Elem./MG – Rooting for Plants: the Unstoppable Charles Stewart Parker, Black Botanist and Collector

Harrington, Janice N. Rooting for Plants: The Unstoppable Charles Stewart Parker, Black Botanist and Collector. Illustrated by Theodore Taylor III. Astra Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-662-68019-9. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 2-6.

From “brainy boy” in Spokane, Washington, to world-renown mycologist* at Howard University, Charles Stewart Parker led a full and successful life as a botanist, professor, and researcher. Born in 1882, Parker founded an African-American newspaper, then enlisted to serve as a lieutenant in the 366 Infantry of Black soldiers during World War I. As a leader, he protested the discrimination his men faced in the military. After his return from service, he could not afford to buy a farm so he became a consulting horticulturist, teaching others how to farm, plant, and garden, while achieving a botany degree from the State College of Washington. His interest in exploring and cataloging plants brought him from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast. From his base at Howard University, he traveled to the American South collecting samples. His time at Penn State with mushroom authority, Lee Oras Overholts, though, revealed his expertise: fungi. He was the first botanist to write a clear, organized description of hypholoma. Through Parker’s eyes, young readers not only learn the parts of a mushroom, but also have the fungi elevated to something special. Theodore Taylor III’s clear, colorful illustrations engage the viewer of this picture book in varied frames: close-ups of plants, full-page spreads, or idyllic nature scenes. Esteemed in his field, Parker may be little known to the general public. In only 32 pages complemented by pictures, author Janice N. Harrington creates a well-rounded, informative biography of a scholar who can inspire many budding scientists. Includes glossary, timeline, spotlight of other African-American botanists and mycologists, and extensive bibliography.

*someone who works with fungi, like mushrooms 

THOUGHTS: A quick search on the internet still yields little on Charles Stewart Parker (Charles S. Parker), so this biography and the loads of information crammed into it (without being overwhelming) is welcome. Students interested in STEM, girls and African American students interested in science, anyone looking for scientists with different areas of expertise will use this book. The back matter is valuable as well and allows for the wider grade range. Parker’s life teaches more than mushrooms. He showed scholarship, determination, persistence, and passion, and he never gave up being a student. The importance of his studies at Penn State is a high point.


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

YA – Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime

Fleming, Candace. Murder Among Friends: How Leopold and Loeb Tried to Commit the Perfect Crime. Anne Schwartz Books, 2022. 978-0-593-17742-6. 355 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12. 

Award winning author Candace Fleming is back with another top notch history title. This true crime history volume explores what was then known as the “Crime of the Century,” the kidnapping and murder of fourteen year old Bobby Franks in 1924 Chicago. The perpetrators of this horrendous crime were nineteen-year-old Nathan Leopold and his friend eighteen-year-old Richard Loeb. These intelligent and wealthy friends had become consumed with the idea of committing the “perfect crime.” They had planned for months to kidnap and murder a random youth, and fleece his frantic family out of a ransom payment. With their superior intellectual capabilities, they were sure they could outwit the local police. But their plan fell apart within days as a dropped pair of eyeglasses by their victim led police straight to their doors. Facing the death penalty, their wealthy families employed the services of one of the most gifted lawyers of the day, Clarence Darrow, in an attempt to spare their lives. The resulting courtroom drama captivated the nation. Fleming makes extensive use of primary sources, including newspaper excerpts, letters, police interviews, courtroom transcripts, and more to follow Leopold and Loeb from their troubled childhoods, to the chilling details of their beliefs and crime, and to the courtroom, where Darrow sought to spare them from the death penalty.

THOUGHTS: This historical true crime title will hold appeal for older teen readers who enjoy the genre of true crime (reading books, listening to podcasts, or watching television programs like Dateline). Students researching famous figures of the 1920s or the history of the death penalty in the U.S. also will find this volume a valuable resource.

364.1523 Crime          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

YA – I Could Not Do Otherwise: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

Latta, Sara. I Could Not Do Otherwise: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker. Zest Books, 2022. 978-1-728-41391-4. 206 p. $29.99. Grades 9-12.

Author Sara Latta introduces readers to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, an outspoken and pioneering woman of her times. Born in 1832, she was raised by progressive parents who believed in education for their daughters. They supported Mary’s dream of becoming a doctor, and she later graduated from Syracuse Medical College. She found work as a doctor, but also was passionate about other causes, including women’s dress reform. As a doctor, she believed that the tight corsets restricted freedom of movement, caused breathing problems, and contributed to other ailments. She advocated more practical styles of dress and wore a mid calf dress over trousers that reached her shoes. When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Walker turned her attention to helping wounded and sick soldiers. She worked for several years as a volunteer army doctor and later was commissioned into the army as a civilian contract surgeon. Taken as a prisoner of war while making rounds treating ill civilians, she was accused of being a spy and sent to a Confederate prison before being freed in a prisoner exchange. In 1865 she became the first (and only) woman ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. After the war, she continued her advocacy efforts, supporting veterans rights, female dress reform, women’s suffrage, and other causes. The text incorporates numerous primary sources, including newspaper articles, letters, and period photos and illustrations to tell Walker’s life story. 

THOUGHTS: Dr. Mary Walker led an amazing life and was quite well known in her time, but is little remembered today. This engaging biography hopefully will help to rectify this situation. This title will appeal to history fans and readers of biographies, as well as those researching the role of women in the Civil War or pioneers of women’s rights.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG/YA – 100 African Americans Who Shaped History

Beckner, Chrisanne. 100 African Americans Who Shaped History. Sourcebooks Explore, 2022. 978-0-912-51718-6, 112 p. $7.99. Grades 7-12. 

This slim volume contains 100 biographies of notable African American men and women who have influenced the course of United States history. Each biography contains a simple black and white drawing of the subject of the biography, a rough placement on a United States map to show where that person lived, and the birth and death dates at the top of the page. The biographies offer a good overview of the lives of these notable people, and bold-faced text on each page identifies achievements, places, or people who connect to the life being described. The table of contents includes a timeline sorting the biographies chronologically, and the index helps organize the bold-faced terms throughout the book.

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent volume for students who want to read brief descriptions of notable African Americans and would serve as a good overview or introduction to biography projects that focus on African American historical figures. The book is well-designed and organized, and the text is easy to read for casual nonfiction browsers. 

920 Collected Biography          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Annette Feels Free

Mazeika, Katie. Annette Feels Free. Beach Lane Books, 2022. 978-1-665-90343-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Annette Feels Free introduces the reader to Annette Kellerman, a woman from Australia who went on to break many swimming records as well as swimming stereotypes. Annette was given leg braces when she was younger, due to her legs being weak. The leg braces caused Annette to stop dancing; therefore, her dad introduced her to swimming. Annette went on to become the first woman to swim across the English Channel. She wanted to wear swimming suits closer to what the men wore, so they would be less cumbersome around her legs. Annette ended up going to court over her bathing suit choices, and she won! She was able to create a type of suit that was called the “Annette Kellerman,” and women all over began wearing the less restrictive bathing suits. At the end of the book, there is an author’s note regarding how the author’s journey feels parallel to Annette’s journey. There is also a decent biography about Annette, going into more detail with certain aspects of her life.

THOUGHTS: This a great elementary addition to any collection, and would be a great read aloud for when the Summer Olympics come around. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Fossil Whisperer

Becker, Helaine, and Sandra Dumais. The Fossil Whisperer. Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30418-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

The Fossil Whisperer introduces the reader to Wendy Sloboda, a fossil hunter who unearthed a new species of dinosaur, which was named after her! The book follows Wendy from her early childhood of loving to find new things, into adulthood when she discovered a new species of dinosaur. The end of the book has a short biography on Wendy, as well as more information on how to become a fossil hunter. There is also a timeline of Wendy’s dinosaur discoveries, along with information about the area where Wendy is from (Southern Alberta) and includes more information about the Wendiceratops (The dinosaur that Wendy discovered). A glossary is found at the back of the book as well as a list of books if the reader wants to learn more.

THOUGHTS: This is a great introduction to Wendy Sloboda, especially if the reader loves learning about dinosaurs. Overall a great book for any elementary collection.

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – My Name Is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story, Our Way

Reynolds, Jason, and Jason Griffin, illustrator. My Name Is Jason. Mine Too: Our Story, Our Way. Atheneum, 2022. 978-1-534-47823-7. Unpaged. $19.99. Grades 7-12.

College roommates turned best friends, Reynolds and Griffin moved to New York City with the hopes of pursuing their poetic and artistic dreams. Though glamorous, life in the city wasn’t easy and to make it work they had “No food. For the first six months we only ate cereal, peanut butter toast. Tuna. Fried Tuna. Tuna and rice. Rice and soup.” With little aside from their friendship to sustain them, they figure out ways “to make it” against the odds when everyone else seems to think they’re “probably stupid.” Griffin’s multimedia art including watercolors, collages, and sketches compliment Reynolds’ poems as their story unfolds. A tribute to their perseverance and friendship, this stunning work encourages readers to follow their dreams even when they seem unattainable and emphasizes the importance of having a good support system to help you get there.

THOUGHTS: The powerhouse duo behind Ain’t Burned All the Bright is back for another artistic collection of poetry. Fans of Reynolds’ work will enjoy learning the story behind how he got where he is today. Highly recommended for middle grade and young adult collections.

Poetry          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Graphic Memoir

Elem. – Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion

Stocker, Shannon. Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion. Illustrated by Devon Holzwarth. Dial Books for Young Readers. 978-0-593-10969-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

“This is a story of music…of obstacles…of hard work…[just] listen.” As a young child growing up in Scotland in the 1960s,  Evelyn Glennie loved listening to her father play the accordion and her mother the organ. By the time she was eight, she had developed a strong love of music and could even play the piano without sheet music. The girl’s life changed by age twelve when she lost her hearing. Glennie did not want to go to a school for the deaf, but instead dreamed of going to school to learn music. At her secondary school, the young musician discovered the wonders of percussion instruments.  Her music teacher encouraged her to “feel the music…resonate” throughout her entire body. Evelyn learned to listen in a different way by noting where the vibrations were felt in her body. She could feel in her legs the rumble of cars on the road and could even tune percussion by where she felt the vibrations. The percussionist was initially rejected  by the Royal Academy of Music, but insisted on a second audition and was admitted. All music schools then agreed to offer applicants with disabilities the opportunity to audition. As a student, Glennie performed her first solo and won competitions. Her career blossomed, as she recorded albums and performed on television. As the first full-time solo percussionist, Evelyn received two Grammy Awards and many other honors, including an O.B.E from Queen Elizabeth. Still performing today, often barefoot, this Scottish musician did not see her deafness as a limitation, but instead says that it  “made me a better listener.” Stocker describes her connection to Glennie in the author’s note.  Holzwarth’s vibrant drawings are done in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil and help bring the music alive. The illustrator depicts the kinetic energy of the sounds, which appear like waves emanating from the drums and mallets and enveloping the audience.

THOUGHTS: This wonderful picture book is a tribute to this amazing musician who overcame adversity to achieve her dream. It is a good choice for character trait units and for music teachers to inspire student musicians. A first purchase for elementary collections.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
92,921, 786.8092 Percussion

Tags: Picture Book, Biography, Musicians,  Percussionists, Perseverance, Deafness, Evelyn Glennie

Elem. – Olympics Stars (Series NF)

Olympics Stars Set 3. Abdo, 2022. $22.95 ea. $45.90 set of 2. 32 p. Grades 2-5.

Hewson, Anthony K. Simone Biles. 978-1-532-19739-0.
Martinson, Morgan. Suni Lee. 978-1-532-19740-6.

The first chapter of Suni Lee, “All Around Champ,” launches readers into Suni Lee’s first event–the vault–in the women’s all-around competition at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and documents each event from that moment. The second chapter flashes back to Suni’s childhood in Minnesota with information on her family’s Hmong roots as well as her early years in Gymnastics. Moving forward, the third chapter, documenting Suni Lee’s rise to stardom, shares how her dad was injured helping a neighbor right before her debut at her first senior national championships. Chapter four returns to the Olympics and the response of her community after her historic win. Includes a timeline, glossary, and index.

THOUGHTS: Suni Lee is a well-organized and approachable biography. Each page has photos that complement the text, keeps the reader reading, and encourages browsers to delve into the text as they flip through the book. In particular, Suni’s story of strength under pressure and overcoming challenges will be inspiring to young readers and gymnastics fans. This book and the series are recommended for any library looking for biographies on their subjects.

796 Sports          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD