Elem. – Asian Animals (Series NF)

Hansen, Grace. Asian Animals. Abdo, 2021. $20.95 ea. $125.70 set of 6. 24 p. Grades K-2. 

Bengal Tiger. 978-1-0982-0592-8.
Giant Panda. 978-1-0982-0593-5.
Great Hornbill. 978-1-0982-0594-2.
Indian Cobra. 978-1-0982-0595-9.
Pangolin. 978-1-0982-0596-6.
Water Buffalo. 978-1-0982-0597-3. 

The continent of Asia is home to many amazing and unique animals, six of which are featured in this new series for early readers from Abdo. Each oversize volume informs readers about the habitat, characteristics, and lifestyle of the spotlighted animal. This reviewer had the opportunity to read the volume on Giant Pandas. Each two-page spread of the volume featured a high-quality photo accompanied by corresponding text. Readers learn about the habitat of the giant panda, it’s diet of bamboo, how young are raised, and more. As with most Abdo titles, a code in the back of the book allows readers to access supplemental material (video, activities, and more) online.

THOUGHTS: This series is sure to hold appeal for primary readers. The oversize high-quality photos will be sure to engage the interest of even the casual animal fan. For libraries looking to expand their animal collections, this series featuring both common (tiger, panda) and unique (pangolin, water buffalo) animals merits consideration.

590s Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – My Tiny Life by Ruby T. Hummingbird

Meisel, Paul. My Tiny Life by Ruby T. Hummingbird. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44322-2. 36 p. Grades K-2. $17.99.

This charming picture book is told from the point of view of a hummingbird called Ruby. Written in a diary format, the humorous narrative follows the bird’s life cycle. The story begins with Ruby exiting his tiny egg and looking forward to a tasty meal of insects and nectar delivered by his mother. Soon the small bird begins to fly and finds his own source of food. Ruby needs to learn to defend himself from the other hummingbirds, who also enjoy eating at the flower-shaped feeder. With the arrival of fall, this tiny creature flies to Mexico and makes an exhausting return trip by flying 500 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico. In the spring, Ruby turns his thoughts to finding a mate. The text is sparse, with one or two sentences per page, which allows the pictures to take center stage. Meisel uses watercolors, acrylics, and gouache to create his colorful large scale full bleed illustrations. He does an excellent job showing the motion of the hummingbird’s fast beating wings and its amazing aviation skills, as the birds go up, down, backwards and even upside down. The author includes facts about these feathered friends on the front endpapers and in the back matter and gives helpful comparisons to allow readers to imagine their actual size.

THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy poring over the drawings as they read about this interesting animal. They may want to check out other books in Meisel’s “A Nature Diary” series to learn about the praying mantis, the bluebird and the always popular stink bug. This book is a worthwhile addition to elementary collections as a good resource for science units, as a mentor text for point of view, and creative nonfiction and for just plain enjoyment.

598.764, Hummingbirds          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Napoleon vs. The Bunnies

Fox, Jennifer. Napoleon vs. The Bunnies. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30202-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades 1-4. 

Until now, Waterloo may have been considered Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest loss. Young history buffs will giggle all the way through this zany description of another defeat suffered by the famous general to “les fluffy buneez.” After signing a treaty with Tsar Alexander in 1807, Napoleon’s chief of staff arranged a celebratory hunt in which hundreds (maybe thousands) of fluffy bunnies were released from cages. Unfortunately for Napoleon, his staff collected farm-raised bunnies that did not run from the hunters. Instead, tame bunnies charged directly towards Napoleon who inexplicably turned and fled! Ink and digitally colored illustrations paired with text bubbles will keep readers giggling. Napoleon’s retreat is framed in a kid-friendly way emphasizing that even the “bravest of the brave” have fears. Backmatter presents a list of Napoleon’s strengths and weaknesses along with historic highlights and failures encouraging the reader to decide. Some French phrases are scattered throughout the text.

THOUGHTS: A hilarious self-aware read-aloud with potential learning extensions into history and French culture. A great addition to any collection looking to expand the historical section for primary learners with a social-emotional learning twist.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
944.05 Napoleon

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