Elem. – Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises

Slade, Suzanne. Mars Is: Stark Slopes, Silvery Snow, and Startling Surprises. Peachtree Atlanta. 978-1-682-63188-1. 51 p. $19.99. Grades K-3. 

Sand dunes, craters, volcanoes, canyons, lava flows, cliffs, and ice are only some of the amazing landforms covering the surface of Mars. In this oversize book, each double page spread consists of a full-page landform photo that is complemented by large-scale descriptive text and a smaller, more detailed caption. One spread features “sandy, windswept dunes” and describes how Mars’s winds blow the sand into mesmerizing ripple and wave patterns. Another highlights the “stark slopes” of an impact crater formed by an asteroid or meteorite collision. The full-color images in the book were taken with NASA’s HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera. The camera was launched into space in 2005 and has been sending images back to Earth ever since. Detailed backmatter include sections titled “Launching the Mission to Mars,” “HiRISE: The Spectacular Space Camera,” “More About Mars,” and “Highlights of the Exploration of Mars.” 

THOUGHTS: This title is reminiscent of April Pulley Sayre’s books which present brief and poetic nonfiction tidbits complemented by beautiful full-page photographs. Although there is not enough information in this title to support research reports, students will be drawn in by the breathtaking photos of the Red Planet. It also will be useful as an introduction to science units about the solar system and outer space. 

523.43 Planets          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Eureka! The Biography of an Idea (Series NF)

Eureka! The Biography of an Idea. Kane Press, 2021. $17.99 ea.  32 p. Grades PK-3.

Driscoll, Laura. Camera. Illustrated by Hector Borlasca. 978-1-635-92428-2.
Haskins, Lori Houran. Bicycle. Illustrated by Aaron Cushley. 978-1-635-92394-0.
—.  Glasses. Illustrated by John Joven. 978-1-63592-424-4.
Zoehfeld, Kathleen Widener. Lightbulb. Illustrated by Stephanie Dehennin. 978-1-635-92395-7.

Camera is a colorfully illustrated history of the development of the camera from the first observations of a natural phenomenon up to the invention and use of lenses, special papers, and chemicals to create a photographic image. Technical facts clearly are explained in simple language for an elementary audience. Includes two pages of quick facts and some helpful tips for taking better photos.

THOUGHTS: This series provides an engaging introduction for early elementary students into the development of many of our popular inventions or technologies.

771.3 Cameras & Accessories          Nancy Summers, Abington SD

YA – The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the WWII Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls

Crippa, Luca, & Maurizio Onnis. The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the WWII Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls. Penguin Random House, 2021. $16.99. 978-1-728-24220-0. Grades 7-12.

Based on an obscure obituary and an interview in a BBC documentary filmed in 2009, the authors of  The Auschwitz Photographer: The Forgotten Story of the WWII Prisoner Who Documented Thousands of Lost Souls develop a story of life in Auschwitz Concentration Camp focusing on the young, talented photographer, Wilhelm Brasse. A political prisoner for five years in Auschwitz, Brasse clings to his mother’s Polish heritage rather than his father’s Austrian one and refuses to join the Wehrmacht. After a year or so of crematorium duty, Brasse and several other political prisoners are selected to man the Identification Services. Twenty-three year old Brasse stands out as a leader and the tactful liaison between the photography studio and the Nazi commandants. Slowly and meticulously, the book chronicles his photography sessions starting with the incoming Jewish prisoners, political prisoners, and those marked “A” for anti-social behavior. He treats his subjects humanely, knowing he can do nothing to deter their inevitable deaths. Eventually, the SS enlist Basse in particular to photograph the unethical medical practices of Mengele, Clauberg,and Wirths, whose experiments on twins, tattoos, reproductive organs, eyes epitomized man’s humanity to man. Through the dense narrative, the reader learns of the fear, deprivation, and shame prisoners felt, but also their courage and sacrifice (Brasse recounts viewing the now Saint Maximillan Kolbe, a Fransciscan friar offering his life in place of a distraught prisoner). The Identification Service also becomes an agency for officers to have their portraits preserved for loved ones. Brasse coaxes his subjects to show a softer, other side by recalling childhoods in pastoral settings and dignifies the request of a beautiful female SS auxiliary officer to be photographed partially nude. In the latter years of his imprisonment, Brasse smuggled some photographs to the Resistance. When the coming of the Russians marks the impending doom of Auschwitz, Brasse defies the commandant’s orders to burn the photos in favor of a younger assistant’s suggestion to scatter thousands of photos and negatives around the office before jamming shut the building’s doors. His hope was to preserve them for whomever may find them when the war ended. Brasse survives the war, but the memories of the horror he documented are burned indelibly in his soul. Endnotes contain epilogue of major players in the narration, Readers’ Guide, and some photos of prisoners and the camp. All persons in the book are Caucasian.

THOUGHTS: Categorize this book with World War II, Holocaust materials because the reader learns little of Brasse’s past or future to classify it as a biography. The authors focus on Wilhelm Brasse’s activities as a political prisoner at Auschwitz, but in doing so, reveal a different view of camp life, the treatment of the SS and kapos toward Jewish prisoners, and a glimpse into the personalities of Nazi officers. The descriptions of the brutal medical experiments are graphic though not prolonged, but may be too much for sensitive middle school students. The text is very detailed and may find optimum use as a resource for research of that time period.

940.531 Holocaust           Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
920 Biographical

Elem. – Let’s Play Outside

Rumbaugh, Pat. Let’s Play Outside. Star Bright Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-59572-919-4. $6.99. Grades K-2.

Let’s Play Outside is a fun fiction book that focuses on all the fun things that children can do when they are outside. The descriptions are paired with action photographs that show what is being described. The end of the book has information for caregivers and parents on different things they can do with their children outside. There are also tips for fitting in time to play as well as suggestions on where children can play.

THOUGHTS: This is an adorable fiction book about playing outside that students will enjoy looking through, and parents/caregivers can appreciate giving them ideas of new things to do outside. There is also a mention of the website Let’s Play America at the end, which is a great resource for information outside this book.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

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

MG – Lux: The New Girl

Woodfolk, Ashley. Lux: The New Girl. Penguin Workshop. 2020. 978-0-593-09602-4. 139 pp. $15.99. Grades 6-9.

Lux Ruby Lawson has had a default setting – pissed – ever since her dad left. She was kicked out of her old school for fighting, and her mom has put her on notice: if she messes up again, she’ll have to go live with the father who walked out on her, the same father who just welcomed a new baby girl. Lux wants to stay out of trouble, but when a classmate pushes her too far the ensuing scuffle is captured on multiple cell phone cameras. Lux is expelled and relocated to her dad’s apartment. Through a connection and a strong interview, she’s accepted at Augusta Savage School of the Arts in Harlem, to pursue her interest in photography. She makes friends with the “Flyy Girls,” Noelle, Tobyn, and Micah (each of whom takes center stage in subsequent installments of the Flyy Girls series). But Lux worries about what will happen if the videos of the fight resurface and her new friends discover the past she’s kept hidden. Ashley Woodfolk packs a lot into just 141 pages: family dynamics, friend drama, mild romance, school pranks, and even a photography assignment for the school paper. Each character’s personality is vibrant and distinct, and Lux is believably flawed. Her evolution, from a girl who settles scores with a punch to a more mature friend and daughter, is the endearing core of the novel.

THOUGHTS: Lux: The New Girl is an excellent hi-lo series starter to add to school library collections, and more importantly to read and discuss with students. It would pair well with Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill for a professional book study.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Class Picture

Carlain, Noe, and Herve Le Goff. Class Picture. Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2020. 978-1-684-64112-3. Unpaged. $12.99. Grades K-2.

The full classroom photo may be a thing of the past, especially in this day and age, but the concept of gathering students to try and pose for a picture will always be a memorable moment. So, replace squirmy Kindergarten kids with beavers, bears, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and more for a real laugh of a book! With some repetitive wording and hilarious visual gags, each class of animals arrives for their moment with the brave and mostly patient photographer. Whether the hippos are bending the bench or the beavers are eating it, there are group and individual personalities that shine, along with some cameos from other animals to keep things interesting. Young readers will enjoy saying cheese to this colorful fun read along!

THOUGHTS: With a dozen animal sets captured in this book, several research or creative writing extensions are naturally available. From adding captions or speech bubbles to the class characters to looking up habitats and group names for each page, learners will find fun ways to keep coming back to this book. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

YA – Just Our Luck

Walton, Julia. Just Our Luck. Random House. 2020,  978-0-399-55092-8. $17.99. 272 p. Grades 9-12.

Leonidas –Leo- quirky knitter and sensitive photographer, has been successful staying under the radar for most of his high school years. Then Drake Gibbons a wise-cracking, hyperactive jock punches him, and their consequences are enduring each others’ company in the counselor’s office until they become amicable. Leo’s mother died years ago and now with his Greek grandmother Yia Yia’s death, the silence in their Greek household is deafening and the relationship between him and his father even more distant. When his father insists his gentle son take a martial arts course to improve his pugilistic skills, Leo gets scared off and signs up for a yoga master certification course. Turns out, the person taking his registration is Evey Paros, from another Greek family who just happened to have cursed Leo’s many generations ago. Though she seems aloof, Evey has her own agenda. She’s been wronged by the biggest, richest, most popular dude at school, Jordan Swansea. After their breakup, Jordan sent out nude pictures of Evey over social media. She enlists Leo as her assistant in wreaking revenge. What ensues is a light romance with a touch of humor. Leo unexpectedly finds love, friends, and self confidence. A bonus is that Evey, too, finds a powerful alternative to thwarting Jordan besides sophomoric pranks.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Librarians should be aware this quick read has a lot of curses and little diversity (Drake’s girlfriend Jenn seems to be Latinx). However, the characters are humorous, and the plot discusses generalized anxiety, a condition today’s teens may recognize. Both Leo and Evey also have an interest in writing, and Leo delivers his first-person narrative in journal format. Pull for reluctant readers.

MG – Saving Savannah

Bolden, Tonya. Saving Savannah. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-681-19804-0. $17.99. Grades 6-8.

A prolific writer of nonfiction, Tonya Bolden (Maritcha, Cause: Reconstruction America 1863-1877, Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During World War II to name a few) integrates her skill for facts into an interesting, less explored, narrative in Saving Savannah. Set in post-World War I Washington, D.C., the book focuses on Savannah Riddle, a fourteen-year-old Black girl whose family is part of the elite Black society. The story opens frivolously at a gala opulent with fashion and food and gradually builds to important period events and issues. This eye-opening ascent mirrors Savannah’s maturation from a popular, pampered schoolgirl to a woke young woman of substance. At a pivotal time, Savannah is searching for a more meaningful life connected to the world outside her social strata. She learns about Nannie Helen Burroughs’s School for Girls, a training school; and while volunteering there meets Lloyd, a young Black immigrant with socialist leanings. Lloyd introduces Savannah to the poverty and inequality suffered by some in her own city. She eventually gains the support and respect of her parents after the revelation of a family secret. Throughout Bolden’s book, her intense research is evident. Many of the locales and persons Savannah encounters are real or have a counterpart in reality. Saving Savannah shows the Black perspective during a tumultuous time that underscores discrimination in politics and society and culminates in the brutal riots of the Red Summer of 1919. Besides being a valuable history lesson about a period that resonates with the present, the main character’s transformation from a position of comfort to one of an invested citizen of the world and member of her race is a desire many of us hold today.

THOUGHTS: Like Harlem, Walter Dean Myers’s period piece, Saving Savannah allows students to experience the sights and people of a different time through the eyes of a likeable character. In a sizable appendix, the author supplies background with some photos on the significant movements and personages of the early 20th century Washington, D. C. Bolden touches on multiple issues: Woodrow Wilson’s color lines; the returning Black World War I veterans; the New Negro Movement spearheaded by Dr. Carter Woodson, Hubert Henry Harrison, and Marcus Garvey; the controversy around the Anthony Bill and women’s suffrage; colorism; and even cosmetics. Ideal companion piece for grade 8 American History classes. Teachers may want to use this book to approach discussions on racism and compare the historical perspective with current incidents.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, SD of Philadelphia

Elem – My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer

Eszterhas, Suzi. My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer. Owlkids Books, 2020. 978-1-771-47407-8. 31 p. $17.95. Grades 2-5.

Suzi Eszterhas always knew that she wanted to be a wildlife photographer. All of the hours she spent taking pictures of her cats in the backyard, observing squirrels and birds, and taking notes in her field book were great preparation for fulfilling that dream. Now, in a follow-up to her acclaimed 2017 release Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom, Eszterhas shares stories from over twenty years as a professional wildlife photographer. Two-page chapters on topics including “Prepping for Shoots,” “Living in the Field,” “Mothers and Babies,” and “Giving Back to Animals” feature plentiful full-color photographs. Meaningful captions add context and special behind-the-scenes information. In the final chapter, “Ask Suzi,” the author answers questions about the best part of her job, how to become a wildlife photographer, and her most memorable wildlife experiences. She also shouts out her organization, Girls Who Click, which helps girls fulfill their dreams of becoming wildlife photographers themselves. Moto and Me chronicled the year that Eszterhas spent fostering an orphaned serval and his growth from helpless kitten to independent cat. My Wild Life casts a wider net, featuring images of many different species and parts of the world.

THOUGHTS: With an eye toward conservation, Eszterhas presents a candid memoir of her wild life and career, acknowledging the challenges as well as the rewards. Young readers will love her story, and they will love her photographs even more!

770, Wildlife Photography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD