Elem. – Genius of the Ancients (Series Nonfiction)

Genius of the Ancients. Crabtree, 2020. $20.75 ea. $166.00 set of 8. 32 p. Grades 3-6.

Howell, Izzi. The Genius of the Ancient Greeks.  978-0-778-76572-1.
—. The Genius of the Anglo-Saxons. 978-0-778-76573-8
—. The Genius of the Maya. 978-0-778-76575-2.
—. The Genius of the Romans. 978-0-778-76576-9.
—. The Genius of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. 978-0-778-76577-6.
Newland, Sonya. The Genius of the Ancient Egyptians. 978-0-778-76571-4.
—. The Genius of the Benin Kingdom. 978-0-778-76574-5.
—. The Genius of the Vikings. 978-0-778-76590-5.

In the July 10, 2020, issue of School Library Journal article entitled, “Teaching Nonfiction? What You Need To Know About the Differences Between Expository and Narrative Styles,” author Melissa Stewart notes that a high percentage of children prefer books that deliver facts. Crabtree Publishers has mastered presenting expository writing in an appealing and accessible way, and this series is no exception. With the focus on the talents of ancient civilizations, the authors deliver interesting, fast facts on various aspects of those societies, particularly their discoveries or inventions. Some topics explored are architecture, government, inventions, weapons, transportation, and more. Highlighting each subject in well-designed, double-page spreads, the picture books lay out chunks of information in short, readable paragraphs punctuated with colorful graphics. Good use of text features enliven the pages. Quick pieces of information range from fun trivia (Vikings kept decorated, deer antler combs hanging from their belts for swift grooming) to sophisticated information (The Antikythera mechanism found in a Greek shipwreck is sometimes considered the first computer). Each of these slim volumes includes an extensive glossary, a timeline, a table of contents, and an index.

THOUGHTS: This format of fact and pictures enhanced by text features enables struggling readers as well as fluent ones to gain information independently. Valuable additions for beginning research projects or just for students curious about the contributions of different civilizations. (Titles Reviewed: The Genius of the Ancient Greeks and The Genius of the Vikings)

900s Ancient Civilizations          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Essential Library of World War II

Essential Library of World War II. Minneapolis, MN: ABDO, 2016. 112p. $24.95 Grades 5-12.


Edwards, Sue Bradford. The Bombing of Pearl Harbor. 978-162403-7917.

This informational text introduces young readers to the events of December 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. It wisely begins by following the personal story of a 15-year-old seaman touring the U.S.S. Arizona who saw firsthand the destruction caused by the attack and who survived. The text then turns to specifics of the event. Students may be surprised to learn that most Americans wanted nothing to do the war in Europe, not after the devastating effects of “the Great War” and the economic collapse which many attributed to that war. In fact, Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency in part on promises to stay out of the war. Author Edwards reaches to 1853 to explain Japan’s intent in its attack, and its national pride that kept it from acquiescing to U.S. demands. The attack itself is explained in detail. The Japanese imposed silence over radio waves to avoid location of their aircraft, and chose an early Sunday morning knowing the U.S. military would not be fully prepared for retaliation. “The U.S. military in Pearl Harbor was not actively looking for enemy aircraft, and even when someone spotted them, no one realized what they were” (48). First came the aircraft with torpedo bombers, followed by submarines, including “suicide” midget subs piloted by two crewman each, designed to torpedo targets. The two waves of Japanese aircraft and torpedoes caused significant damage, resulting in the deaths of 2,400 American military, injuries to 1,180 more, eight severely damaged battleships, and numerous damaged aircraft.  The Japanese intended for the U.S. military to be so devastated that they could not reasonably be involved in the war for several years. In fact, the opposite was true. The attack reversed most Americans’ opinions of entering the war and galvanized them as one for the rationing and sacrifices that would be necessary. Sadly, it also brought about fear and discrimination against Japanese-Americans, and, in February 1942, the internment of Japanese-Americans into ten camps in remote areas of the United States. Edwards ends the book with a chapter summarizing the effects of the Pearl Harbor attack. Timeline, Facts, Glossary, Resources, Source notes & Index comprise pages 98-111.


This is a reasonable choice to cover the Pearl Harbor attack. The text can be read by middle or high school students. Edwards gets a bit bogged down in details at times, oddly leaving out results such as the specific losses of military craft and life. With all of the emphasis on the Japanese planning, it seems an oversight that Edwards doesn’t mention that the Tokyo Trials named the attack a war crime.


Streissguth, Tom. The Battle of Britain. 978-162403-7900.

Streissguth writes an inspiring account of the Battle of Britain and its impact on World War II. He shares how Britain’s manufacturers scrambled to produce Spitfires and Hurricanes, and how the Royal Air Force scrambled to train individuals to pilot these planes. Churchill shines through as the exceptional leader he was. In his words, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” (14). Indeed, the fighter pilots risked and lost their lives at alarming rates as Hitler pounded Great Britain with bombs throughout the summer and autumn of 1940. Hitler wished to remove the British air force as a threat, and thus have no resistance in its expected ground assault. That never happened. Eventually, Germany unwisely moved to bomb civilian targets, which saved air fields and which galvanized the British to resist and fight harder. In eight chapters, Streissguth presents the plans for war on both German and British sides, the Battle of Britain, and the post-battle outcome, including the London Blitz. Accompanied by period black and white photographs and sidebars of individual events or achievements, this book will help anyone to appreciate the severity of the attacks. Recommended. Timeline, Facts, Glossary, Resources, Source notes & Index comprise pages 98-111.

These are two of ten titles in the Essential Library of World War II series, all published in 2016. Other titles include: The Battle of Britain, The D-Day Invasion of Normandy, The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb, Native American Code Talkers, The Tuskegee Airmen, Women on the US Home Front, World War II Espionage, World War II Leaders, and World War II Weapons.

940.54 World War II        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School

Big Top Burning…1944 Circus Disaster


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

Animal Faces…Scholastic Discover More series


Arlon, Penelope and Tory Gordon-Harris.  Animal Faces (Scholastic Discover More series).  New York:  Scholastic, 2015.  978-0-545-79121-2.  32 p. $7.99.  Gr. K-3.

This book explores the faces of many different wild animals.  Some of the areas explored in this text include senses, mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs and amphibians, and fish.  An index, table of contents, and reference to a digital companion book are included.

590; Animals       Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School

Young readers will really enjoy the bright illustrations and topics covered in this book.  In my media center, animal books are always a hit, especially with my youngest students.  The text is presented in small blurbs rather than large paragraphs.  This makes reading this book especially easy for K-3 level.  This book is recommended for any library in need of a nonfiction animal book for the K-3 audience.

Thinking Critically


Thinking Critically (series).  San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015.  80 p.  $30.00 ea.  Gr. 9-12.

Allen, John. Thinking Critically: Legalizing Marijuana. 978-1-60152-782-0.

Nakaya, Andrea C. Thinking Critically: Biomedical Ethics. 978-1-60152-674-8.

Nakaya, Andrea C. Thinking Critically: Climate Change. 978-1-60152-732-5.

Nakaya, Andrea C. Thinking Critically: Euthanasia. 978-1-60152-680-9.

Mooney, Carla. Thinking Critically: Distracted Driving. 978-1-60152-780-6.

Wilcox, Christine. Thinking Critically: Online Privacy. 978-1-60152-734-9.

Focusing on issues that are highly controversial, the books in this series break down the arguments in a way that is accessible for any researcher.  Each title begins with an overview of the topic and then focuses on controversies surrounding the topic.  For each controversy, both pro and con arguments are presented.  Quotes, graphs, charts, facts, and statistics representing both sides of the issue are distributed throughout the books, giving researchers all the data they need to make an informed decision.  Each title ends with contact information for related organizations and websites, as well as a list of additional sources for further research.

100s; 300s; Controversial Issues       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School

These books are wonderful sources for students who need to write pro-con research papers, as well as for students who are involved in debates.  The impartial way in which the books present issues will enable readers to fully understand the issues before developing a thesis or voicing an opinion.  The way the books clearly split up pro-con arguments make them easy to understand and easily accessible for any reader.

Science Behind Sports


Science Behind Sports (series). Detroit: Lucent, 2014. 100-120pgs. $37.45 ea. Gr. 8 and up.

Abramovitz, Melissa. Skiing. 978-1-42051-182-6.
Allman, Toney. Equestrian. 978-1-42051-180-2.
Brownell, Richard. Wrestling. 978-142051-123-9.
Craig, Lizbeth. Skateboarding.
Currie, Stephen. Cycling. 978-1-42051-120-8.
MacKay, Jennifer. Taekwondo. 978-1-42051-121-5.
Nardo, Don. Surfing. 978-1-42051-156-7.
Sheen, Barbara. Car Racing. 978-1-42051-179-6.
Uschan, Michael V. Golf. 978-1-42051-181-9.

Lucent expands their Science Behind Sports series with the addition of these nine titles.  The purpose of the series is to educate readers about the scientific ideas and concepts behind many of today’s most popular sports.  Each volume opens with background information on the history of the sport (and equipment used in the sport).  Additional chapters cover topics such as biomechanics, and health and medical concerns relating to the sport (including nutrition and sports-related injuries).  Physical science concepts (velocity, acceleration, kinetics, etc.) are explained and related to the each sport.  Diagrams, charts/graphs, and sidebars are utilized to supplement the text. 

796; Sports          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

I had the opportunity to review the Cycling volume, which discussed physical science concepts such as momentum, aerodynamics, balance and steering.  One chapter discussed bicycle components such as the bike frame, brakes, tires, rims, etc.  Additional chapters presented information on muscles used when biking, the importance of proper nutrition/diet, and the topic of performance enhancing drugs and cycling.  Overall, I was impressed with the quality and comprehensive nature of the volume.  The text was very readable and the scientific concepts were presented in easy to understand language and supplemented by clearly-drawn diagrams.  This series could be of interest to the casual reader as well as the student researcher.

Great Achievements in Engineering…a new series from ABDO

Great Achievements in Engineering (series).  Minneapolis, MN: ABDO Publishing, 2015. 112 p. $23.95 ea. Gr. 9-12 
Amazing Feats of Aerospace Engineering  978-1-62403-425-1
Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering  978-1-62403-426-8
Amazing Feats of Civil Engineering  978-1-62403-427-5
Amazing Feats of Electrical Engineering  978-1-62403-428-2
Amazing Feats of Environmental Engineering 978-1-62403-429-9
Amazing Feats of Mechanical Engineering  978-1-62403-430-5
The field of engineering is becoming even more prevalent in today’s world, and this series seeks to inform the reader of recent inventions and technologies within engineering.  All of the books focus on about three main topics, such as driverless cars, the International Space Station, and solar panels, and include bright photographs along with interesting facts. The last few pages of the books include one special hands-on project for students to conduct, along with questions for after the project is completed, steps for students to take if they were planning a career in the specific engineering field, essential facts, and a glossary.  These books are helpful primarily for a student who’s interested in the topic and would read the entire book, though they could also be used for research on specific inventions and technologies within the book.
Engineering; 620s   Nicole Starner, Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Viewpoints…Cybercrime, Hacking,


Berlatsky, Noah Ed.  Cybercrime: Global Viewpoints. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2014.  978-0737769074. 209p. Gr. 9-12.

This compilation of articles about cybercrime is full of information that is also timely and thought provoking.  Written by experts in the field, it also contains very useful ideas and information for related research projects. The articles do an excellent job of defining what cybercrime is today and how it is affecting people here in the United States and around the world.  Topics include vulnerability to cybercrime, law and cybercrime, organized crime and cybercrime, and cyber espionage and cyberterrorism. This book is a must have for high school libraries.

Cybercrime  364.16         Marian Kohan, Erie School District



Haerens, Margaret and Lynn M. Zott Eds.  Hacking and Hackers: Opposing Viewpoints. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2014.  978-0737766578. 211p. Gr. 9-12.

This compilation of articles about hacking and hackers is full of articles that probably most know very little about. All of the articles are timely, thought provoking, and written by experts in the field. It also contains very useful ideas and information for related research projects. The articles do an excellent job of defining what hacking is today and how it is or is not a threat to individuals, companies, and government agencies. Topics include cybersecurity, wikileaks, cyberwarfare, scandals,  and hactivists. This book is a must have for high school libraries.

Hacking 364.16.8            Marian Kohan, Erie School District

Drones…an informational text


Dougherty, Martin J. Drones:From Insect Spy Drones to Bomber Drones. New York: Scholastic, 2014. 978-0-545-66476-9. 96p. $7.69. Gr. 3-7

Within five minutes of setting this book on my counter, I already had several holds! Drones goes through several different types of drones, included military, civilian, and underwater drones. Every two pages describes a specific type of drone within the subset and includes amazing photographs and pictures of each. Other information includes the distance the drone is capable of flying and how long it can fly before needing to recharge. Each page includes graphics on the size of the drone in comparison to a school bus, a human being, or another recognizable object. While it does not contain large amounts of information, this book flies off the shelf because the topic is so intriguing for middle-schoolers, especially boys!
623 Drone Technology     Nicole Starner Biglerville HS/Upper Adams MS

Video Games and Society…a new series from Reference Point Press


Video Games and Society (series). San Diego: Reference Point Press, 2015. 80 p. $32.00 (hardcover), $28.95 (single-user ebook); $39.95 (unlimited user ebook) Gr. 9-12.

Bjornlund, Lydia. The History of Video Games. 978-160152-7462
Nakaya, Andrea C. Video Games and Youth. 978-160152-7509
Netzley, Patricia D. How Do Video Games Affect Society? 978-160152-7486
Netzley, Patricia D. Video Games, Violence, and Crime. 978-160152-7523
This series aims to shed light on the history and effects of video games, and it does so admirably.  The History of Video Games covers how games developed (Pong, Atari, Donkey Kong and more), changed (arcades to home consoles to Wii to apps), and what the future may hold (virtual reality).  Video Games and Youth considers the costs and benefits of widespread video game use.  How Do Video Games Affect Society? explores popularity of games, research, effects on health and learning, and the regulation of games.  In this book, Netzley summarizes the conflicting research by focusing on the complexity of factors impacting the mind of a violent person, arguing that “most people who play video games do so without problems, complaints, or an urge to commit real-life violent acts.”  Video Games, Violence, and Crime shares research findings that video games can increase violence and crime, especially among individuals with long-standing emotional or behavioral issues.  While not deliberately graphic, the described violence (including mass shootings) is nonetheless chilling.  The short 80-page titles are well-written, with more text than illustrations; photos included are well-placed and not filler material.  Excellent for research or casual reading.  Includes solid resources, source notes, and index.
794.8; Video Games        Melissa Scott, Shenango High School