Elem. – Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

Abery, Julie, and Chris Sasaki, illustrator. Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30031-8. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In the 1930s, children on Maui played in the irrigation ditches lining the Hawaiian island’s sugar cane plantations. Local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto took an interest in training the kids in proper swimming techniques, reinforcing their “pace, rhythm / strength, speed.” After the sugar company built a community pool, Sakamoto and his swimmers formed the Three-Year Swim Club with hopes of competing at the Olympic Games. World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but Coach Sakamoto’s athletes continued to train, and one of them won a gold medal (and set records) at the 1948 Olympics in London! Author Julie Abery tells this true story in short passages of rhyming verse that are packed with meaning. For example, on the page representing the start of WWII with smoke over an empty lap pool, she writes, “Dawn raids shatter / peaceful skies. / Athletes answer / country’s cries.” Chris Sasaki’s illustrations depict smiling young swimmers churning through the water, as well as the beautiful colors and natural wonders of Maui.

THOUGHTS: True stories of athletes overcoming long odds are always popular; this one is also a great example of illustrated nonfiction for young readers.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem./MG – Fred & Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin

Kerbel, Deborah. Fred & Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin. OwlKids Books, 2021.  56 p. 978-1-771-47411-5. $18.95 Grades 3-6.

Fred & Marjorie follows the story of Frederick Banting and his partner Charles Best who conducted research towards finding a cure for childhood diabetes. The doctors decide to use street dogs to test their theories on, and this graphic novel shows the successes and the failures of their scientific journey. The illustrations are well done and add to the story as the reader goes through. There is also an extensive authors note at the end of the book, along with a list of sources the author used for the graphic novel. This book brings up the issues surrounding the use of animals for scientific research, and after the author’s note there is a section that discusses animal testing in more detail. This book is a great introduction to a topic that many readers might not be aware of and gives just enough information to make the reader want to learn more.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this would make a great addition to any other nonfiction graphic novels you have in your collection.

Graphic Novel          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter School

YA – Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis

Gaddy, K.R. Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted the Nazis. Dutton, 2020. 978-0-525-55541-4. 301 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12. 

This engaging non-fiction title introduces readers to the Edelweiss Pirates, groups of nonconformist German youth. The Pirates rejected the demands of the Nazis to join Hitler Youth organizations. Instead, they held secret gatherings where they enjoyed activities such as camping, hiking, and singing. They also adopted a distinct style of dress that often included badges or buttons featuring an edelweiss flower motif. Gaddy incorporates many first hand accounts and experiences of Edelweiss Pirates within the text to help bring their stories to life for the reader. When war broke out, the teen members of the Pirates grew daring in their defiance of the Nazis. They painted anti-Nazi graffiti around their towns and distributed anti-Nazi flyers. Some members even carried out sabotage and planned attacks against the Nazis. These actions carried a high risk. Many Edelweiss Pirates found themselves arrested and beaten by the Gestapo, imprisoned, or worse. The text is supplemented by numerous photos and excerpts from official documents. An extensive bibliography is also included.

THOUGHTS: This fascinating exploration of these little known anti-Nazi resistance groups is sure to hold appeal for students. A worthwhile addition to secondary World War II collections, it could also be incorporated into discussions or displays about historical youth activism.

940.53 World War II            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker

Bruchac, Joseph. One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker. Abrams, 2020. 978-1-419-74657-4. 242 p. $18.99. Grades 5-10. 

Abenaki author Joseph Bruchac chronicles the unique life of Ely Parker in this engaging biography. Parker (given the Senaca name Ha-sa-no-an-da at birth) was born on the Tonawanda Seneca Reservation in western New York in 1828. Educated in “English” schools, he became a translator for his tribal leaders in their negotiations with the United States government while still a teenager. Though he wanted to become a lawyer, racist policies of the time kept him from achieving this goal. Instead, Parker became an engineer, working on canals in various states. During the Civil War, Ely received a commission in the Union Army where he served as a general, working on engineering projects as well as administrative tasks. He was soon promoted to General Grant’s personal secretary. It was in this capacity that Ely Parker found himself present in the room at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant. The official terms of the surrender were written in Parker’s own hand. Following the war, he continued his association with Grant, serving as commissioner of Indian Affairs during Grant’s presidency. Bruchac incorporates numerous quotes from Ely’s extensive writings within the text and numerous photographs accompany the text.

THOUGHTS: Despite his many accomplishments, Ely Parker is little known today. Hopefully this title helps to rectify this situation. Sure to be a hit with biography fans or Civil War researchers, this title deserves a spot on library shelves. Highly Recommended.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg 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

Elem. – Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls

Whipple, Annette. Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. Reycraft Books, 2020. 978-1-478-86962-7. 32 p. $17.95. Grades 1-3. 

Children and adults have long been fascinated with owls. Likely many of our students have read a fictional story featuring an owl or heard the hoot of an owl while camping, hiking, or just relaxing in their backyard. In Whooo Knew?, readers have the opportunity to learn more about these amazing creatures. Information about owl characteristics, life cycle, and habitat are introduced by the author posing a question (for example: “Can Owls Spin Their Heads?”, “What Good Are Ear Tufts?”, and “What Do Owl Babies Do?”). Each question is answered in an informational two page spread featuring numerous photographs. The title also includes a section on what readers can do to help owls, and backmatter includes a glossary, instructions on dissecting an owl pellet, and illustrations of owl anatomy.

THOUGHTS: This engaging non-fiction title is sure to be a hit with students, who will find it useful for research as well as casual reading. The structure of the book, with each topic introduced by catchy questions, will catch the attention of readers and the numerous photos of owl species and close-up views of owl characteristics will allow readers to appreciate these amazing animals. Recommended.

*Note: This book is by a Pennsylvania author.

598.97 Owls          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring

Silverman, Buffy. On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring. Millbrook Press, 2020. $20.99. 978-1-541-58118-0. 32 p. Grades PK-1.

This nonfiction picture book features stunning full-color photographs that perfectly capture the spectacular changes taking place in nature when snow begins to melt. Poetic rhyming text has a predictable noun-verb pattern. Phrases like “Snowmen droop / Cardinals swoop / Rabbits bounce / Foxes pounce” are captured in crisp images. Playful word combinations like “Plink-plonking / Marsh-mucking / Duck-dabbling day” add joyful humor while allowing the reader to focus on the science of Spring. Fun and fascinating, this in-depth look at nature in Spring will captivate young readers.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a great starting point for a lower elementary lesson about the seasons or a lovely book to read before a nature-walk to spot signs of Spring.

508.2 Seasons                         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – Feel the Fog

Sayre, April Pulley.  Feel the Fog.  Beach Lane Books, 2020. 978-1-534-43760-9. Unpaged.  $17.99. Grades K-3.

Similar to her other works Best in Snow and Raindrops Roll, Sayre has created a beautiful photographic nonfiction book on the topic of fog. The images depict this “cloud, ground level” in a variety of settings, like the mountains, forests, valleys, and iceberg laden seas. Using spare rhyming text and personification, the author explains how fog develops, how it affects visibility and sound, as well as its appearance in different seasons. The reader also learns how animals like birds and deer adapt to their habitats when this phenomenon occurs. The words and images work together to provide a treat for the senses like this phrase, “Silhouettes sing from wires and fences,” which appears on a page with images of resting birds. The back matter contains additional information.

THOUGHTS: This lyrical and sensory depiction of this weather marvel is a first purchase. It works well as an introduction to weather units and also serves as a mentor text for the use of personification. Children will be fascinated by the images. After reading this book, they will experience fog in a different way the next time it rolls in.

551.575 Rainfall          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Moisture