MG – Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem

Messner, Kate. Tracking Pythons: The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save an Ecosystem. Millbrook Press, 2020. 64 p. $24.04 978-1-541-55706-2 Grades 4-8.

Once native only to Asia, Burmese pythons have invaded Florida!  Researchers speculate that animals kept as pets were released and quietly flourished undetected in the lush, protected swamps of Florida. Native animals such as alligators and mink, herons, deer, possums and more, are being affected by the insatiable appetite of the pythons. “People will ask me what pythons eat. The question should be, What don’t they eat?” says Bartoszek (44). Kate Messner follows researchers Ian Bartoszek and his colleagues from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida as they explain the scope of the problem and their efforts to control it. Scientists can respond to an invasive species in four ways: prevention, eradication, containment, or control. The burmese python population in Florida, estimated to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, is well beyond the first three responses, and even controlling the population is proving difficult.  Bartoszek and colleagues track the pythons using radio telemetry, capture them for analysis and transmitter implantation, and try to better control the population. “Another big goal is to advance snake science in general. We kind of owe it to the pythons. We have tremendous respect for this animal, so we try to gather as much scientific information as possible” (44).  Each chapter includes segments on “How to Catch a Python” (some surprising stories and methods) as Messner shares lessons learned, “python CSI,” and the wonder of the undetectable python, even when standing atop one! The book includes QR codes showing python releases and telemetry flights, and extensive back matter.

THOUGHTS: A compelling look at an amazing animal and its effects on an ecosystem, this book will engage readers with an interest in animals, the environment, and scientific careers.  A top example of narrative nonfiction.

597.96 Burmese Pythons        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music

Weatherford, Carole Boston. By and By: Charles Albert Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-42636-8. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2

By and By is a picture book biography that tells the story of Charles Albert Tindley who is considered “the founding father of gospel music.” This biography is told in verse, which adds a lyrical, musical quality to the book. The illustrator of this book is Bryan Collier, a Caldecott Honor recipient, and the illustrations are magnificent! This is the type of book that requires more than one read through, just to take in the different parts of the illustrations. At the end of the book, there are author’s notes, as well as an illustrator note which includes hints about the illustrations which would be great to share with students after you read the story. There is a bibliography and a resource page included. Overall, this is a beautifully written and illustrated picture book biography which would be a great addition to a biography collection.

THOUGHTS: I loved this picture book biography! I learned so much about Charles Albert Tindley, who I had honestly never heard of before I read this. Highly recommended!

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy
Biography

Elem. – A Voice Named Aretha

Russell-Brown, Katheryn. A Voice Named Aretha. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19850-7. 32 p. $17.99. Grades 3-5.

A Voice Named Aretha introduces readers to Aretha Franklin and follows her from growing up and singing in her father’s church, to becoming the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This book highlights all the hard work that Aretha put into her career to get the success that she had, and shows the ups as well as the downs well. The illustrations are lovely and they add to the whole book. The end of the book has more information about Aretha, going more in depth with her life story which adds to the story as everything, obviously, couldn’t be covered. There are notes from both the author and the illustrator, as well as a list of songs by Aretha Franklin, along with a source list.

THOUGHTS: I liked the overall style and illustrations in this book, and I feel this is a nice addition to an elementary library biography collection.

Biography                    Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Charter Academy

MG – Finish the Fight!

Chambers, Veronica and The Staff of the New York Times. Finish the Fight! Versify, 2020. 978-0-358-40830-7. 144 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

Finish the Fight! is not your momma’s suffrage book! Preceding the introduction, eight playing card style portraits feature commonly known suffragists such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton neatly arranged into a two page spread. The page turn reveals a single sentence: “We wanted to tell more of the story” surrounded by numerous, overlapping diverse suffragette playing cards featuring previously unsung heroines and disrupting  the notion of suffrage as a stagnant piece of history. The playing cards speak volumes with bright colors, confident poses, and knowing smiles emphasizing each woman as a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Over 117 years of the Women’s Rights movement are covered beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, beyond ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, and through the Equal Rights Voting Act of 1965. Brief chapters filled with accessible text for an elementary to middle grade audience introduce young readers to marginalized aspects of the suffrage movement. Readers will learn about the influence of Native American women including leaders of Haudenosaunee, Omaha, and Dakota-Sioux cultures. Another chapter explains how Juno Frankie Pierce encouraged 2,500 Black women to register for the vote allowing suffragists the numbers they needed to secure ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee. One chapter is dedicated to the nearly disastrous effects of bias within the movement while another focuses specifically on queer leaders and their fight for equality. Primary source documents including posters, photographs, historical documents, and memorabilia are digitally enhanced and positioned throughout the pages with captions. Everything about this book is visually stunning. Portraiture credit is given to eleven artists whose unique styles pay homage to each highlighted woman in preface to her chapter, stunningly capturing her style, time period, and personality. Jovita Idar,  Mexican American journalist/activist and League of Mexican woman founder, is surrounded with southwestern flora and the scales of justice. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a sixteen year old Chinese immigrant known for leading one of the biggest suffrage parades in New York history is depicted wearing a sash seated atop a white horse against a backdrop reminiscent of mid-Manhattan’s “Chinatown” neighborhood. Women with a chapter featuring her contribution to the fight include: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mary Church Terrell, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, Ida Wells-Burnett, Susette La Flesche Tibbles, and Zitkala-Sa. Dozens of others are mentioned throughout the text. The trading cards appear again in the backmatter along with succinct biographies of each featured lady.

THOUGHTS: This book is a celebration of the unsung heroines of the suffrage movement, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Finish the Fight! is quite possibly the most comprehensive, approachable, inclusive look at the radical fight to secure votes for women. Women’s history is inextricably tangled up with equality and human rights on all fronts. Rarely are the stories of those who worked in parallel to obtain rights for BIPOC and LGBTQ folx woven into history books for children. This book is a much needed addition to any elementary or middle grade library collection. Primary source material mixed with modern art and plain text opens the door to use this book in a myriad of ways for research, history, and social studies lessons.

324.6 Voting Rights          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

YA – All Boys Aren’t Blue

Johnson, George M. All Boys Aren’t Blue. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-374-31271-8. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

George Matthew Johnson’s first memory is having his teeth kicked out by a white boy, seemingly for no reason other than his race. His first identity crisis happens in elementary school when he learns that his first name was actually George, not Matthew. From that point on, the author struggles with his identity and how he fits into a world that did not accept Black people or queer people and definitely not a young boy who was both. Johnson realizes at a young age that boys are supposed to be masculine, which means being tough, playing football, and conforming to these ideas without question. But he prefers to jump Double Dutch with the girls and wear cowboy boots to Disneyland. For his own mental and physical survival, he learns to code-switch in elementary school – he can impress the boys with his athletic ability when necessary but also gossip with the girls. While Johnson has a fantastic support system in his family, he knows that not all Black queer teens do – and so he wrote this book to serve as guidance. Each chapter is entwined with the lessons Johnson learned along the way in the hopes that Black queer teens will not have to figure them out the hard way.

THOUGHTS: This memoir manifesto is incredibly timely in light of current events. Johnson’s experiences in his life have made him extremely insightful about society, and his insights should (and do) make the reader think about what behaviors are expected of boys practically from birth. This memoir is a critically essential book to have in a high school library as it can provide two things: a window in which to see how those who are different struggle to find acceptance and a mirror for teenagers who are struggling under the weight of the labels society forces upon them.

306.76 Memoir          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Packs: Strength in Numbers

Salyer, Hannah. Packs: Strength in Numbers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-57788-7. 44 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

This nonfiction title celebrates togetherness in the animal kingdom, highlighting many forms of animal cooperation. From packs and herds to huddles and pods, the author shows how animals are better together. Spotlighting animals who are at risk of losing their homes due to climate change, poaching, or habitat loss, each spread includes three descriptive sentences sharing how animals cooperate for the benefit of the group. The spread about bees explains how some of the swarm buzzes from flower to flower, while others stay home tending to the hive and making honey. Together, they work. Additional pages spotlight information about ants, bats, lions, fish, wildebeest, frogs, coral, flamingos, and mongooses. The final page features groups of humans enjoying a variety of outdoor activities, again underlining the idea that people need each other too. The cut paper, gouache, acrylic paint, and colored pencil illustrations were finished digitally and are the true stars of this book. Each full-bleed double-page spread features a single animal as well as a large group of the same animal. Seeing so many of the same creatures together in large groups echos the idea of strength in numbers and solidifies the refrain that together we are better than we are individually. An Author’s Note encourages readers to learn more about the threatened animals featured in this book by reading and researching how every creature plays an important role in our planet’s survival. The final page includes full names and diagrams of each animal included in the book.

THOUGHTS: This first-purchase title will be a beautiful addition to elementary library collections. Students will pour over the illustrations while also gleaning knowledge about cooperation in the animal kingdom.

591.5 Animal Behavior          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Talkin’ Sports (Series Nonfiction)

Talkin’ Sports. The Child’s World, 2020. $20.00 ea. $160 set of 8. 24 p. Grades 3-6. 

Buckley, James. Talkin’ Baseball. 978-150383-571-9.
—. Talkin’ Basketball. 978-150383-574-0.
—. Talkin’ Lacrosse. 978-150383-576-4.
—. Talkin’ Motor Sports. 978-150383-577-1.
—. Talkin’ Soccer. 978-150383-573-3.
Gigliotti, Jim. Talkin’ Football. 978-150383-572-6.
—. Talkin’ Golf & Tennis. 978-150383-578-8.
—. Talkin’ Hockey. 978-150383-575-7.

“Play sports? Watch sports? Talk sports!” That’s the tagline for this series highlighting special sports terms, insider phrases, comical or descriptive terms, and player nicknames. Fans of these sports will want to check up on their lingo–historical and modern-day–and add some understanding to their use of it as they go. They may even think of plenty more to add to the mix. For example, “The slugger ripped a frozen rope into the gap and pulled up with a two-bagger.” Baseball translation: “A powerful hitter smashed a line drive (further defined) between two outfielders (further defined) & ran to second base.” These books will cause laughter, and comments such as, “that’s right” or “I didn’t know that was why…” as fans feel a bit more at home watching, playing, and talking sports. For the uninitiated, these books can solidify the lingo.

THOUGHTS: A fun series suitable for upper elementary and middle school. ( Titles reviewed: Talkin’ Baseball and Talkin’ Football.)

796 Sports          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – In Focus (Series Nonfiction)

In Focus. BrightPoint Press, 2020. $31.05 ea. $155.25 set of 5. 80 p. Grades 7-12.

Barton, Jen. School Shootings. 978-1-68282-721-5.
Cornell, Kari A. Fake News. 978-1-68282-715-4.
Erikson, Marty. The #MeToo Movement.  978-1-68282-717-8.
—. Refugees. 978-1-68282-719-2.
—. Transgender Rights. 978-1-68282-723-9.

The publisher declares this imprint as young adult nonfiction for struggling and ELL readers. The packaging works for young adults, who will find the physical packaging to visually blend with other on-level resources and may need to be encouraged to use these resources (if they have come to believe they cannot tackle typical young adult nonfiction).  Examples shared in the books cover current issues from worldwide perspectives. The monotony of the writing (subject-verb-complement) to suit the 4th grade reading level stunts the text and at times even deadens or disjoints the issue. For example, “Some colonists wanted to overthrow British rule. They wanted to be independent. This led to the Revolutionary War. Some colonists wrote exaggerated stories. These stories spread rumors about the government. John and Samuel Adams were cousins. They lived in Massachusetts. They wrote anti-government stories” (20). The most helpful chapters come at the end of the books, where tips to see through fake news, or how to support the #MeToo Movement, are shared.  Additional resources are few but useful.

THOUGHTS: Useful where there is a definite need for hi-lo nonfiction for young adults. (Titles reviewed were: Fake News and The #MeToo Movement.)

300s: Social Issues                Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama. The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kokila, 2020. Unpaged. $18.99  978-0-525-55514-5. Grades 3-6. 

This tale, directed to children, is a mix of biography and moral lesson on compassion. Known today as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he grew up as Llamo Thondup in a small agrarian village in Tibet. He credits his mother as his first teacher of compassion, sowing the seeds in him to care for others’ needs above his own. She shared with others in need, she nourished plants to grow, she mothered him well (“I was a bit spoiled!”), and demonstrated patience and “warmheartedness” to all people. The book covers his life as he was (at three years old), declared to be the new Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, through the years of his training as a monk, to the core message of this book: compassion sets humans apart from other species, and while material possessions require only the five basic senses, compassion requires the mind and shows strength, not weakness. He offers suggestions: “When someone disagrees with you, rather than think they are mistaken, you must ask, Why might they feel this way?  When someone is scowling or upset or hurt, you could busy yourself with your own concerns, or you could ask, What might I do to help them?….It takes practice.” The tone is positive and encouraging, and the practical questions will help readers to understand compassion and how they can promote it in the world.

THOUGHTS: A helpful social-emotional resource to boost World Kindness Day and more.

294.3 Religious Teachings        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

YA – Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Kolker, Robert. Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. Doubleday, 2020. 978-0-385-54376-7. 377 pp. $29.99. Gr. 10+.

From the outside looking in, the Galvin family embodied the American Dream. After serving in World War II, Don Galvin took a job at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. There he and his wife Mimi began a family that would grow to include ten boys and two girls, spanning the Baby Boom generation. But deep within the minds of six of their children, something was terribly wrong. One by one, six of the boys fell ill with schizophrenia, most late in adolescence; they suffered from hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and an array of debilitating symptoms. As the boys cycled between mental institutions and the family home on Hidden Valley Road, Don and especially Mimi did their best to both care for their sick children and maintain outward appearances. The life of every child, well and sick alike, was touched by mental illness, particularly the two youngest, Margaret and Mary. Author Robert Kolker deftly blends the heart-wrenching story of the Galvin family with chapters on the medical side of the story: could a “multiplex” family like the Galvins, with so many cases of the disease, help scientists resolve the nature versus nurture debate that had always dominated schizophrenia research?

THOUGHTS: This is not a quick or easy read, but it is a propulsive one. Kolker’s ability to stitch extensive research into such a personal story, complete with details cementing the Galvins’ lives in a distinctive place and time, is a master class in nonfiction writing. Note the presence of scenes of abuse and trauma, which are very sensitively depicted.

616.89 Schizophrenia          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD