinosaur fossils. His energy seeps through every page of this book.

THOUGHTS: This young readers’ edition of Randall’s The Monster’s Bones (2022) will draw in readers interested in dinosaurs, American history, and excellent narrative nonfiction. This is a must-purchase for all middle and high school collections.

973 American History

YA – America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History

Aberg-Riger, Ariel. America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History. Balzer + Bray, 2023. 978-0-063-05753-1. 392 p. $24.99. Grades 9-12.

In her Preface, author Ariel Aberg-Riger notes that her relationship with history developed not through memorizing dates, but through images, and specifically the stories behind the people in pictures. America Redux reflects this sensibility, and the subtitle really says it all: visual stories from our dynamic history. The author and illustrator places “movements and events and people from across time in conversation with one another in a way that […] offers some insight into who we are as a country.” Chapters titles are phrases that might be used in a traditional history textbook, e.g. The Good Old Days, Home of the Brave, and Down on the Farm. Brief and highly visual chapters then subvert expectations by connecting these phrases to the experiences of folks who have too often been marginalized, silenced, or even erased from American history. For example, Spreading Democracy focuses on the efforts of Native American, Black, immigrant, and disabled women (not only the “traditional” suffragists) to secure the right to vote. The Home of the Brave centers people living with AIDS who joined forces to fight for more equitable drug trials and expanded access to treatments. The Old Ballgame explores forced segregation in America’s national pastime. Every page includes handwritten text and collage art (created with public domain images using Photoshop and Procreate); striking images complement and expand upon the text. 

THOUGHTS: Like Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, America Redux is not unbiased and may be considered controversial. However, Aberg-Riger fully succeeds in creating a stunning visual depiction of American history and inviting the reader to engage with a potentially new perspective. 

Graphic Novel
973 American History

YA – Hanged! Mary Surratt & The Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln

Miller, Sarah. Hanged! Mary Surratt & The Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Random House, 2022. 978-9-593-19156-0. 333 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

While the name John Wilkes Booth is infamous in American history, the name Mary Surratt is less well known today. Yet in 1865, they were equally famous, their names appearing in the paper with others, all connected to the same crime–the plot to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. Mary Surratt was a widow and devout Catholic who owned and ran a boarding house in Washington, D.C. It was in this boarding house the conspirators involved in the plots to assassinate President Lincoln and other government officials regularly met. Surratt’s son, John Surratt, was a friend of John Wilkes Booth and an active member of the conspiracy. But was Mary? The government certainly thought so. In the days following the assassination, she was arrested and, despite the fact that she was a civilian, put on trial in front of a military tribunal. Newspaper coverage of the time was harsh, often prejudicial to the accused (and sexist in their descriptions of Mary). Despite sometimes wildly conflicting witness statements, Mary Surratt was found guilty of conspiracy, sentenced to death, and executed. Questions have lingered ever since about Mary’s guilt or innocence. Author Sarah Miller (The Border Murders) examines Mary Surratt’s life and story in Hanged! Mary Surratt & The Plot to Assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Numerous primary source documents (newspaper articles, letters, trial transcripts, photos) are incorporated throughout the text.

THOUGHTS: This title is an example of nonfiction at its best. Readers quickly will find themselves immersed in Mary’s story, on the scene in the boarding house as she is arrested and later, listening to witnesses at the military tribunal. Will appeal to readers of biography, true crime, history, or those with an interest in the Civil War era. An excellent choice for those researching the assassination of President Lincoln and the related conspiracy. 

973.7 Civil War          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Pets of Presidents (Series NF)

Hansen, Grace. Pets of Presidents. Abdo Kids, 2022. $21.95 ea. $131.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades K-2. 

Birds of Presidents. 978-1-098-20923-0.
Cats of Presidents. 978-1-098-20924-7.
Dogs of Presidents. 978-1-098-20925-4.
Farm Pest of Presidents. 978-1-098-20926-1.
Horses of Presidents. 978-1-098-20927-9.
Unusual Pets of Presidents. 978-1-098-20928-5.

This series focuses on a unique part of presidential history – the pets of presidents and their families. Each two page spread features age appropriate text identifying the president and the pet(s) owned by their family. A historical image of the president (or family) is accompanied by a contemporary photo of the pet species they owned. This reviewer had an opportunity to read Birds of Presidents. While the overall book was very informative, the spread featuring the Teddy Roosevelt family and their macaw had text that simply mentioned “The Roosevelts” and a photo showing Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. with the macaw. It would have been clearer to the reader had the text indicated that “The Roosevelts” referred specifically to the Theodore Roosevelt family (since, after all, two Roosevelts have occupied the Oval Office). Each volume also features a picture glossary and a link to additional online resources. 

THOUGHTS: An interesting angle on presidential history that will appeal to both animal fans and history fans, this series is a worthwhile additional purchase for libraries looking to add to their presidential collections. 

973 American History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem – Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rockliff, Mara. Sweet Justice: Georgia Gilmore and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-1-524-72064-3. $18.99. Grades 2-4.

Georgia Gilmore was cooking away when the news broke that Rosa Parks was arrested because she would not let a white man sit in her seat on the public bus. The outrage was loud, with radios urging people to boycott the bus on December 5, 1955. Throughout the protests and concerns, Georgia continued to cook and feed the protesters and raise money for support. Even when Georgia herself was fired, she continued to cook to do her part to help support the movement that was so critical to her and many Americans.

THOUGHTS: A nicely illustrated biography about Georgia Gilmore and the help and support she gave throughout the bus boycott. She personally met Martin Luther King Jr. and received support from him throughout this important part of American history. Overall this book is a great view of the bus boycott of Montgomery through the eyes of a person readers may not know about.

323.092 Civil Rights Leaders          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD
Picture Book

Elem. – Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Gottesfeld, Jeff. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-5362-0148-2 32 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

Sentinel guards keep vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, protecting soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a picture book written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Matt Tavares, perfectly captures and honors the soldiers that honor the fallen. This moving and inspiring book teaches the reader the history and significance of the memorial and how the “Unknowns” have come to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Gottesfeld and Tavares explain through enriched vocabulary and powerful illustrations that the privilege and most challenging post to earn in the army is to stand, with absolute precision in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, since July 2, 1937, when the tomb became protected by American Soldiers. This moving and informative picture book honors the past, present, and future members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and beautiful picture book targets grades 2-5, ages 7-10, and would make an excellent mentor text for upper elementary or even middle grades. Not only is Twenty-One Steps a moving tribute but an informative text that would fit well with a WWII or Memorial Day unit. Emotional. Beautiful. Very well done.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

YA – Conspiracy: Nixon, Watergate, and Democracy’s Defenders

Pearson, P. O’Connell. Conspiracy: Nixon, Watergate, and Democracy’s Defenders. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-48003-2. 277 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12. 

The Watergate scandal and resignation of President Nixon was a seminal moment in 20th century American History. Conspiracy relates information about the Watergate events and personalities in an accessible and straightforward manner that is highly readable. The book is arranged chronologically, starting with the Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972. Subsequent chapters follow the unfolding events and investigative process that ultimately revealed numerous abuses of power carried out by the Nixon administration. A major focus of the title is examining the role of Watergate heroes, individuals like reporters, judges, lawyers, elected officials, and average Americans, who worked to reveal the truth about Watergate-related criminal activity and cover-up attempts and to defend the rule of law. Key legal terms and governmental concepts/procedures are defined within the text. Back matter includes a bibliography, timeline of events, and cast of characters.

THOUGHTS: The Watergate scandal unfolded over a period of years and ultimately encompassed not only the Watergate break-in, but numerous crimes. Therefore, it can be a complex topic to explore and explain. Pearson does an admirable job in presenting these concepts in an accessible manner that will enable secondary students to gain a full understanding of the events and key players. Student researchers will find this book to be an invaluable resource, and it will also be of interest to history fans.

973.924 American History          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease

Jarrow, Gail. Blood and Germs: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease. Calkins Creek, 2020. 978-1-684-37176-1. $18.99 Grades 7-12. 

Author Gail Jarrow (Poison Eaters, Red Madness) is back with Blood and Germs, another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the American Civil War and the injuries and diseases suffered by soldiers as well as the medical practices of the period. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary source documents and photos (word of warning for the squeamish, the title contains B&W photos of injured soldiers as well as vivid descriptions of wounds, diseases, and medical procedures), to explore medical treatments of the time period. Readers will follow soldiers into camp and learn about the high rates of disease found within the armies, to the battlefield where thousands were wounded, to the field hospital where the wounded underwent treatment (often amputation), on to the hospital. Medical care in both Union and Confederate armies are presented. The role of African-American nurses and doctors and the medical treatment of African-American soldiers within the Union Army are also discussed. Readers will discover how the war led to treatment innovations, such as the concept of triage, the importance of competent nursing care, as well as an improvement in surgical treatments and sharing of medical knowledge. The role of women in the war, including their critical role as nurses is also presented, with several biographical sketches of key women included within the text. Backmatter includes a timeline, glossary, places to visit (in person and online), and an extensive bibliography.

THOUGHTS: This engaging title is sure to be a hit with students with an interest in the Civil War or in medicine. Students with research projects relating to Civil War medical care will find the book an invaluable resource. Highly recommended.

973.775 Civil War Medicine        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Star-Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem

Grove, Tim. Star-Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74102-9. 165 p. $19.99. Grades 5-10. 

Most Americans are familiar with the tune and opening stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” However, the details behind the actual flag and circumstances that inspired the creation of the anthem are not as well known. Author Tim Grove aims to inform secondary readers about these events in Star-Spangled. Readers are transported to the early republic and the busy port city of Baltimore, home to large shipbuilding and trading industries. Baltimore was also the home of seamstress Mary Pickersgill, who was commissioned to create a large flag to be flown over Fort McHenry near the entrance to Baltimore Harbor. The shipbuilding industry led to the city being a prime target for the British during the War of 1812. Grove traces the causes of the war and events leading to the planned assault on Baltimore by British forces in September 1814. Key military leaders and strategies (both the Americans and the British) are also outlined. The experiences of lawyer Francis Scott Key aboard a British ship during the battle where he was a witness to the bombardment of Fort McHenry are of course a key part of the title. Following the battle, Key drew inspiration from his experiences to pen what we now know as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The text is accompanied by numerous illustrations, including maps, paintings, and photographs. A timeline and glossary are also included.

THOUGHTS: This well-researched title offers a worthwhile examination of a key event in United States history. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as they follow the events surrounding the Battle of Baltimore. Recommended for history fans and/or student researchers.

973.52 American History        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD